« Joe Marchese is right. Google will buy Twitter. | Main | Blog on a bit of hiatus until The Digital Handshake manuscript is written »

March 11, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Adam Singer

Yes it is a topic where lines need to be drawn in the sand. I don't think there is a problem with pay per post so long as it doesn't get in the way of what the marketing industry does and how we interact with search engines now. I think separating the two and creating guidelines is necessary.

Paul Chaney

Thanks for sharing your opinion Adam. Having read your post, yours is one I highly respect. Guidelines are badly needed and now is the time to reason together.

Jonathan Trenn


I'm n complete agreement with you here because I think sponsored posts, while not necessarily advisable, are inevitable. Standards should be put in place...although I'm not quite sure if sanctions can be administered for those who violate them.

I've outlined my views here: http://digitalstreetjournal.com/wordpress/?p=250

...and I'm suggesting a new way to look at building the advisory board.

Josh Bernoff

Unlike some of the posters I don't lament the advent of these posts . . . but I think we'd all feel better if there were standards for them. So go for it.

Sean Corcoran

Hi Paul,

I think it's a very good idea to hold a face-to-face conversation where stakeholders from different sides of the fence can talk through the issues. The industry tends to self-regulate and the more information that is out there for others to learn from the better - that includes both bloggers and advertisers. I do agree with a point Jonathan Trenn made in his blog post above about getting a diverse group of people to join the conversation, especiallly small bloggers who use this type of marketing to make a living.

Ari Herzog

I haven't followed your history of opposition to sponsored posts, so can you share what that comprises? Ethics and guidelines aside, I equate a sponsored blog post no different than a news reporter staying at a hotel for free with the expectation there would be a (positive or negative) consequent review.

Not privy to sponsored blog post discussions (yet, though something I'm considering), where's the problem if the blogger has the right to write what he or she wants, positive or negative?

I'm concerned that the moment sponsored blog posts have guidelines, then guest blog posts and other blog posts would follow suit; thereby changing the face of the blogosphere.

Brian Bille

I think we all know that sponsored conversations aren't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, I believe they'll continue to rise, especially as journalists from dead (dying) newspapers move online to find work. I would like to see some of the large players, i.e. bloggers, search engines, and take a stance one way or the other.

If guidelines come out of it, all the better, but I'm more interested in how Google views the issue. I know Matt Cutts isn't a big fan of this concept because it equates to nothing more than paid links. For those of us wanting to do right by our clients we need to know the "ethical" or "ok" thing to do so as not to be penalized.

Paul Chaney

@Josh - Thanks for the encouragement. I will.

@Sean - You're the guy who opened Pandora's Box yet again with your report. You absolutely need to be at that table.

@Ari - First, you can't set ethics aside. Well, I guess some people can and do, but that only hurts the industry and leads to even further mistrust of bloggers.

Yet and still, there are a number of other issues, not the least of which is how Google is viewing the matter. If Google penalizes paid bloggers for failure to use a no-follow tag for example (and let's face it, how many people know how to create such a tag), what are the consequences of that?

Your concern is precisely why we need guidelines in my opinion, to remove any chance of inadvertent error or "guilty by association."

It's becoming pretty clear what guidelines need to be included. There has to be an objective third-party to serve as keeper of the flame. And, of course, it's something Google would have to endorse for it to have any teeth.

I'm hopeful this conversation will continue at SXSW. I'm beginning to feel more and more like it's something that IBNMA needs to take on as a project.

Paul Chaney

You used the "G" word Brian and that's very significant. It's as if we're between a rock and hard place with Google on the one side and paid-bloggers and those that love them on the other.

There is going to have to be a groundswell of interest in this topic to drive it, and that extends beyond just the major stakeholders and influencers. It's a topic I hope will get on more and more people's radar.

Lizzy Caston

Here are some thoughts:

"Are sponsored conversations the new spam?" I saw this on Twitter today from a local, but high authority, community blogger.

1. So, yes, this is an issue that needs to be addressed, sooner rather than later as we are already seeing bubbles of backlash within social media circles. That's the last thing any marketer or PR rep wants for a brand they represent.
2. Ari, the PR hosting media at a hotel analogy doesn't fit here. For many, it would be more like going to an op-ed columnist and paying them to specifically write about a product or organization in a specific way without disclosing that they are being paid to do so. That's against basic successful social media principles of authenticity, conversation and transparency, and that relationships within those communities are based on trust. Outside of that, in journalism ethics there are those that would say that taking a gift in exchange for writing about it in a publication is unethical. So there you go, another reason for addressing SponCon (not my term, I saw it on Twitter today).
3. I personally have no problem with SponCon, if, and only if, I know I'm being SponConned. It's that transparency, trust and authenticity again that are central to the success of social media to begin with, and that many participating in social media expect. Call them shared values if you will. Some might call them ethics.
4. It's hard to fool people in social media. It becomes obvious fairly quickly who is shilling and who isn't. Thus, SponCon might have some short term gains such as number of tweets about a project, number of links to a product, and number of clicks on a website, but it is short term marketing thinking. If social media marketing is about developing trust, relationships and communities around a brand or product, then tricking people through product placement mentions IS NOT the way to do it in the long run.
5. Not addressing this issue in the industry leaves a lot of room to dirty the pool. That's bad for the industry as a whole since, in simple terms, it allows for an "anything goes" mentality in the marketing and PR professions that, bottom line, is sure to piss off a whole bunch of the people you are trying to market to in the first place. SponCon also creates the risk of weakened authority and respect of those trying to successfully market clients and gain trust in communities in the first place.

Kind of seems like a no-brainier to me. Yeah, some sort of summit is sure needed. Wouldn't it be funny to have a little SC symbol #SC hashtag on sponsored posts? Of course it could be an industry volunteer opt-in, but would allow for community self-regulation and transparency. On the flipside, lack of industry self regulation could lead to something like a Sponsored Conversation Blacklist of individuals and companies put together by a mighty force of anti-commercial social media communities. It could get ugly.

Paul Chaney

Thanks for that well-thought out response Lizzy. Love the idea of use #SC to identify sponsored posts, tweets, etc.

Speaking of the term "sponsored conversations," part of me wants to say the use of it is tantamount to putting perfume on a pig. I'd like to think that's not the case though.

We've been dancing around this Maypole ever since Marc Canter introduced the Marqui Blogosphere program back in 2004. This has been going on for five years, so it's time to settle matters.

Speaking of the Marqui program, Marc did the same thing that Crayon and Izea did in the most recent iteration. He found high-profile bloggers and paid them to write.

If memory serves me correctly, they were required to write a couple of posts per month and were given the latitude to say anything they wanted. Disclosure was mandated and most evident by a banner that stated the person was a Marqui blogger. (Here's a link to one of the banners: http://prplanet.typepad.com/grg/marqui.gif)

Tom Britton

Can't agree more with your point "I believe that editorial and advertorial should be distant relatives, if related at all." however I must agree with Brian that as the profits from standard media fall, journalists will move to charging for online articles.

Jac Star

It's an interesting idea, but where I feel it currently falls down is the names you mention.

People like Chris Brogan and his sponsor partner Ted Murphy don't really fall within where the majority of this discussion should be aimed - the "normal" bloggers.

Why should it just be the "big names" that sit on a discussion? Particularly when these names are only known in their niches and not to the blogosphere overall?

This is where you need a far wider reach than you're currently talking about, otherwise you're discounting the millions of little bloggers that will be affectd the most.

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Digital Handshake

  • The Digital Handshake

    Paul's newest book, The Digital Handshake, is available from these fine booksellers. Order your copy today!

    buy2amxm buybamsm
    buybnoblesm buybordsm

About Paul