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The Ethics of Pay Per Post




Suppose you ask me to write something nice about your company. I do it and you give me a $10 bill. If I work for you, then it’s a paycheck. If I don’t work for you, then it’s Pay Per Post and that’s a whole different bowl of noodles. . . or is it?

If I disclose the fact that you paid me the money to write the post as required by the FTC, then I’m in good shape, right? But if I disclose the fact that you paid me, maybe the value of the post decreases because now people aren’t sure that I told the truth.

A few weeks ago, a mommy-blogger was outraged by a proposal from a marketing company that offered to pay her if she wrote nice things about a big name brand who was having an image problem. I can’t be any more specific about the incident because I’ve since found out that the the entire affair was drummed up by an industrious wannabe PR pro and was never sanctioned by the company. Still, it brings up an interesting point. How is asking a blogger to write something nice about a company for pay any different than offering a blogger a free product in return for a review?

You could say that a review requires an honest opinion, which could be good or bad. But what if I agree with the positive statements I’m asked to write? If I believe that, despite recent reports to the contrary, ABC Inc. makes the safest product in its category, is it wrong to say so and get paid? What if I write it and ABC pays me afterwards as a thank you, then do I have to disclose it?

Many years ago, I tried one of the Pay Per Post companies, wrote the required text and was quickly dinged by Google who dropped my page rank two points. I was devastated. If that happened today, I wouldn’t care. Page rank is passe. But I do care if people think I’m a shill, writing half-truths about window blinds in order to make $6.00. In the spirit of full disclosure, I do occasionally Tweet for pay but I’m selective about which offers I put through.

The question here is about drawing the line or if there even should be a line? It’s my blog and if you want to pay me to write something and I agree to do it, then are we all good?

KMart announced today that they’re looking for gamer bloggers to send to the E3 convention. It’s all expenses paid, travel, accommodations and entrance to the show and in return all they ask is that the bloggers write about the experience and post links to KMart’s gamer blog (who knew KMart was so big with gamers?). Is that the ultimate in Pay Per Post or what? A several thousand dollar trip to video game heaven? Sure beats a $10 Starbucks card as thanks, doesn’t it?

This is where you come in. What are your thoughts on Pay Per Post? Have you ever paid a blogger to write about your company? I’d like to hear about your experience and where you think companies should draw the line.

  • http://www.twelveoclockshop.com Mike

    I’ve not done this but would do if a client was happy with that sort of thing. I wouldn’t draw a line so much as a circle, maybe on a bit of wood, cut round it and throw it away like a frisbee.
    What is the difference between you saying something nice about a product for cash on your blog and you having one of those advertising boxes that gets you paid if people, after reading your content, then go on to convert on their site?
    Sure you are not endorsing the product but who give a what? why should propuct endorsement be only for overpaid and washed out actors? that is BS if people think like that. If the product is actually garbage then that’s your problem for doing no research. IMO

  • e3cardreader

    Sure you are not endorsing the product but who give a what?
    i am not sure

  • Jimmy

    I think your story is interesting but I find it hard to read because of your poor grammatical structure. It is not that great. Have you ever read the AP Stylebook or Elements of Style? I would recommend you do and if you have already, maybe you can hire an editor. Here’s a thought, wait 24 hours then re read your information before you post it. You will be amazed at how many mistakes you catch.

    Jimmy

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      Jimmy – As the managing editor of Marketing Pilgrim you can aim any criticism at me.

      As for style guides etc? That’s for dying industries. As bloggers we tend to be a bit more conversational in our writing style because we like interacting with people rather than preaching to them.

      Oh and the 24 hour rule? That just allows any information to get stale. I would rather be on top of something and somewhere south of grammatically correct than the Internet’s version of a day late and a dollar short.

      Thanks for your critique though.

  • http://marthagiffen.com Martha Giffen

    While I haven’t been asked to blog for pay yet, I’m not saying I wouldn’t. If I already like the product and am using it, I don’t see a conflict. I have affiliate links on my site and am being compensated to promote. I don’t really see the difference. Interesting post!

  • http://kmartgamer.com Daniel Honigman

    As the creator of the Kmart E3 program, I tried commenting on this post before, but it seemed not to take.

    Just want to see if the comment went through!

  • http://kmartgamer.com Daniel Honigman

    It appears not to have posted, so here goes:

    You raise some very, very valid points about the value of pay-per-post. In fact, as a former member of the media (and a media blogger) I’ve done the same myself.

    Once we select our bloggers, we’re going to encourage them to be themselves: both positive and negative, but passionate and constructive on both fronts. (Meaning, we want to stay away from “this game rules”/”this game sucks” post types.)

    Similar eyebrows were raised when we launched our on-shelf review initiative and we put our money where our mouth was, publishing both positive and negative — but HONEST — reviews.

    Our goal isn’t to provide fluff content about our vendors; by adding credible content to the gaming conversation, Kmart in turn gains additional credibility with the gaming community, just as we’ve done for the past year.

    (Disclaimer: I’m the social media manager for Kmart/Sears Electronics)

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      @Daniel – Thanks for stopping in and adding to the conversation here. You can reach me at ( editor AT marketingpilgrim DOT com ).

      Thanks again!

  • http://kmartgamer.com Daniel Honigman

    By the way — and I apologize for the multiple posts — if you’d like to talk to me about it anytime, just holler.

  • http://www.arcanasphere.com/ MrAndrewJ

    I have been going through a different dilemma with similar overtones.

    One of my favorite filmmakers recently made a film independently. I fell in love with the promotional poster and asked to buy one from him via email. He sent an autographed one for free, just for my being a fan.

    It turns out that I loved this movie, too.

    Where does that put me? I tend to disclose “The filmmakers were nice enough to provide me with promotional material.” Is that enough?

    I tend to do a lot of blogging and podcasting in the same genre as his movies, so the theme still comes up from time to time. The problem I have isn’t looking like a shill, as I would happily shill for him and openly admit to it. It’s in looking like a self-indulgent jerk. I have struggled not to sound like I’m saying, “Ha, ha! I got a poster and YoOOUUUU didn’t! Neener neener phlbtlbtlbtlbt!”

    What is the correct level of disclosure?

    • http://www.twelveoclockshop.com Mike

      Equally he probably doesn’t want a swathe of requests for autographed posters from fans.
      I think the correct level of disclosure is only measurable by what your readers find acceptable, not a general rule that can be applied to a producer promoter relationship.

      • http://www.arcanasphere.com/ MrAndrewJ

        Absolutely that as well! I tried very hard not to give the impression that begging for stuff was appropriate. It just made me look like a BIGGER creep. That’s why I settled on “they provided some promotional material.” It’s honest (I hope) but ambiguous.

        The ordeal wound up alienating me from an online community along the same genre. I had been a member there for seven years. But, I wouldn’t go back either. What I’m doing now is far more exciting than the bickering and personal politics.

        • http://crowdbooster.com Ricky Yean

          This is totally an unintended consequence from the filmmaker dude showing you love. Last night I discovered an iPhone app that I really liked and tweeted about it. Right afterwards I felt a little weird because my followers my think that the company paid me to do it, but it’s really just genuine. Not sure how to deal with that…

    • http://kmartgamer.com Daniel Honigman

      Think the correct level of disclosure is as much as you feel like providing, as long as it provides any context you think is necessary. (e.g. how you got a product, how your expenses were paid, etc.)

    • http://www.teleseminarstranscribed.com Loretta

      I think “they provided some promotional material” is a great way of putting things for your disclosure, it’s enough to make everyone happy, but not sooo much information that it sounds braggerish (is that a word? LOL)

  • http://www.newmediaadvisors.com Scott

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a blogger to write whatever they want on their blog. This is America after all. The problem arises when the blogger-payola model is abused, over & over by the same groups of bloggers. When bloggers write posts & link to sites they’ve never heard of or even visited, just b/c they were paid $6 – $10 to link a certain keyword to a web page — this is when it gets problematic & deceptive to human readers. The FTC ruling that came out a few years back had Google’s fingerprints all over it. Google created the link system — industry competition, survival of the fittest, & the need to “win” in search rankings led to manipulative linking practices — “manipulative” being defined by Google. Bottom line, if a blogger loves a product they have every right to blog about it and not have to jump through hoops to disclose that passion or go out of their way to “nofollow” a link. If a blogger is doing a product review (& keeping the goods) or is paid to take an action for a brand they don’t know anything about (link, hype, promote, endorse) — they “should” disclose that to their reader for the sake of human decency. But, the Catch-22 comes into play b/c such disclosure could be a red flag to Googlebot and no blogger (or group/network of bloggers) wants to be in the sights of the web spam team or the Google hammer. We must remember that alot of bloggers are trying to make money — the recession has hit alot of people hard — so some can probably justify taking $6 to do a paid blog post — it is very likely that PPP & other networks have many bloggers in need of extra $$.

    I think John Quinones and ABC’s “What Would You Do?” should do an expose’ on payola & bloggers :-). Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and how they choose to do business — but, you reap what you sew.

  • Cynthia

    Lots of great comments folks.
    @daniel Thanks for adding your thoughts. I think what you’re doing is great, not sure that came across in the piece, but I really believe that the fans, the people who actually use, view and consume the products are the best people to tell your story. I think it’s great that movie studios have begun paying for fans to visit their productions because a fan is going to tell a different story than a reporter who stands right beside him.

    @Scott You’re completely right about the problem being the abuse and not use. That’s where this all gets tricky, not just for the writer but for the marketer who wants to get the press.

    @MrAndrewJ Oh, I hear you. Sometimes you can’t win so you just have to go with your gut and hope for the best.

    @Jimmy Thanks for taking the time to comment. I will say that this piece in particular was more rambling that usual because I didn’t know where it was going. That was the point, in fact, that the subject is tangled and convoluted and there’s no single answer. On the other hand, this is the Internet, and though I was trained to be a grammatically correct magazine writer, I find, on the internet, writing the way you speak is often more effective.

  • http://www.yourhotelsguide.com sam.j

    Payperpost is only good for bloggers, not for advertisers. It’s full of fake PR blogs with duplicate posts.

    • http://www.teleseminarstranscribed.com Loretta

      I believe this is the topic of being paid per post, not necessarily the *company* PayPerPost (now known as Izea) – many of these PR deals are being done privately on an individual basis these days instead of through companies like PPP/Izea.

  • http://tanyetta.com tanyetta

    Food for Thought! Thank You.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yshaool Yaron Shaool

    Hi Cynthia,
    I come from the other side – from the company that wish to get reviews for our products. I wanted to ask what in your opinion would be ethical way to get bloggers to review our products? Is sending a gift legitimate? What bloggers really want?
    Thanks
    Yaron

  • Joesph Bober

    First and foremost, I love Sponsored Reviews. I sell blog reviews on SEOClerks, SponsoredReviews and PayPerPost (they’ve been having problems pay out though).

    When a disclaimer is put on the post that it is a paid post, it lowers the value a lot. Google can even pick that up. Instead, I put the disclaimer in my TOS which people paying for prefer because it isn’t directly on the post and most users don’t actually read a TOS. It makes it legal without killing the post value.

  • Ay Sal

    Dear Cynthia, I loved reading this. You made some great points.

    It appears in my limited experience that there is no line companies should draw but the “bottom line”. Many people are lead to believe that companies have a legal requirement to do so? Therefore any opportunity to co-opt a Bloggers genuine passion for profit is “ethically” OK.

    Ethics are what “we” make them through action and inaction, so as there doesn’t appear to be any action to stop the practice of payment or bartering for favourable comments, all is well;-)

    Thank you.
    Ay