Blurring the lines w/ blogger payola

It was not too long ago that the connotation of blogging was simply one of people expressing their individual viewpoints online.  As blogging evolved, it took on a second connotation as well where popular bloggers became an alternative media source – the most popular and well distributed ones effectively becoming perceived as valid journalism by many people.

That’s why companies like PayPerPost, LoudLaunch, ReviewMe, and CreamAid are so troubling to me.  Even more troubling to me is when highly influential and respected bloggers like Steve Rubel and Michael Arrington actually speak positively about the relative merits of certain approaches to this model.  Perhaps they are not explicitly endorsing companies doing this, but they are definitely giving a level of acceptance to some entrants into this field.

What I don’t think many people are paying enough attention to is the fact that this blurring of lines is happening SO EARLY in the evolution of blogging as a communication medium.  While for many in the "blogosphere" reading tons of categorized RSS feeds and engaging in many discussions is old hat, for the vast majority of people, the idea of getting information (much less participating in the dialogue) through these mediums is a  pretty foreign concept.  However, each story that breaks on a blog gives this medium more and more broad acceptance and validity.  So what happens when you NOW throw this monkey wrench of blogger payola into the mix?  Everyone knows the marketing adage of one unhappy customer vs one happy customer.  Or in "intelligent" software how significant the tiniest number of false positives are compared to a huge body of correct analysis.  I think that kind of metric applies to the blog world, too.  A few people burned by blogger payola placements thinking they are reading real journalism can have a wildly disproportionate negative impact on the blog world.

On TV, we all know what an infomercial is.  When you’re sitting on a plane and you turn on some fake business show w/ paid pitches, the audience for that sort of stuff knows what they are getting.  When you read a magazine that has a five-page sponsored "content" insert, you know that’s an ad.  And in the tech world, to those people who read them, we all know what sponsored analyst reports are all about.  So, yes, this "business practice" exists in various forms in all sorts of mediums.  However, all of these mediums have a long-standing established system of trust in place that is generally understood by the readership/viewership.

At this stage in the evolution of the blog world, that implicit understanding and trust does not exist for most people yet.  So blurring the lines at this stage of the game is just plain wrong.

(As a special bonus, because I have world class graphic design skills, I have designed a logo for bloggers who agree with me to use on their sites)


One Response to “Blurring the lines w/ blogger payola”

  1. DrSavage says:

    This problem is as old as advertising itself, and it has been dealt with before (to a degree). There’s a reason infomercials like this always need a running line at the bottom which informs the viewer that he is watching an advertisement and the same goes for newspaper and magazine “articles”. With Internet’s status as media outside the law right now, however, the audience is currently not protected at all and this effect has spanned across all forms of the internet media, not just blogs. Amazon book reviews, imdb movie reviews, computer game reviews, consumer product reviews in general are at the moment totally dominated by corporate plants who sing praises to whatever happens to be the subject. Most major game publishing corporations for example have many people on their payroll who have a single purpose of penetrating various internet communities (forums, chatrooms, review sites etc) , establishing themselves as trustworthy posters and then promoting certain products. Here, for example, is the post from forums dedicated to Microsoft’s new Ipod killer Zune, the post made by “average Joe”:
    “Despite the fact that Zune won’t have all the capabilities the market desires at launch, Microsoft is a dependable company and these features will be addressed at some point in the next year. This includes wireless, of course. It will function as the market dictates.
    The Zune aims to be a revolutionary product, not an evolutionary one. The goal wasn’t to simply copy the iPod, but rather to create an entirely new device. The look, function and place of this product are inherently unique. To that effect the Zune will find its niche within the marketplace.
    I’m very pleased with what’s been announced and I’ll be purchasing Zunes for the whole family.”
    I don’t think we will see a solution to this in our lifetime, and I don’t think we will ever reach a phase where no one will have to wonder if a certain person on an internet forum is a regular customer expressing his opinion or a shill.