Marqui Mission Completed: Good Reports
The Marqui paid assignment mission is behind me.
It is time to draw some conclusions, to evaluate the results and to understand whether this was a wise choice or an error of youth.
This reporting effort is part of my paid assignment for Marqui. The research and reporting work done so far by me on the Marqui CMS (see list at the bottom of this article), has been entirely paid for by Marqui as part of its awareness and promotional blogosphere program.
More than anything, I need as I have been kindly invited to, to express my view on the effectiveness, and ethical issues related to this innovative program.
So, please go ahead...turn on your tape recorders, charge your flash cameras and start shooting. The interview is on:
Q: Robin, after three month of paid assignment with the Marqui blogosphere program, what's your overall impression of this innovative marketing effort? Was it worth your time?
A: I think that the Marqui blogosphere program is indeed a very innovative marketing awareness program, which can provide outstandingly cost-effective visibility, feedback and exposure to any company with a product to talk about.
My goal in this program was first of all one of experimenting with something new. I play this "explorer" role often in my profession and I do it always with excitement and curiosity, as without them it is difficult to discover anything of value.
In this respect, it was well worth all of the time I dedicated to it.
I was particularly intrigued by the opportunity given to bloggers to be paid to write what they thought about a product. I think that if you have good, analytical writers that invest serious time in testing out your product, there is hardly anything that is as cost-effective and useful to a company like this type of program.
The amount of feedback a company like Marqui received is amazingly textured, rich and varied. Something it would have had a hard time obtaining (in such abundance) at much higher costs if it had commissioned it for review to a professional firm.
Q: Would you renew your mandate with Marqui if you had the choice to do so?
A: No, I don't think I would.
My exploration is completed for now and I have given lots of good energies already to this topic. I trust my readers would like to see me cover other products and services with the same thoroughness.
If I look at it from a traditional and conservative point of view, I reckon that Marqui has received lots from me in exchange for a rather small compensation. But once again, I wasn't here for that as my primary goal and the rules were clearly laid out from the beginning. So, I can't really complain.
Once again, for Marqui to get from me the same amount of work, feedback, research and analysis I did for them across these three months, had not been there this blogosphere program, it would have cost them a great deal more without even again getting any of the publicity that came with this.
The idealist in me cries when realizing that for $200/article I have sold to Marqui permanent space on my site, plenty of valuable links, and even a full category channel for their awareness program. That doesn't feel good.
But I am also thankful to Marqui for the opportunity it has given me to learn firsthand about a new, however controversial, communication approach.
Q: Robin, do you think Marqui made a good investment with the blogosphere program?
A: Yes, I think that Marqui, thanks to that volcanic head idea generator of Marc Canter, made a spectacularly good investment.
Once again, in no way would have Marqui been able to attract as much attention, visibility, constructive feedback, advice, tips and testing from such a qualified group of critics in such little time, and with relatively so little money.
I don't actually know about Marqui's own true feelings on this, but from the outside I can only see positive things if I look at their ROI on this project.
Q: What did you like the most about the Marqui program?
A: The fact that it broke from the past in some significant way. A company was finally willing to place itself on the podium and to pay to be criticized, evaluated, analyzed, discussed about in all kinds of ways in not one, but across a multitude of public spaces. This is not something that traditional companies do. They are too much afraid of loosing a reputation built all on creating a facade and an image that doesn't reflect at all the people behind the company.
I guess that Marqui well understood that this was a great horse to ride, and that showing it didn't fear public judgment would have allowed it to build a perception of a company being upfront, direct, willing to listen and to be corrected. And I think that Marqui has in a good degree achieved this goal.
Q: What instead you didn't like at all?
A: I didn't like the fact that while Marqui wanted to do this badly, its people and infrastructure weren't ready for it.
They weren't ready to be blogged about, they weren't ready to respond, they weren't ready to fulfill the requests for conversations, they weren't ready to take advantage of all this buzz to turn it into their favor. The wave took on its own life while Marqui stood as a spectator.
I am not saying that Marqui didn't try to or that the Marqui team was unresponsive to my requests. What I am saying is that they felt like somebody who had just received a present that they weren't really ready to open just yet.
They felt uptight, worrisome, uneasy, on the defensive. And I can understand them. But this was not a mistake to be made. When you call the bloggers out, you better be ready for some stormy winds and big waves, and if you don't even have a surfboard to ride and turn that force of nature to your advantage, a day like that in the water can rapidly become a nightmare.
Q: Where do you think that Marqui underestimated the program the most?
A: Marqui underestimated the fact that missing a blog on their side, they were entering a dangerous territory. Bloggers talk about you but you can't respond without a blog. Conversations starts but Marqui has no voice. Bloggers know blogging tools and Marqui doesn't know a comment box from a trackback.
That's where they went face down.
They called a party for bloggers, but they hadn't done their homework to prepare for it.
Q: What do you think of all the ethical issues that have been raised around this? Do you feel they have affected you?
A: I think that the issues of ethical discretion in making it very clear when one is writing under a paid assignment are well justified. I don't think in fact that they apply much to the Marqui program, as all participating Marqui bloggers have been VERY upfront about their paid assignment status.
The overall negative, critical buzz around the issue of being a shill, or peddling other people products seemed to me unfounded. In principle I can see the point you are trying to make. You say: if you allow companies to pay you to talk about them, how do your readers know whether you are honestly saying what you think or you are returning a favor to some good sponsor?
To which I have replied before: the readers I seek, need not even a disclaimer on my posts. They know that if I write about something, I go through it like a sword. They have judged my credibility, reliability and vision over time. They are the ones in charge to question and challenge what I write, and when I write bullshit, they are the first to point to me.
This does not take away the important point, which I fully support, that coverage that is paid for, needs to be clearly disclosed.
Bloggers are not a tribe, and I have not signed any religious agreement as to what is to be considered moral and what not when it comes to use my writing, research and reporting skills to earn my living.
In my humble view, there is nothing wrong in taking on a paid assignment online, as long as the sponsoring body is clearly disclosed.
Q: Robin, since your decision to participate in the Marqui program, have you noticed a decline in the number of visitors to your site, or an increase in people dropping your newsletter or RSS subscriptions?
A: No, I haven't. Quite to the contrary, during the month of January 2005, MasterNewMedia has broke all traffic records both in terms of absolute number of visitors, as well as in terms of amount of content read and time spent on site.
Here are the numbers:
During the month of January 2005
MasterNewMedia.org has received
563,989 unique visitors
and has served 1,376,666 page views.
During the month of December 2004
it had received 82,535 unique visitors
and served 163,532 page views.
Q: Robin, what do you think of those guys that have criticized participants in this program so harshly?
A: I think that they have no right to claim what is right or wrong for the reader.
Especially when the models they refer to are themselves contaminated by lack of integrity, interested coverage, hidden censorship, paid for but undisclosed propaganda. It is difficult, from my point of view, to consider traditional journalists or newspaper media of any kind or size the reference model to which to look up to.
To me, it rests within the critical sense of the reader to be able to judge who is trustworthy of her attention and time and who is not.
Frankly I could care less if a great reporter took money from a company to promote or review a product where such a journalist would openly disclose his paid assignment status on it. To me what counts is the quality and integrity of his reporting, and the fact that he is paid for to do it, doesn't communicate to me that he is prostituting himself to say nice things.
While many could possibly take advantage of this by censoring their reports to the positive aspects of a review, the readers I like to have are skilled enough to smell that a million miles away.
In any case, the best argument here is to look at the record:
Did I disclose clearly my involvement in a paid assignment project? Yes I did.
Did I prostitute myself to compliment Marqui on talents it didn't have or did I avoid pointing to Marqui critical faults and limitations? No I didn't.
They paid and I devoted to them time and space they would have never had on my online news magazine. But they bought space and attention, not my integrity.
Q: Would you recommend to another company to take the same approach Marqui did?
A: I think I need not confirm what is already under the eyes of everyone: if you want attention, visibility, exposure and great, invaluable feedback, this is certainly a very interesting approach to consider.
You may want to change the rules a bit, increase the quality standards of who you select, create effective two way conversations and debates with your bloggers, but undeniably this is a road that pays.
Probably, buying a talented blogger's time to run your institutional marketing campaign on a dedicated blog, maybe also a great alternative to consider.
Q: Would you advise your best friend blogger to take on a paid assignment to start monetizing her blog just like you did?
A: It depends. For me is already too much what I have done, but for another guy, who is all into reviewing and analyzing publishing technologies, this may be just what to do 365 days a year.
Again, I don't see what would be wrong with it. If there is demand for this, and if the guy doesn't mind that the blog intelligentsia will not call him a journalist or a blogger for the rest of her days, I don't see this as being anything worse than the much muddier and shallow advertorial coverage I see on plenty of magazine and newspapers around.
Q: Do you believe in a code of ethics for bloggers and online journalists?
A: I believe for everyone to be able to evaluate what is right or wrong. I don't believe in code of ethics that are given like the Moses tablets.
People that are awake need no sign to tell them when there's water in their wine. They can taste it.
Q: Robin, thank you. Anything else you would like to recommend to those reading this?
A: No, I think my words have been clear. If you still have some doubts, go and check out my Marqui reviews. They all speak tons better than my arguments above.
And don't be fool: there will always be companies who will want to pay people like me to open their engine, their brain and their marketing strategy while hearing what and where they don't work can be improved. Yes, even in public.
Because, not only for journalists, but for business companies too, the password to the future is called TRANSPARENCY.
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