Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Monday, October 25, 2004

Bloggers New Frontier: Paid Assignment

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True bloggers can't be bought. This is my personal take on this hot topic as it comes spinning off. Marc Canter reports that he has been working at a new program which will pay bloggers to blog about specific products and services.

While I would much like to be Marc's full supporter and evangelist into this, I like to take the opportunity to better spell out some of my own views on these positively innovative ideas and to point my finger to aspects may have not been explored fully or that may be looked at from other viewpoints.

"The particular product we're going to 'flog' is not something a blogger would use for blogging or even use at all. But it's coolio and has something to offer the world that's unique. And that's worth talking about."

I think that bloggers and independent news reporters should be allowed to blog about anything they feel appropriate and within their realm of interests.

I personally would like very much to blog about tools and technologies that have to do with blogging, publishing, searching and aggregating news sources of different kinds.

I would actually see it as a forced counter-natural imposition a policy not allowing bloggers to cover tools, products or services that they themselves would use in their daily life.

If we do this we are going to replicate the same distance and professional incompetence we are seeing being played over and over, and without much awareness from the large majority of readers, from big media publishers. Professional magazine editors writing about products and services they know so little and have so limited competence about that their reviews are just filler in between ad pages. This is what I increasingly see on major media outlets from PC Magazine to CNet and ZDNet.

"We designed this program to tap into the pure state of what (as I see it) a blogger is - somebody who, off on their own, has something to say."

Yes Marc, and as I see it, it's much more than that.

I think that those who want to better market their products while fully riding the true nature of the Web and of the conversations being created through it need not to leverage the voices of those who have something to say, but rather the ones of those who are capable of questioning beyond the surface.

Cluetrain marketers understand that they key in this game is NOT having someone else talk about your product or service, as that maybe just additional noise.

Readers on the Web have a real opportunity to choose, and they will not stand still and listen just because you are now talking about a product and getting some money for it.

I don't know why this so simple evidence seems to escape everyone involved in this discussion but bloggers and independent news reporters have a following NOT because they have something to say.

They have a following because some of them, at certain times, some more some less, give true insight, discovery, breaking and unrevealed information to their readers. They often do so with high competence of the topic they cover, with true passion and without holding any punch back.

Look at Scoble. He doesn't seem restrained by the fact that Microsoft pays for his job as a blogger, and wherever he notes and sees critique or praise to be made of Microsoft he jumps in with the opennes and true reporting attitude of an old fashioned radio reporter.

"The way I see it - an ad or sponsor link does nothing to involve the blogger in the process of marketing the product. I'd much rather say something and participate in the process, then have a static, lame-ass banner ad or emblem on my page."

Well, I couldn't agree more with this.

If instead of making a good part of my income as an independent publisher from contextual text ads which I have no part in selecting (I do invest a lot of time in filtering the inappropriate ones out, but it's a catch-up battle), I could instead be rewarded for covering a number of personally selected products and services that are close to my competence areas.

I think I could do an excellent job of this, without either selling out my soul and without having to change the topic of what actually interests me.

See, in both cases, whether I talk good or bad about any product or service, I am providing anyhow a positive return to whoever is sponsoring my intervention.

If I am criticizing a service I am providing a highly valuable feedback on what needs to be improved, in identifying areas where the product may have missed taking advantage of its unique characteristics and in helping the company finding out rapidly what needs to be done to make it a killer.

How much does that cost in terms of time and money when you utilize user and focus groups, usability testing and market surveys work?

If I find great features and I can recount great stories of how I have personally used it to do better my job, that would clearly provide a rare and invaluable endorsement lie no type of ad can achieve.

What is the cost of an ad campaign compared to hiring a pool of bloggers in your industry?

You can't be discrete and go about improving your product secretly hoping that everyone else doesn't notice.

The mistakes and glaring bugs you have released with your product, are all over our forums, emails and personal or professional blogs.

Whether you like it or not, the key to leverage this new open-conversation marketplace is to hide nothing.

The more transparent, open, ready to be criticized and to listen to your users you can be, the more influential your newly generated credibility and authority will be.

It's not anymore an issue of brand. Who is mixing brand with these new grassroots user-driven marketplaces is still mixing old media buzzwords with a completely new way of doing business.

I don't want brands.

I want credible companies, that have real people standing behind them. Brand to me is the complete opposite of that. It is a completely fabricated "image"/perception of a product/service built on the idea that the "brand" will occupy a definite space in my customer mind as it becomes associated with positive/rewarding concepts.

What I want is transparency, personal accountability, and professional reporting.

The hell with your branded tropical panoramas.

Also: Magazine writers and newspaper journalists are paid every day to write about products and services and they do try to do so in the best and most honest way possible.

It really counts little that Marketing and Editorial departments are kept on different floors at major media headquarters.

Money does breed corruption, and a few steps up or down the building will not ever prevent unethical individuals to push their black paying customers over any other product that should have deserved more attention.

Therefore the difference is that bloggers can't hide behind a magazine or publisher brand. They are accountable in first person.

Bloggers know they are being watched and scrutinized all the time. It is not as easy as it may appear for an independent reporter or blogger to just get money and write great praise of any product.

Maybe you could do so if as a blogger you had no reputation or credibility at all.

But if this program will want to really work effectively, it will have to screen its applicants and it will have to select those who, as indicated by the Web/blogosphere are either most popular or most talked about.

Though in absolute terms we can't equal popularity with credibility, the major part of the blogosphere seems to be effectively attributing a value of popularity that increasingly parallels the credibility of those very authors.

This is the impression I get when I look at Technorati's indicators for anyone's blog. I can't recall seeing a blog or independent news reporting site with a high number of inbound linking sources and little credibility. The site may have diametrically different ideas from my own, but when hundreds of different sites start linking to it, I think you are looking at someone that not only is credible, but someone that will also not easily sell its credibility in exchange for doing some new form of advertorial.

The value therefore, that as an "advertiser", you will get by tapping into a program like the one Marc's in envisioning, is in the following:

  • the feedback you will get
  • the exposure to so many targeted readers in a much more personalized way
  • the comments that people will provide
  • the discussions that will emerge
  • the new ideas about how to improve the product
  • the discovery of who your real competitors are
  • the realization of applications of your service you had never thought of
  • the pleasure of hearing your potential customers talk back
  • the joy of being honest and transparent about your business
  • the competitive advantage that this will unequivocally provide you

plus the fact that ALL OF THESE are things that you WOULD HAVE NEVER DISCOVERED BY RUNNING PAID ADS on your traditional major media outlets.

And Marc, for those critics who can't really digest the fact that an online reporter can do a great job of reviewing and analyzing a service/product even if she is paid to do so, why don't you consider the following:

Create marketing pools around specific topics.

Your agency could invite multiple vendors in one industry to be covered by one of your selected pool of bloggers.

That is, you don't go ever about covering just one product, but you aggregate together three or more competing products that are willing and open to be covered by these new media authors.

Qualifying bloggers apply to cover groups of products and services in their approved areas of expertise.

So you get a group of key bloggers in a certain industry that cover three or more tools/products.

While there may be ways to improve on my simple suggestion, this would seem to prevent any outright feelings of commissioned one-way reviews, as each blogger involved is covering not just one product but a number of competing ones.

Marc Canter again here:

"Our blogger's program involves humans in the marketing process. It spreads money out to the ultimate, virtual Amway army there is - the blogosphere."

I never felt that those people who worked for Amway had the integrity, passion and true competence about their key selling proposition as any high quality blogger today.

I am sorry Marc, but I have to say that Amway feels as very inappropriate comparison.

I mean, if you are after those bloggers that just like the Amway guys will sell their soul to sell those products, than you are not leveraging the unique trait and value that bloggers like you have built over time.

I don't think you really want to compare Marc's Voice covering anyone product you will be paid for, just like an Amway gig over a new customer house? Or do you?

These are points Marc that you need to be keeping very clear, or the harsh critiques you are receiving may become suddenly appropriate.

The blogosphere has its value in the accountability, personal responsibility and relatively high transparency and ethics of its major players. If you aint' going to use those virtues to sell your program, then you may as well recruit graduate journalism students needing a pre-graduation internship. With that you may also get some better writing and no need for paying any money out. They may be actually willing to pay you.

"Battelle is eloquent in his argument of the inherent relationship between reader, publisher/editor and advertiser and the evolution of an implicit community:

"What's inherent in this interaction is the intention of all parties to be in relationship with each other. This creates and fosters a sense of community - the best publications always have what are called "endemic" advertisers - those that "belong" to the publication's community, that "fit" with the publication's voice and point of view.

I've found that in the magazines and sites I've helped create, my readers enjoyed the ads nearly as much as the editorial, because the ads served them, seemed to understand who they were in relation to the community the publication created. [searchblog]

John's post goes on to point out that AdSense in fact provides none of the implicit community created at - for instance Wired - which John was instrumental in building. It's that magic juju - the balance between ads, content and the brand - that we're all looking for.

John notes that most people got off on the ads in Wired just as much as the content. The magical balance of editorial and publishing really made Wired hum.

You'd pick up a new issue and you could literally feel the buzz."

Yes and no.

When AdSense is given the opportunity to do its job and when AdSense algos do what they are expected to do, we have actually something a lot better than Wired synergistic endemic advertisements.

At least if you, I assume, are seeking information and not visual entertainment (that has, in large part, high social price tags attached to it).

Since the visual part is completely absent inside AdSense ads all promotions are stripped of this artificially designed glamour that makes them so attractive.

The glamour my friend is NOT proportional to the actual value of the product.

So, you get a lot of visual redundancy just to elevate products over other equally good products.

But I have no need for that.

I want more options. More products. More equal access opportunity for small and large vendors so that I as a buyer can have a better range of options to choose from.

This is what I want.

If we are after information on a specific topic, text relevant info-ads that are sharp on topic provide a truly useful, diverse and broader set of information options to the reader than the beautifully designed full color page ads in Wired can ever do.

If you, like me, have enjoyed and feel gratified when browsing through a glamorous and innovative set of highly designed ad pages intermixed with some interesting articles, you need not forget that those big page ads can only be bought by handful of companies in the world, and that many of those are the very same ones that somehow oppose or counter the very forces that the blogosphere tries to empower: Freedom of access, sharing, transparency, social accountability, open standards and much more.

So, slow it down and let's start to see when these good sounding parallels are only fruit of our desire to superimpose the past on the present.

I really don't see my passionate, loyal readers ever dream of me becoming blessed with endemic advertisers of any kind.

They want me to keep writing things about issues, products and services as I see fit, and they don't mind at all me selecting groups of products and services that may pay me back for this, as they know that I will be not selling out what I think in exchange of money.

Everyone seems to be forgetting that while you could be easily "bought" without being "caught" when writing for the traditional media (or with the still many major online media publishers), you can't as easily do that if you are already a credible blogger.

Your readers would be very fast in finding out.
Hey this is all an ongoing conversation.
So there is no easy hiding or faking for anyone.

And blog and independent news readers are the smartest group of people out there in the world right now.

When you start to say things that are not true, or that are plainly exaggerated, you risk of being immediately challenged and ridiculed.

So, pro-bloggers, can't easily be bought. That is the essence of my take on this.

We are not PIMPS.

Bloggers are the new frontier of credibility, honesty, transparency and personal accountability and this is exactly why they would add so much extra value to any PR campaign, no matter what their thoughts are.

Marc, you have a very powerful idea in your hands.

May you be blessed in implementing this in a way that empowers truth in reporting and that allows vendors to truly appreciate the immense extra value they would get from this approach.

And if I may, please consider me an official applicant. I'd like to prove to your detractors that this is really something worth trying.

Readers' Comments    
2006-06-16 20:36:29

Perry Thompson

Bloggers are an essential part of the desemination of raw information on the internet. By the ability to get paid for some of their efforts via paid blogging we keep the future of bloggers alive.

Information = blogs.


posted by Robin Good on Monday, October 25 2004, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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