The real reason behind pay-per-post schemes

The real reason behind pay-per-post schemes: Robert Scoble explains exactly why someone would pay to have a product mentioned by a blogger no matter what the blogger says: Google juice.


“So, why do it? If I still ran a camera store in Silicon Valley, here’s why I’d pay bloggers to post about my camera store: to game Google.”

This is my not-so-humble opinion: If a blogger is accepting money to write about a product inside the edit well — within the context of a blog post and is not disclosing what is taking place, I believe it is a form of splogging. I have decided that I will not link to bloggers who I know are doing such. I see no merit in the argument by the scheme’s backers that “bloggers should be paid” when they write about a product. There are plenty of ways to monetize ones blog outside the edit well in spaces that are clearly marked “sponsored” or “advertisement” or “advertorial.” Inside the edit well and un-disclosed, such a practice is insidious. Without transparency or disclosure, getting paid to post is unethical and will lead to a blogger’s instant demise in credibility. Even with disclosure, if you sell off your edit well to paid-link search-engine-optimizing marketing companies, you’re a co-conspirator in a black-hat marketing scam that Google and the other search firms should fight.

Do I sound outraged? I hope so. And that may sound a little ironic to some people as I’m in the business of helping companies create marketing media in the form of customer and member magazines and web-properties. But nothing we touch is “hidden” — everything follows a stringent ethical guideline of disclosure. We don’t try to “pretend” to be something we’re not. Our edit is clearly marked “edit” and our ads are clearly marked “ads.” On the covers and front pages, they say “sponsored by” or “brought to you by.” I have worked a long time to raise the credibility and editorial value of media created by marketers for customers and members who want to learn more about products they buy or associations to which they belong.

So yes, I’m pretty outraged when a “pay to post” idea gets traction under the guise of “bloggers should be allowed to make money from their posts” when, in fact, the bloggers will do nothing but bury their integrity.

A suggestion, however: If you are a blogger and you want to participate in such a scheme but you want to be able to defend yourself from the kind of criticism that this post suggests you’ll receive from me and others, then have a separate, sponsored area of your blog — a mini-blog outside your posts, perhaps. Then, clearly label the content in that section with something like: “The content in this area of my blog is sponsored by the products I mention.” Here’s an even better suggestion: Let the sponsor blog in that space themselves, ala Techmeme “sponsor posts.”

Good morning, students

Good morning, students: I always enjoy speaking to university classes and student groups. Last evening, after a scenic tour of a lot of Kentucky that I could have avoided if I’d looked at a map before jumping into my car, I spoke with a group of IT and business students at Murray State University. While I discussed blogging and business, what I really enjoyed was helping them understand what an advantage they have by entering the business world with an ingrained understanding of how social media works — even if they don’t know they have such understanding. The first question I asked them was, “How many of you have a Facebook account?” Everyone of them — 100% raised their hand. They use it to differing degrees, but each one of them understand what managing a Facebook account is.

If you understand using Facebook, then you understand blogging. Different terms. Different metaphors. Different formats, culture, purposes, approaches, etc. But rip away the veneer and you’ve got lots of the same plumbing (the tubes) — and a whole lot of the same dynamics — going on.

I spoke a little about blogging in business, but I also spent time talking about “things like blogging” that are being used in business: My examples included business uses of Flickr, and Google Base. One student (a Leo Laporte listener) asked my opinion of viral marketing efforts aimed at influencing bloggers coverage of Zune (note to that student: you get an A for just asking the question). Another student asked me about political echo-chambers among bloggers (fortunately, he didn’t use the phrase “echo-chamber”).

Afterwards, I had dinner with a few of the professors before heading back to Nashville. In discussing how to link what the students are doing naturally (i.e., using Facebook, Google or Wikipedia) with their studies of business and IT, they asked me what type of course might be relevant. Earlier this year, I subscribed to a podcast of a course at UC, Berkeley called IDS 110, Introduction to Computers where the students were required to do a project that explored a contemporary development online and its implications. Thinking back on that, I suggested that a great business course for university students interested in the implications of the Internet on business would be centered on setting up an eBay account and running it for a semester. Different topics (i.e., market dynamics, pricing, brand management, operations, customer relations, finance — name it) can be discussed in each class in both a macro (the nature of global markets) and micro (I sold my used PSP to a guy in Michigan for $150). I know it sounds a bit Junior Achievement-ish, but I can’t help but believe it would be enlightening to business students to learn what they do for fun — i.e., Facebook — could be the basis for understanding a wide range of business principles.

Also, I’ve decided that I am not going to speak to college students anymore about “blogging” — but, rather, about how Facebook is lame for letting parents sign up and how ugly those flashing ads on MySpace are and how file-sharing shouldn’t be illegal and how if you learn about RSS, you can knock two-hours off from studying each week…and how each of those things are directly related to something they are studying in a textbook.