We are at a sensitive time in the lifespan of Social Networking. Many marketers, myself included, are looking at Social Networks as new ways to reach people they could not reach before. With this access, this power, comes a responsibility not to damage the audience’s view of the internet, and their trust in social networks. Are we going too far? With the birth of paid conversations and bloggers essentially becoming reviewers-for-sale, there is potential for damage to the image of blogging as a form of expression. Would blogging survive readers wising up to all this paid content?
You’ve seen paid blogs. Writers are paid a few bucks to write about a product and create buzz and conversation for that product. This is one of the core purposes of blogs to begin with, consumers sharing their honest opinions about a product they have tried and found to be worth your dollar, or often not worth your dollar. These reviews in their infancy were taken as they were: real people posting to their livejournal, their myspaces, their wordpress blogs. Real people sharing their opinion and garnering a little audience, a little relevance, in the process.
Where we are now is web sites advertising “sponsored conversations”, bloggers paid to share with you their “love” of a product or service. Much like Search Engine Optimization has white and black hat Optimizers, I guess we’re getting to the point where a blogger’s integrity is just as for-sale. People who yesterday were just another cubicle worker are now being paid or sent free products or taken fancy places in order to garner their love of a product so they’ll write about it. It is becoming a much more effective advertisement than anything I could post via Google AdWords.
This would be absolutely fine if you sent a product to someone, and you let them decide, but what is happening is people are being paid to pretend to think a certain way. The more bloggers succumb to this temptation, and the more consumers catch on to this practice, the less the general public is going to trust blogging as a way of sharing information. You liked District 9? I bet someone paid you to say that! You’re enjoying your new Oreck vacuum? How much did they offer you to recommend them over a Hoover?
It is our responsibility in the marketing sector to not ask people to sacrifice their integrity when marketing our products. We should share review copies in order to garner real honest reviews, not pay someone to give a favorable review of a bad product. We’re the ones creating this content and when we cross that line we set in motion events that will lead to the internet returning to an age of pop up windows disguised as honest opinion pieces and banner ads that look a lot like your neighbor endorsing a food chain.
Will the public come to trust certain blog sites, while ceasing to follow those who are paid to review? Does your average blog reader follow a site, or stumble upon an article when googling about a product they are curious about? If bloggers were forced to put ADVERTISEMENT on paid blogs the way a magazine advertiser is required to label their adverts, would these paid conversations be as effective? Is blogging the new banner ad, or will readers wake up to the fact that you simply can’t trust everything you read?