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Hypocritical Blogging

Robert Scoble posted over the weekend about whether there should be more debate or critique over the use of ad programs like Adsense or Chitika by bloggers (as there was earlier in the year with Marquis paying bloggers to post about them. His post caused a bit of a stir among some publishers who didn’t feel the comparison was fair.

I’ve been mulling the issue over in my mind the past few days since reading his post and would respond with a few brief points:

Firstly I welcome the debate, critique, discussion and feedback on all types of income earning possibilities for bloggers. I think the professional blogging community is strong enough to take a bit of constructive robust discussion on the topic and would probably grow and be strengthened through more talk on ethical topics.

Secondly as I’ve reflected upon Robert’s comments (he wrote “no one complains about bloggers taking a similar deal from advertising companies like Google and Chitika.”) my mind goes back to the many times that I’ve seen discussion, critique and complaints on the topic over the past two years. Now this could just be that I write on the topic and have keyword alerts on terms like Adsense – as a result I see quite a bit of debate and critique that might go under the radar of other bloggers.

Thirdly – Part of Robert’s critique is that there is pressure to give advertising networks what they want to hear if you’re chasing dollars on your blog. I would respond to this by agreeing with him in part – every day I see bloggers doing things that I believe compromise themselves in the chase of the dollar. I constantly see certain bloggers recommending products that they show no evidence of using and reviewing products that they could not possibly have had a chance to get their hands on (recently I saw a ‘review’ of a camera that hadn’t even been officially announced yet).

Having said this I would argue that all media that runs advertising actually face the pressure of presenting content that panders to advertisers. Last week I watched a lifestyle show on TV that had a segment was so obviously just a marketing spin for a particular product – it gave a glowing review with no critique or downsides mentioned. Of course in the next ad break there was an advertisement for the very product.

In fact it’s a problem that goes beyond media and advertising. How many businesses feel the pressure to recommend certain products above others because they get a higher commission or because their profit margin is higher on those products. I know of one camera sales guy who admitted to me recently that his boss tells him to recommend one brand of camera because of the increased profitability of it even though it’s not as good a quality as another brand.

Bloggers who don’t run ads fall into the same temptation – how many smaller bloggers pander to the opinions of larger ones in the hope that they’ll get the attention of the big blogs and possibly get a link.

I guess my point is that Robert makes a fair point but that it is not just entrepreneurial bloggers that face these types of pressures.

Robert himself has been accused numerous times over the past 12 months of pandering to his employer in his blog. While I don’t agree with the criticisms he’s been on the end of – I’m sure at one time or another the temptation to put a spin on something might have entered his mind if he’s human.

So we all face such pressures to compromise from time to time – it’s part of life. I’m not arguing that this means we shouldn’t discuss it as it pertains to blogging (or that just because some people do it we all should) – just that we need to do it acknowledging that it’s something that most people struggle to find a reasonable place on in life – not just those pesky unethical bloggers with ads.

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve felt the temptation to give advertisers exactly what they want all the time over the past couple of years. It would be a lot easier to write glowing reviews of every camera that comes my way and put an affiliate link next to all my false recommendations – however I have come to my own position on this and have chosen to only give genuine recommendations and critiques (I doubt I’ve ever reviewed a product that didn’t have something wrong with it) of products or services. This decision is based upon both my ethics but also business sense. Readers see through one sided reviews and it’s not in my best interests to only give the positive spin.

I’m still thinking this one through (in fact it’s been something I have pondered on a regular basis since I started blogging – and maybe even before) but would be interested in others thoughts.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. BradFitz says:

    Some nice points here Darren. The whole point of advertising is to sell us stuff we don’t need. If we needed something we’d already have it or know where to find it. So to try and find the morale high-ground in bloggers’ advertising programs seems pointless because everyone compromises something to make a buck.

    Although I don’t agree with camera salesmen that sell inferior products to fatten their commissions, I think the bigger culprits are salesmen that capitalize on people’s fears. Whole-life insurance anyone?? How about the Patriot Act?

    But I’m straying.

  2. Darren Rowse says:

    yeah – i should clarify that I disagree with the camera sales guy’s approach (in fact he does too but he’s getting pressure from the boss). I only use it as an illustration of a similar temptation that some fall into.

  3. I’ve been doing lots of thinking about this too, and I think it all comes down to one thing:

    If you set up your standards or rules in advance, and stick to your rules, your audience will respect you. If you change the rules midstream, your audience starts to wonder what’s going on.

    I’ve seen lots of sites criticised for adding advertising AFTER establishing an audience, and that’s why I start mine with ads from day one. I have standards – there will be ads, they’ll be clearly labeled, and they won’t affect my content.

    It’s just like the issue of allowing links in comments – set your standards and stick to them. If people still complain, it’s their problem and they can go elsewhere.

    Also: know your audience. Darren can ad a new kind of ad here (Chikita) and the reception is good – we’re at a commercial site that talks about making money, we expect it. There are still sites out there that would offend their audience greatly even by running Adsense.

  4. Bill Peschel says:

    “The whole point of advertising is to sell us stuff we don’t need.”

    Ummm, not 100% correct. Did I need to see “Corpse Bride?” Did I need to know “Madagascar” is out on DVD this week at MediaPlay? Or that Staples was discounting 50-packs of blank CDs?

    Sure, advertising is out there that tries to prey on your weaknesses, your desire for status, your desire to get laid, your insecurities. But no one makes you pull out your wallet.

    “So to try and find the morale high-ground in bloggers’ advertising programs seems pointless because everyone compromises something to make a buck. ”

    ‘Everybody does it’ is what children use to justify their actions. The adult response is ‘that doesn’t matter. It’s still wrong.’

    If you want to be more practical about this bit of morality, not only is it wrong, it rats you out. Sure, you can fake your way through blogging positively about a product you don’t believe in (or didn’t even see), but you’d have to be a darn good liar to pass, and most people just aren’t that good. And heaven helps you if you get ratted out.

  5. Duncan Riley says:

    There is a world of difference between writing a post and being paid for it, and writing a post that is accompanied by an ad.

  6. tom sherman says:

    I suppose this brings out the libertarian in me. I don’t like advertising, and I certainly don’t like shilling, but ultimately the choice comes down to the consumer. As Bill said, no one’s forcing you to pull out your wallet.

    Advertising is not really about selling us stuff we don’t need, as BradFitz claims. The best advertising is about connecting trustworthy knowledge (in this case, the recommendation of a trustworthy blogger–you) to the need of a consumer (your reader). You’re not going to convince someone to buy a camera by way of a Chikita ad. You’re not even going to convince them to buy a camera with an ad and a great recommendation. You need the confluence of the opportunity, the information, and the consumer need.

    In any case, this issue addresses the “information” or “knowledge” portion of that equation, and in that respect, Michael’s got it spot-on: set up your rules beforehand and stick to them.

    BTW, this is my first comment on this blog. You’ve got good stuff here.

  7. Stuart says:

    I’m glad you said it Duncan because sometimes people lose site of that = particularly when it comes to advertising like Adsense.

    Anyone who uses Adsense has no certain knowledge of exactly what Google is going to place on your website. Sure you can sometimes aim to get certain ads placed there but there is no guarantees.

    And as for schilling with Adsense – mmmmmm I don’t think so. I could write an entry that was highly critical of a company and all Google would see was that company’s name and place their ad if they were in the Adwords program.

    So claiming that bloggers who have Adsense on their blogs are in some way selling out, schilling or having less integrity that a blogger who doesn’t is really clutching at straws in an effort to prove how pure they are in the face of all this crass commercialism.

  8. BradFitz says:

    I hear you Bill, good points…. and believe me I’m not defending it if that’s how it sounded. Nor do I claim any moral highground myself because I still use Adsense. Which is promoting products I don’t know that much about, to make a buck.. I just went into my thoughts a little deeper at my site if you’re interested.

  9. Adam says:

    It seems to me to be simple product placement. Something they’ve been doing in Movies and TV for years.
    Last week in The West Wing, Josh crashes into a Toyota Prius, a car model that is mentioned another 5-10 times throughout the course of the episode. I bet that exact model was never mentioned in the original script, only once the advertising guys got hold of it. Oh, and funnily enough there was a Toyota Prius advert in the break. I didn’t hear anyone freaking out about product placement in that episode.
    In newspapers you almost always have “Advertising Feature” pages where the adverts are put together to look like standard articles. It’s your choice as the consumer to spot them and ignore them if you decide to.
    It’s only a natural progression that the same type of thing was going to find it’s way into blogs. Responsible blog owners might tell you when it’s an affiliate sell, or a blatant advert that they are writing about, but they’re not required to. It’s their blog and really they can do what they want. It’s your choice as the consumer whether you click on the link.

  10. Nils says:

    The crux of the issue here is integrity. We expect our media, our newspapers, our tv stations, to be impartial, to be critical, to investigate issues. They don’t really do that as much as they should be. And certainly nobody can expect webloggers to be true investigative journalists. But whether it’s a political story or a product review – the center of the matter is “integrity”. If your readers catch you telling lies, posting a review that turns out to be obviously, wilfully false, or even blatant fakes (the nonexistant camera being an example), they will not trust your weblog again in the future. You’re taking some quick cash and paying for it with a reduced long term potential.

    Sure, that’s also a business model. It works in all fields… but I seriously doubt it’s the most efficient one.

  11. pcunix says:

    By the way, you can’t necessarily assume that a review of an unreleased product is fake. I regularly get books to review before they’ve gone to print (in PDF format on CD’s) and I’ve had electronic products shipped to me for review weeks before they went into distribution.

  12. Darren Rowse says:

    totally understand that pcunix – but these are obviously fake reviews. No pictures of the product, no information that is any deeper than rumors and press release information.

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