Over at the Silicon Alley Insider, Dan Fromer is sending out a general question: “Who wants a free hotel room in San Francisco during a wireless conference in exchange for listening to a business brief by a NYC-based mobile company?”
Which, of course, prompted me to start wondering what *your* price was as a blogger.
Marketing and advertising professionals recognize the power of blogging to communicate in all kinds of areas — and furthermore, recognize the power of some bloggers to promote real and honest dialogue about a given product or service. Some select bloggers, in particular, are media powerhouses in their own right, able to trigger massive amount of buzz.
And on the other hand, I think that its one thing to blog as part of a larger business, which is able to send you out to “cover” events, conferences, and the like; to have the benefit of a (small) per diem, and the ability to submit receipts to get reimbursed.
But what about the independent blogger? Because I think that most of us are not part of large media organizations with budgets to spend on, nor massively successful whose profits can easily cover the cost of
a) flying across the country / ocean
b) the price of a hotel
c) the cost of the conference
… not including other miscellaneous costs — like you know, eating.
I guess the main ethical dilemma is that by abstaining from any swag / goodies / free stuff, you’ll be able to maintain impartiality 100% of the time. Apparently that’s good reporters do, after all.
Furthermore, blogging is often regarded as a conduit for real emotions and real opinion unfettered by the usual marketing doublespeak.
So what’s a blogger to do?
Because — if you’d like to reduce the dilemma even further — its that bloggers are held in high regard by business and marketing folks, but many bloggers make such meager earnings to begin with. Temptation for fairly common “gifts” that would make many a jaded reporter’s eyes roll, might in fact, have a tremendous impact with bloggers.
I can tell you what one set of bloggers *have* done.
Earlier this past May, the Wall Street Journal had a fascinating write up on how the producers of a television show called “The New Adventures of Old Christine” decided to spend some marketing dollars. Rather than spend it all on the usual traditional areas, that actually allocated a sum to communicate with a segment of bloggers that some would call “mommy bloggers” (perhaps there are some in the audience right now).
It goes on to report that the producers of the show *flew* all of them to California for a taping, where they not only got to see how the show got put together, but also meet the cast of the show — in addition to some freebies to take home.
Now, far be it for *me* to criticize what another blogger does, but do you think that this experience — this overwhelmingly positive, “cool”, and paid-for experience — could change what a blogger *actually* says on their blog about the product in question (the television show?)
It might. In fact, it actually did, as the article reveals that in a thank-you email sent to the producers, one of the bloggers was happy to change what she wrote if the producers were unhappy.
I’m not sure there’s a real easy answer to this scenario, or the original one above.
And I think that the answer lies in the discrepancy between how important blogger are perceived to be, and what many of them actually take home at the end of the day. It might be a monetary sum, but for others, its a return that’s measured in different ways, whether it be public recognition, validation, or merely access in a particular industry that they’re blogging in.
The problem, as I mentioned above, is that the sum is very humble indeed.
Now, the marketing and PR folks might say that they spent no more than the bare minimum for what they would *usually* do for a “traditional” press junket.
But clearly that’s far and above what many bloggers have experienced (or have yet to experience).
Again, I’m not sure what the real answer here is, but I imagine a great deal of it has to do with two things.
1. disclosure: that you were given something in exchange for, or as a reason to write a post
2. audience: how much trust they have in you
3. nature of the freebie: is it a $1 pen, a $100 lobster lunch, or a $500 room at the Four Seasons?
Ultimately, I think all of these things will work together to either build, or take away, from your reputation – in either small or large amounts. And that’s really all that’s at stake.
For example, I think if you’re comfortable throwing away your reputation and integrity, you’d probably be happy taking as much as possible for re-writing press releases. On the other hand, if you’re large enough, your audience will probably notice and won’t be so forgiving.
On the other hand, the other end of the spectrum is to never take any gifts / swag / freebies so as to always honor your own sense of personal integrity. Your audience will love you for it, but it may diminish your own opportunities to actually go and see things, experience things, or even just try things for the benefit of your blog. And your blog might suffer for that.
So, where do you all fit in, and what would you do?
… Would you be happy taking a hotel room?
… Would that change what you ultimately write about the sponsor?
… Could you write something critical?
… Would you be worried that you’d get a negative reputation and never be offered any complementary stuff again?
This is an issue that deserves to be talked about, I think, because as blogging continues to mature — but the actual gains for many bloggers aren’t catching up with its perceived power — this is going to be one pickle that many of us will probably encounter sooner rather than later.