Blogging, Payment, Incentives & Disclosure
Co-incidentally the same weekend there was a heated debate on the issues of payments and disclosure as they apply to bloggers. The story centres around a Microsoft ad that features quotes from several prominent bloggers. The quotes all answer the question “when did you know your business was people ready?” with “people ready” being a phrase promoted by Microsoft to describe their business philosophy. The bloggers received payment for providing the quotes and their ethics in doing so were questioned by valleywag. There were mixed reactions with some agreeing with valleywag that it somehow crossed a boundary and broke readers trust in the bloggers. Others claimed it was a storm in a teacup, it was clearly an ad and should have been apparent that the bloggers received payment.
So, why does it matter?
There is a perception that bloggers provide a personal, unbiased opinion and, in the eyes of their readers, this makes them more trustworthy and credible than mainstream media and corporate websites. It’s not surprising that companies seek to capitalise on this trust.
It can be a fine line for bloggers to walk particularly for those who run ads on their blog or who provide paid reviews. It makes sense (and is covered by the law in some countries) to disclose when payment is received for a blog post. The reader can then take this additional information into consideration and in fact it might not make any difference if enough credibility and trust has been established. There are quite a number of grey areas though, for example posts that are not paid reviews but that mention a company advertising on the blog or with whom there is a business relationship. There are also other motivations for writing something which might not be apparent to a reader and which nevertheless provides some tangible benefit. Link baiting can fall into this category.
It’s good that these issues are being discussed and I expect that more bloggers will publicise disclosure policies. My opinion is that it should and will be self regulating. Individual bloggers can decide where they stand in terms of incentives for blogging and how and when they should disclose payment. The audience will in turn make up their own minds on the trustworthiness and credibility of the blogger. I’m in the camp of believing honesty and transparency is the best policy and I think it’s the best business decision as well as the fairest. I would be stupid to assume that this is the case with every blog I read though.