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Paid Blog Posts and Misleading Content

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The LA Times reports that thousands of bloggers are writing sponsored posts touting such diverse topics as diamonds, digital cameras and drug clinics. The bloggers are spurred by new marketing middlemen such as PayPerPost that connect advertisers with mom-and-pop webmasters.  Thanks to Daily Dog for this item.

Why should there be concern about this practice?

The recent study from Intelliseek and Forrester shows that consumer trust toward traditional advertising is being challenged by growing confidence in consumer-generated-media (CGM) and the recommendations of other consumers,

Word-of-mouth behavior among "familiars" trumps all forms of advertising and is more trusted than news or "expert commentary," according to the study and WOM/CGM has more impact on consumer attitudes about products than positive or negative news coverage.

Consumers are 50% more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth behavior than radio/TV ads.  Recommendations and opinions posted by others are the top influencers prior to purchase.  But this is so precisely because they are perceived as unbiased, real opinions

No wonder then that companies are looking for a way to muscle in on consumer generated content. Their tender behinds must be feelling the kicking they are receiving from blogs.

Tim Draper, a PayPerPost stakeholder and a longtime backer of online marketing companies likened sponsored blogging to product placement in movies: "You put an ad inside the text and it’s more of a subtle way of advertising. It doesn’t take away from the blogger."

As for the ethical debate, Murphy said the vast majority of bloggers don’t consider themselves journalists, so they don’t need to follow that profession’s practice of keeping clear lines between content and the advertising that supports it.

That may be true for some bloggers, but certainly not for all.

"PayPerPost versus authentic blogging is like comparing prostitution with making love to someone you care for deeply. No one with any level of ethics would get involved with these clowns," Jason McCabe Calacanis, an entrepreneur who co-founded Weblogs Inc., a network of blogs that includes popular technology site Engadget, told the Times.

So it’s definitely time for ‘buyer beware’ when reading online consumer recommendations. The Federal Trade Commission has cautioned that word-of-mouth marketing sponsorships must be clearly disclosed.  That would be a start.  At least then we’d know who was posting a genuine comment and who was being paid to post.

I’d like to see how consumers would react to the knowledge that some bloggers’ content is sponsored. It will be interesting to see how next year’s Intelliseek trust poll shapes up..Perhaps they should include a category for paid posts and see how it ranks.

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