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Payola Becomes Blogola, Courtesy of Microsoft

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Ethics and public relations in the blogosphere have taken a severe beating in 2006. Phony bloggers. Diggers paid to digg. Bloggers paid to post. It all culminates in the sketchiest move yet as bloggers begin receiving top-of-the-line laptops on their doorsteps, loaded with Windows Vista, courtesy of Microsoft, AMD and Edelman.

It may be a sign of what’s to come. In 2007, are we to expect the modern version of the payola scandals? If we are, it’s Edelman leading the way. The PR firm attracted controversy earlier this year for its role in setting up a phony blog called Wal-Marting Across America, which purported itself as an authentic account of an RV-traveling family camping out in Wal-Mart parking lots.

But when one blogger spilled the beans today that he got an early Christmas gift with “no strings attached,” other bloggers felt compelled to confess they got one too. The Acer Ferrari model 64 bit dual-core notebook computer blogger Long Zheng received was courtesy of Microsoft and AMD. But it was Edelman, the firm handling the launch of Vista, who sent them out, according to Scott Beale.

Maybe we can call it “blogola.”

Zheng noted he received the computer, and narced on Beale, Brandon LeBlanc, Barb Bowman, Freitas, and Mitch Denny. Well, it’s not exactly narcing if they readily disclosed it. Zheng did, however, drop copious amounts of shame on those who hadn’t disclosed their generous $2,300 Christmas present.

From Beale’s disclosure post:

. . .on December 20th I received an email from Edelman. . .letting me know that Microsoft is sending me a present in the form of a laptop with Windows Vista installed on it, no strings attached.
Just to clear up a few points that are being discussed, I did not request that this laptop by sent to me or sign-up in advance for it. I fact, I had no idea how or why I was chosen to receive it. I wasn’t even aware that I was going to be sent one until Edelman contacted me. . .

I did not sign any kind of agreement to blog about it or if I blogged about it, to only write positive things. There were not any additional instructions and no paperwork with the laptop. There was not anything that indicated that they wanted to have it returned after a certain time period.


The no-strings-gifts are starting to draw fire from bloggers who complain that Microsoft’s PR firm has crossed ethical lines. They question how many bloggers received the computers and how many have disclosed the information. Robert Scoble immediately labeled it “PayPerPost.”

LeBlanc, however, has defended Microsoft and denies that the gift will have any impact on how he blogs:

Microsoft isn’t a hardware company but they have every right to work together with a company such as AMD to give bloggers some new hardware along with software for them to review and talk about.
As for the “pay-per-post” concept – you won’t see that applied here on my blog. I don’t have any ads, I don’t make any money off this site and I don’t intend on letting a donated laptop influence my posting.


LeBlanc, and others, expressed the intent to disclose where his new Acer came from in a subsequent post, citing the hectic holiday season as the reason for not doing so.

And besides, if people make a stink about this, bloggers may stop getting free stuff! Which leads me to my next question. Where’s my free laptop? I write about you guys all the time.

Such is the problem, illustrates John Pospisil of TechBlorge.com.

. . .obviously not every blogger will receive a notebook, which means that some bloggers will feel that they’ve been overlooked. From a PR perspective, rather than creating positive “buzz”, this initiative will actually generate a lot of negative publicity – it’s very easy to criticize something you’re not part of.


Or maybe Edelman and Microsoft are falling back on the age-old adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

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Payola Becomes Blogola, Courtesy of Microsoft
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