I’m grateful to be mentioned in this ADWEEK article as being part of the “web elite,” and on balance, the article is interesting and informative, but I have issue with the confusion between what I’d qualify as blogger relations versus sponsored posts. I want to take a moment and clarify my perspective on this, in the hopes that we can talk about it more in the comments.
Essentially, my belief is this: there are many ways that brands and media will interact in 2009 and beyond that aren’t exactly the same as they were before.
Blogger Relations usually works in similar ways to a PR outreach program. A company or agency decides to reach into a certain community and forge a relationship with the prominent (or most relevant) bloggers in a certain vertical, and then request a media making experience related to the product or service. In these blogger relations campaigns, the blogger (or other media maker) usually doesn’t get paid directly, but might be given products to review and later keep (this last point, about keeping the product, makes it a bit different from traditional journalism, which often has policies around not keeping any items that are reviewed).
The work I did with Panasonic was a blogger relations campaign. I wasn’t paid to write anything about the products. I wasn’t paid for my time. Instead, I was given some gear and some opportunities and told I could write about what I wanted to write about. It was expected that I write about CES and that if it made sense that I write about Panasonic, and I did, but beyond that, there was no quid pro quo, as Greg Verdino pointed out in the ADWEEK article.
A sponsored post in the modern world is where a company works directly or indirectly with a blogger (or other type of media maker) to place a piece of paid inline content on a website. The elements of a sponsored post (at least in my opinion) are that they be clearly marked as sponsored (to differentiate between standard content), that your business relationship is clear during the post as well as afterwards (my sponsors show up in my About page, and that you have full disclosure that the post is sponsored at the beginning and end of the post.
Beyond that, it’s up to the blogger/media maker to attempt to be fair and give information to his or her community in such a way as to preserve the trusted relationships that have been forged. In my case, I’ve stipulated in all sponsorship opportunities that I write about the products or services sponsored in my own words, with no oversight or editing, and with the good and the bad included. In all cases, my sponsors have appreciated that sentiment and welcomed the dialogue. (Example: I wrote that eBillMe was interesting, but could do with some usability improvements.)
Maybe it’s just semantics, but I consider “advertorial” to be more like those “advertisement” posts in magazines, where it’s clearly marketing-driven, and where the information contained within will never say anything counter to the claims made by the product or service’s creators. These types of posts are informative, but don’t usually leave me with a feeling of trust. Meaning, if there are any cons to think about, I don’t suspect I’d have them in mind when reading an advertorial.
Thus, the ADWEEK post calling both a blogger relations campaign and a sponsored post an advertorial doesn’t really ring true to me. I don’t see them in the same light, and I’m not sure you would, either. (Please stop me if I’m wrong).
Communities and Content Marketing
The difference, as I lay out here, is in the relationship between the information and the community. When I did a review of gourmet food products by Personal Chef To Go, this was a blogger relations campaign. I wasn’t paid beyond getting the products to sample, and I wasn’t obligated to write about them in any way. Thus, the response from my community was that they felt it was genuine and obvious.
When I do a sponsored post, I clearly disclose the business relationship, and thus a member of this community knows what’s entailed. I imagine there’s a level of suspicion in some. “Did he think more favorably because he received money? Can we trust his opinion? Is this just a new kind of advertising?”
My answer to those suspicions is to ask you what value you think I place on you and the future of these interactions over the price I receive from a sponsor. Knowing that I receive 95% of my salary from sources other than this blog might help you form an answer to that for yourself. My relationship with this community is worth more.
I think, then, that the value in blogger relations and sponsored content is very high. I believe in both methods as a means of building a different kind of awareness with products and services as communicated by the people voicing their opinions into a community.
There are many companies working on varying methods and models. In full disclosure, my own company, New Marketing Labs, offers content marketing and blogger relations as services. I’ve worked with Crayon and IZEA (where I serve as an advisor) on campaigns like this. I’m also excited by the work of Stacy DeBroff at MomCentral (for having a powerful mom-focused offering). John Battelle of Federated Media has some great content marketing projects (as I’ve written about before).
I think that community-minded content marketing, be that blogger relations campaigns or sponsored posts or content sites like Dell’s Digital Nomads is where the best opportunities lie in 2009, from the perspective of keeping attention and maintaining trusted relationships. That’s what I’m encouraging clients to explore, and that’s what I’m encouraging media makers to consider alongside their other potential money-making opportunities.
What do you think of all this? How do you feel blogger relations and sponsored content change the way you look at blogs as media sources? Can you differentiate between sites that use appropriate disclosure versus sites where you’re not quite sure? Would you participate in projects like those mentioned above?
Photo credit, yukonblizzard