Sunday, June 24, 2007

Web 2.0 meltdown on sponsored content

Look at the controversial People Ready promo site for Microsoft, who paid bloggers to incorporate "People Ready" in a quote used in ads.


"Microsoft pays star bloggers to recite slogan" at ValleyWag is one of the first contributions to the Web 2.0 meltdown.

It's a matter of transparency, integrity, trust, credibility, and it relates to the lines drawn between journalistic objectivity and compensated or financially influenced opinion.

Dave Winer: "Did Microsoft pay star writers?"

CrunchNotes has "Ha. Battelle says authors should have disclosed"

Self-policing nature of the blogosphere in this People Ready parody: "Wipe Ready".

Can a quote from a blogger, inserted into an ad whose slogan is People Ready, be considered unethical blog whoring? Is this done with the intent of making the blogger seem to endorse the product? Was the blogger coaxed, incentivized, or coached in making this statement that is quoted and mixed into the ad space?

Can marketers be allowed to "enter into conversation" with bloggers and blog readers?

Marketers attempting to enter the conversation must respect the hostility to "marketing" exhibited by web users. Providing friendly, unselfish, unprofitable advice, free samples, inspiration, insight will generate good will and can establish an expertise that may eventually lead to trust and product sales.

We don't mind if a snow shovel manufacturer gives us advice on ice removing salt, as long as the manufacturer is honest and upfront about any financial interests or dealings with the salt manufacturer. But if there is a financial connection, the "advice" will probably be dismissed as mere profit propaganda in the minds of many customers.

Marketing can add value to a conversation, but it's lame to do so in a "hey, check out my web site" or "try my product" manner. Most old skool marketers will sound spammy.

If the product/company is so great, the genuine word of mouth buzz will naturally arise, it has to, the virtues of the product will propel discussion.

There is a way for marketers to help that initial buzz to start, but not by "entering conversations" in any type of promotional manner, or disguised as a satisfied customer.

Only by displaying expertise in context of helping members of a community, with no agenda of sales as the ultimate motivation, merely good will, which can lead to sales.

There's a vast difference between the two.

You cannot have paid or incentivized opinions and still be a valid journalist.

They have solved all these problems in print media ages ago. There is not much "new" here, no matter how the damage control spins it.

I like you John, and of course we must experiment and innovate. But we must do so in the spirit of altruism and always thinking, "how could this be misconstrued?" and "how selfish is this?" even "are we blurring the line between journalism and hype?"

Take Consumer Reports for an extreme example, and the advertorial/infomercials for a hated opposite side of the spectrum.

Can a you speak of your advertiser's products? Sure, but you better say bad things as well as good things, be cynical and jaded when doing so. But as soon as you start, you'll have already lost a sizeable portion of your audience.

Purity. Transparency. Integrity. You have these values, and sometimes it gets difficult to see through all the creative noise to the actual morality invovled.




Sponsored Content.

Incentivized Opinion.

Aren't these ancient journalistic puzzles that have long ago been resolved?

Some of you Enronish trolls just don’t get it, do you?

Web users hate corporate messaging. We hate hype and sales. We enjoy sincere, unbiased advice.

Companies have expertise that they must learn how to impart to online communities in a Non-Commercial Manner. It will generate good will, which will lead to increased sales, if the product is good.

Why is the web hostile to blatant and covert marketing? We’ve been lied to. Consumer fraud. Non-interactive pulpit pounding aka broadcasting.

We are no longer passive “consumers”.

We now are destroyers of Business As Usual (ie, mammonistic).



CyberGal said...

Hi Vaspers!

I've been so busy I haven't been able to even read your great blog. God, do I hate being lied to. I occasionally speak of products I use on my blog, but there is never any money from the manufacturer involved!

How can people think consumers are so STUPID?

Keep up the great work!

steven edward streight said...

CyberGal: good to hear from you.

I've been hanging out on Twitter lately, more than blogosphere.

We all make mistakes. I hope we all learn from each other, and make amends when we err.

But to say "Microsoft was just trying something new", as though "new" was an excuse to not think through the web user reaction and the blogosphere's self-policing ethics is very unwise.