Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blogs R Us - A Controversy

On Business Week’s website, Ben Kunz of Media Associates wrote about the controversy surrounding Chris Brogan’s sponsored blog post for K-Mart in his story titled, “A Modest Blogging Proposal.” I thought it was a good article. Though I think it oversimplifies the controversy. Advertorials are commonplace in publishing. Chris Brogan's blog is a publication as well as an outlet for his personal opinion. K-Mart asked him to write a sponsored post, which was clearly and obviously noted in the piece. He did not shill for K-Mart and wrote what he says are his honest opinions.

I thought Kunz did a great job of satirizing the subject but we’re a long way from sponsored blog posts to sponsored personal opinions. As I mentioned, Chris Brogan’s blog and his personal brand provide a service. He is a publisher. While some blogs are random thoughts and others are filled with reposted items (I am guilty of lazily reposting news items in my blogs too) the blog itself has become elevated to a higher status in many ways. It is a genuine form of publishing adopted by many MSM websites. In that respect, it is open to many different interpretations, and Chris Brogan offered an experiment in one way an advertiser can take advantage of influential bloggers in a non-traditional way. (Traditional being relative here since by traditional I mean sponsored links and banner ads, which themselves are relatively new to the ad game on the whole.)

When the sponsorship is ambiguous or outright hidden and then offered as honest opinion, that’s when a blogger endangers his reputation and trust. In this case, I think it elevated Brogan’s rep because he is, after all, considered a cutting edge marketer and he’d be doing his clients a disservice if he didn’t practice what he preached whenever possible.

That all said, I agree (shudder) with Robert Scoble about devaluing a blogger’s time and posts to marketers. I could make a living writing $500 posts at 500 words all day long if I didn’t have to do any research, or self-promotion or reputation building or pretty much anything else. Unfortunately I have to do all those things and the marketers are not knocking down my door to offer and endless stream of $500 posts to me (or anyone else). That means my time is worth more than $500 per post. A lot more.

Marketers are getting a pretty sweet deal at that price. If I were them, I’d do the same thing any day of the week and get away with it. If Brogan, with all his influence and Internet fame gets five hundred measly bucks for his K-Mart post, then what hope do I have of making a living off my blog?

While a great idea, in theory and one that if done correctly will not devalue the reputation of the individual blogger, the real issue your article raises is the pittance bloggers can expect to get paid if the trend continues. At this rate, I’m going to have pay K-Mart for the privilege of writing about their crappy store. (Hey K-mart. Consider that one, pro bono.)

Lon S. Cohen
Twitter: @obilon
Web: lonscohen.com

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