There has been endless debate in social networking circles about blogging for money.
One of the latest posts on the topic was at Mark W. Schaefer’s blog Grow called “The Monetization of Chris Brogan.”
For those who don’t know of him, Chris Brogan is a social media consultant and blogger at ChrisBrogan.com – one of the most respected and well read blogs about the social web.
(And for the record: I don’t know Chris. I read him regularly and have corresponded with him via Twitter and through comments on his blog. But I’ve never met him personally.)
Chris has become a lightning rod for criticism on blogging for profit (and apparently he’s getting frustrated by it). The good news is that he’s at the center of the debate because he has the audacity to make money – and be successful – at blogging. So in many ways, this is a good problem for Chris.
What exactly is Chris doing? He’s experimenting with several methods of payment – from sponsored blog posts to being paid to review products. For example, Chris went on a sponsored shopping spree at K-Mart. He was allowed to keep everything he purchased in exchange for writing about the experience. Chris was open and transparent about his shopping spree being sponsored (and he has clearly labeled all of his other sponsored content – which to be fair has been a very small percentage of his blog posts).
Chris isn’t alone in this. A colleague recently forwarded me an email from a noted mommy blogger, Melissa Garcia of ConsumerQueen, who was requesting a corporate sponsor for the BlogWorld Expo 2009 in Las Vegas. In exchange for paying for her attendance (including airfare and hotel), Melissa would agree to sponsor the brand at the conference. The ConsumerQueen blog is upfront that some of the posts there are sponsored and spells out how it works in a public disclosure policy.
(Full disclosure again: I have not worked with Melissa before nor do I know her).
I’m a former journalist and a blogger (who makes zip from blogging) and I have absolutely no problem with this practice. If you don’t like the content Chris or Melissa produces – the paid or the unpaid – then you don’t have to read their blogs. It is really as simple as that.
There’s been a lot written about the Federal Trade Commission reviewing a three-decades-old ruling on advertising endorsements and testimonials because of the proliferation of pay-for-play posting on blogs. However, the FTC isn’t going to ban the practice – only require full disclosure of it.
“Consumers have a right to know when they’re being pitched a product,” Richard Cleland, an assistant director at the FTC, recently told the New York Times.
Reasonable people should all agree with Cleland’s statement. Consumers should be made aware if a piece is editorial content or advertising copy.
But let’s not put blogging on a pedestal. Paid content is a staple of many national magazines, newspapers and broadcast channels. Magazines often publish “advertorials” – articles that are written by and paid for by private interests – and paid programming (infomericals) are common on many cable and broadcast TV stations.
That is corporate content – bought and paid for – and it is clearly marked as such. What’s the difference if a blogger does the same thing, especially if they are honest and transparent about it?
As I’ve also noted before, many news magazines and television stations are guilty of pumping the products of other divisions of the parent company. What else can you call cover stories in TIME magazine about the Harry Potter movies? (TIME is owned by Time Warner, which produces the Harry Potter movies) or when the CBS Morning News interviews the latest contestant kicked off the island on CBS’s “Survivor”?
So if Chris Brogan wants to blog about shopping sprees at K-Mart and Melissa Garcia wants a corporate-sponsored trip to Las Vegas – and they tell us they are being paid to do so – why can’t they? It will be up to readers to determine if they want to continue reading their blogs – or if they trust them as an authentic sources of information.