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On The Media Interview: How to be an ethical marketer. Why it’s wrong to pay for blog coverage.

Welcome to all the new readers who heard me on On The Media this morning.

I did an interview with host Bob Garfield about the most important issue in the world of blogging: ethics.  Specifically, we talked about what happens when marketers pay for placement in blogs.

(More here)

Paying for blog coverage — what you need to know:

  • Disclosure is the difference between honesty and sleaze.  Most media is supported by some form of advertising — but they label it clearly.  When you say "and now a word from our sponsor" you've done the right thing. If you forget the disclosure, or hide it, you are lying to your audience.
  • The FTC agrees. Taking money for blog posts is illegal if you don't disclose that you were paid.  The new regulations make it clear: you are responsible for what you write.  You don't get some special protection from long-standing rules just because you write on a blog instead of a newspaper.
  • The problem is when your paid message gets repeated (without the disclosure). When you take money for a blog post, even if you disclose it properly, you can't ensure that the disclosure is repeated on Facebook, Twitter, and by everyone else who re-blogs it.  You can't — which means you are the source of a wide-spread deception.

Advice for consumers: Learn to tell the difference between paid endorsements and regular blog posts.  Stop reading and linking to anyone who crosses the line.

Advice for marketers:  There is no good reason to pay bloggers. Ever. The promotion you might get is no better than if you used non-paid PR and advertising.  The downside, however, is huge. If you screw up just once — or if the blogger forgets to mention that you paid them — you risk an major scandal, national humiliation, and permanent brand damage.

To learn how to do this the right way, use the Blog Council's Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit.


Based on email I've been receiving, I've confused more than a few people (maybe myself).

1. We are talking about when a company pays you write a blog post
(or tweet) about their product. We're not talking about a blogger on
payroll or an advertisement (that looks like an ad).

2. Disclosure is the rule. If you get paid to review or write about
a product you must disclose. It is legal and ethical to get paid, with

3. My personal advice. Don't take money to write a post, even with
disclosure. It's still likely to discredit the blogger and the

It's ok to be a professional blogger who earns a living from
advertising. But when you get paid for the editorial as well as ads,
you're in danger of crossing the line.

Recommendation: Ads should look like ads, not posts.

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