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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.

Update:

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
disclosure.

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
advertiser.

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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