I ran across an interesting factoid last week, complements of Marketing Pilgrim – nearly half of all marketers are willing to pay for posts on blogs, web sites, and social media. As blogger Cynthia Boris notes:
Now, paying for posts, Tweets, Facebook shoutouts or video mentions is not only acceptable, it’s good business.
According to new numbers from eMarketer, 48.8% of marketers have used a sponsored blog post. 39.4% have sponsored Tweets and 50.2% said they were open to using some kind of social media sponsorship.
Paid-for-Post programs run the gamut from sketchy clearinghouses pushing articles on windows blinds and times shares, to well-funded, creative properties that pay people for posts they would have written anyway for free.
As a marketing professional, my reaction was, “Cool, a new way to promote clients and maybe make some money.” I was particularly impressed with the amount of coin that sponsors are willing to pay for content – as much as $100 for a blog post. Not bad wages for freelance writers.
Then I thought about the flip side of this coin. If there is a market for paid posts, that means that any number of web sites, Facebook fan pages, Twitter feeds, and more are willing to pay for contributors to generate content. This seems counter to the spirit of social media. Do paid posts undermine the power of social media campaigns and online marketing?
If you are paying for content from third party contributors, does that undermine the value of your social media outlets? How do these social media channels reflect your brand if you are taking paid contributions from a host of contributors?
It also reminded me that blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds can’t be confused with conventional, or dare I say “legitimate”media outlets. When you see a byline in a publication like Forbes or BusinessWeek, you know that it was either a paid contribution by a staff writer or freelancer, or it is a contributed article by a guest expert. The publication makes it clear, and you can read the article using the appropriate filter and adjust your skepticism accordingly.
The rules for web contributions aren’t so well defined. Content providers come from all corners of the web. Some have a story they want to share to add to the conversation. Others have a product to sell. And still others are apparently now using a pay-for-placement strategy which looks a lot like advertising to me.
What separates the web, and specifically the blogosphere, from traditional print journalism is transparency. Journalists have a code of ethics and specific rules they must abide by, and when they fail to abide by those rules by misrepresenting the truth, manufacturing a source, or selling their influence in print, they are publicly censured and usually lose their position. The same is not true of the web. The code of ethics is different, and you can’t be clear about the objectivity of motives of the party on the other end of a post.
So while social media is great for building buzz and can be good for business, we all still need to view what we read on the web with a grain of salt (if not the entire shaker). Web sites masquerading as news sources are potentially dangerous, and can undermine the entire concept of legitimate journalism.
As a PR professional, I now have to ask myself, do I pitch or do I pay?