Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Blogvertising: Ethics in advertising for bloggers

Many blogs are using pay-per-click ads to generate revenue and as long as the ads don’t get in the way of the content, most readers don’t really mind. Many bloggers, however, are now providing advertising in the form of paid blog posts that are often disguised as spontaneous product reviews. For the reader, this can be misleading, particularly if the writer doesn’t provide a clear statement to indicate that they are providing a paid review.

For the uninitiated, services such as Pay-Per-Post, Review Me and Sponsored Reviews offer pay to bloggers to post product reviews on their blogs. While it isn’t stated explicitly, the expectation certainly appears to be that the paid posts will be largely positive in tone. Bloggers with high traffic ratings will be paid most, as they obviously have a wider audience. The intent of advertisers is to do more than create good “word of mouth” for their products; they are also looking to drive traffic to their own websites, thereby increasing their own ranking on search engines and thus, ensuring a better hit rate at their point of sale.

So, where’s the harm? I don’t have any issue with bloggers trying to generate revenue through their sites. Blogging can be hard work and time-consuming, so a small pay-off for the time and effort seems fair. It becomes harmful when the blogger has developed a trust relationship with readers and then violates it by not being explicit about the intention of their sponsored posts.

Many bloggers use a disclosure policy and badge, such as those provided at disclosurepolicy.org to inform readers that they earn revenue from advertisers and that they may endorse products in their writing. But this kind of “blanket” disclosure policy is not sufficient if readers have no way of knowing which post is an authentic, unpaid and therefore, unbiased commentary and which is a paid, and probably biased product review.

The ethical approach for bloggers is three-fold:

1. If you are planning to introduce advertising and paid reviews to your blog, write a post about it so you inform your readers up-front. If you have been developing a following and a trusted relationship with your readers, you owe it to them to be honest.
2. Post a disclosure policy. If your approach to revenue generation changes, be sure to update your policy accordingly.
3. Provide a disclosure statement at the start of each and every paid post, such as “This is a paid review”. It is unethical to omit the statement and very misleading to leave it as a “gotcha!” at the end of the post.
If you’re an interesting blogger with a reputation for being honest with your readers, they will tolerate the occasional paid post, as long as you’re up-front about it. If you’re not, readers will eventually get wise and move on.


Rich said...

Hey Sharon,

You nailed it. Bloggers might be a bit careful not posting too many paid posts, but full disclosure takes care of of the ethical details. Well said.

All my best,

Sharon E. Herbert. said...

Thanks for your comment, Rich. I'm really enjoying your posts about Jericho and the "nuts" campaign!

meleah rebeccah said...

this is so true. I for one, leave a page immediately if it is covered in ads. Its like spam is not juts confined to my email anymore. There are blogs that are all spam. (icky)

I can say that I don't have ad's and I don't click on other peoples ad's. (sorry)

There are some pages I love, they don't drive me away because of ads, and that is only when it is done tastefully, and clearly identified.

Thanks for the etiquette lesson!