Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No Payola

One sure sign this pay per posting crap is way out of hand is that now we have "organizations" like DisclosurePolicy.Org which try to make this all sound ethical. As if this should sound ethical. :snort:

According to that 'organization':
By disclosing the purpose of a blog, bloggers are letting readers know more about the information they'll be reviewing. Bloggers retain the freedom to write original content, as well as select which advertisers they will represent in exchange for gifts or money. Any ethical concerns will remain where they've always been - on the individual level. Because it is a blogger's freedom to select which topics will bring them payment, he/she remains responsible for his/her own reputation.
I say those of who not only believe in transparency but in authority as well ~ those of us with ethics ~ band together and tell everyone that we don't, we won't, accept paid posts.

Post a button or banner at your blog or website to let others know that you just won't take part in payola.

I recommend that you link the button to your own policy or ethics page/post, and include a link here so that others may join us too. If you do post a link to Marketing Whore, post a link in the comments to show me (and to help others who may be unsure what to say about their policies). Or email me with the link. Either way, I will add your blog to the blogroll.

Please do not hotlink (steal bandwidth); if you need help with images, go here.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Affiliates Vs. Paid Posts

But Gracie, how are paid postings any different than a blogger promoting a site via affiliate programs? Well, that's rather like saying commission sales is like payola.

In commissioned sales, you are paid for your performance. You make a sale, you get a cut. The reason folks join individual affiliate programs is that they believe they can make money off of it. Why? Because they like it or that their readers will. They select programs they are naturally interested in, those which suit their blog theme or mission, those which seem to fit their style. They believe in it so they invest their time &/or effort in selling it for the reward of part of the sale.

Can they lie? Sure. For example, anyone can say they're a member of a paysite and they love it so much they're telling you to join to ~ when they've never done more than see a tour page. But then again, anyone anywhere can lie.

Can a blogger or webmaster be solicited to join an affiliate program? You bet we are. But since we aren't paid to select them, we decide if this would be a good fit for our readers ~ because that's how we'd get paid. We decide if the site or product is worthy of our lending our name to it ~ because our readers who got burned would sure let us know. At least the good ones do this.

In payola or pay per post, you are paid for your mention of the item ~ your 'play' of it, if you will. This means, whether you like the product or not, you get paid to mention it. Each and every time you mention it. And from any company willing to pay. (And many of these companies are equally oblivious to targeting in this "post about me now!" mentality; so honestly, what's the point?)

Some of you will argue that bloggers may pick and choose what they will mention, what paid postings they will do, but kids, let's be as honest as the day is long and admit that there are many people in the world (not just the Internet) who are hungry for money and will take what is offered. The incentive, the "pay," is to "post," not to be authentic, not to match blogger readership, or anything else.

We're not talking about small sums either. Affiliates generally pay a smaller amount per sale, whereas paid postings are larger sums up front or at least much quicker than waiting to reach an affiliate pay-out limit. The proverbial 'quick buck'. (Too bad their momma's didn't tell them there's really no such thing, because once the word gets out that you're only after a quick buck, who is gonna give a f***?)

I've been offered up to $85 for a paid posting ~ one that I wouldn't even need to write because they would write the 'article' for me. That's free content, supposedly tailored for my readers, plus $85 in my pocket ~ and I turned it down because I care, damnit. I've also turned down ads for products which are illegal, products I believe to be dangerous, and just plain old shams (the latter of which mostly come into this blog).

I may whore my wares, the wares of other, but I'm honest about that. I'll whore what I like, thank you, and when I do, you'll know it.

But I'm not going to sell my soul, my loyalty, and in the process sell you all out too. My word matters to me. It's one of the few things, I'm told, I get to take with me when I leave this place.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Q & A About Paid Postings

My, my, you all have a lot of questions and comments on this!

Q: Are there adult pay per post programs?
A: If I knew any, I'd not tell. (I hate to sound like a magic 8-Ball, but really now, it's rather clear I detest the things and do not want to promote any.)

Q: What about being paid for reviews? Isn't that the same thing, really?
A: Pay per post is completely different from reviewing products or services; reviews are ethical.

Reviews are when a person uses a product or service and provides and honest accounting of its usefulness, worth, function, or some statement saying if it was pleasing or not.

The product or service may have requested the review (in which case, they ought to have provided a sample, review copy, screening, or other way for the reviewer to try the product), or the reviewer may simply have bought or otherwise used the product or service himself. The piece was written and published as a service to readers who value their opinion about such products and services. (This makes them targeted and part of the publication or blog's mission, and as a result, reviews may be used to further the blogger's authority, reputation and traffic.)

The piece is an honest opinion or set of opinions about the product or service and is published as information for interested consumers; it is not a promotional piece for the author, manufacturer, company or service provider ~ though, if positive, it can be used as such.

Reviews are not paid for, in any sense of the word.

While a blogger or reviewer may make money off an affiliate program, such as Amazon affiliate links for book reviews, this is not to be confused with "being paid." These links exist primarily to give the consumer access to the product (and additional product information) as well as provide a nominal (and potential) 'thank you' to compensate for the reviewer's time. (If you've ever done reviews, you'd never question the amount of time put into them.) This is why affiliate links are more accepted at blogs and personal sites, rather than at The New York Times and other large publications where the reviewers are staff or other paid writers.

Again, and repeat with me, "Reviews are never paid for." Even paid reviewing services which promise you 'the big guy publications' (and no, I won't drop their names either) are smarmy in my book. But I am an opinionated whore.

Q: Can I turn a paid post solicitation into money another way?
A: Yes, and I'll be writing that up in an upcoming newsletter.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Paid Per Posting: A Whore By Any Other Name, Still Smells Fishy

Sorry for the relatively crass post title, guaranteed to irritate sex workers (and women) everywhere ~ and the long post ~ but I really feel strongly about this.

Grab a beverage, light a cig if that's your dealio, and settle in ~ this whore's got stamina. (She's long winded & goes the distance.)


Maybe I'm just too old and remember the days of payola all too well, or maybe it's because I'm not only aware of the cultural swing to consumer mistrust but am part of it, but paid postings make me ill.

I seriously thought paid postings would be a short-lived mistake, and I'd never need to write about it. But lately, not only am I seeing the blight on more and more blogs, but it's so bad that blog directories are now asking if you participate in such activities and others are even tossing such bloggers out of their listings. Oh, if only that would be enough to convince folks that paid postings are a bad idea. But apparently it's not.

Paid posting is the devil. Not just annoying, not just a stupid thing to do, but literally a way to sell your integrity, and the soul of your blog and company if not your personal soul.

I'm not talking about when a writer gets paid to write, even 'on assignment,' or posts which are sponsored in the sense that someone pays a fee to have their ad in a post rather than a sidebar or other ad spot. I'm talking about when someone gets paid to writ about a specific product/service/company period. It's not merely 'like' payola, it is payola.
Payola is defined as, a secret or private payment in return for the promotion of a product or service. The term originates from the record industry; but isn't limited to it.
Media which is paid to present products, services, companies, candidates etc. should be marking these funds as advertising revenues and presenting these products to the public as advertisements. If not, if they publish articles, run videos, air interviews etc. for money, they are taking a bribe.

Don't kid yourself, or let another fool you, into believing that being paid to blog (write, publish, or otherwise present) about a product (company, service, performer, candidate or other entity) is ethical or effective. It's not.

In our current climate of mistrust, a thinking reader is often looking for the hook ~ what's this author's intent, what's the blogger have to gain from posting this, what's the reporter's bias? This means that the average visitor to your blog is looking for a reason not to trust you. Paid postings just prove them right, and you terribly, woefully, wrong.

(If you agree with me, you may stop reading now and go get an ice cream cone ~ unless you're morbidly fascinated by this sort of train-wreck. If you don't agree or don't know what pay per post is, then read on my children ~ you might get that ice cream cone yet.)

What happens when a blogger is giving selling their opinions directly on products ~ without even trying them?!

Think I'm exaggerating? Think again, kids. Look at this from SponsoredReviews.com FAQ for advertisers:
How It Works

There are two ways to participate:

1. You can search for and purchase reviews directly by browsing through our database of active bloggers. Once you purchase a review and provide some details about the review you want done, we notify the bloggers. The blogger would then accept or decline your review request. Once accepted the blogger has 7 days to write the review, post it on their blog, and submit the URL into our system for you to see.

2. You can also post an opportunity so that bloggers can search and find you directly. An opportunity is similar to posting a job opening. Bloggers will search for relevant advertisers in order to find work. Posting an opportunity will increase the number of reviews you can get completed.
And this is from their FAQ for bloggers:
How it Works

There are two ways to participate:

1. You can create a profile for your blog(s) in order to attract advertisers. Advertisers will purchase reviews from you, which you have the option to accept or decline.

2. You can also search for advertisers directly, and bid on jobs. Our unique bidding system allows you to negotiate your rates with advertisers in order to maximize your earnings.

Once you have accepted a review opportunity, you have 3 days to complete your assignment. Upon posting the review on your blog, you must enter the URL of the post into our system.
Not a single mention of product being delivered to a blogger ~ in fact, not a single mention of the products actually being used! Now what the hell is that about?! That's not a review, that's an infomercial (at best), a paid endorsement by someone who has never tried it (at worst) or just a plain old advertisement.

In fact, it seems that actually trying the product is discouraged. Here's a quote from PayPerPost.com's blogger FAQ:
Q: How much time do I have to write my post?

A: Once you have selected Take this Opportunity, you have 6 hours to complete the requirements as listed in the Opportunity and submit the post via PayPerPost. It is best to begin research and work on the post as soon as you have decided to accept the Opportunity.
Are we to believe that within 6 hours one has been sent or purchased the item, used it, and written a review?

A review means that one has tried the product or service and is giving their honest, unvarnished thoughts. Clearly, these are not reviews.

How on earth is paid posting not considered payola by everyone?

As a blogger, you have an ethical responsibility to differentiate advertisements from your own content (i.e. your comments, opinions, recommendations, interviews, articles etc.). Even if you do not consider yourself to be part of The Media, nor wish to be, you have this responsibility. Think of it this way; when you ask your friend what movie you should see this weekend and he tells you, "Even Almighty," you trust him, right? But what if he was paid to say that? And he never told you?

Paid per post is just that.

(And how would you feel about Universal Films for paying your buddy to tell you that?)

I know, I know, there are some sites/programs which make it clear that the blog post is a paid post via buttons, banners and links. This does alleviate the matter of the hidden agenda from the reader ~ however, this leads to a whole other set of problems which prove pay per post is just bad business.

Number one, the fundamental flaw with admitting that you get paid per post is that your entire blog and everything you say is now suspect. It's not just me saying that. Be honest with yourself; if you read in any of my posts that I was paid to write them, wouldn't they naturally be suspect? Wouldn't I naturally be suspect?

You know what kills me? When bloggers fill their headers and their sidebars with buttons which read, "Hire Me! A Post On This Blog Is $15" (or $30 or whatever price they put on their integrity). Authority lost in the name of transparency, that's what this is. That button screams, "Hey! Me, my blog, and I have no integrity! Buy us!" What authority can you possibly have or earn when you announce that you and your blog are for sale?

And they call me a whore. :snort:

While these hideous announcements are at least honest, what does this do for the advertiser? Do you trust or like people who bribe people? Those companies, politicians, entertainers, etc. who use pay for posts are doing just that.

In our current climate of distrust of corporations and marketing in general, people are all-too-ready to point fingers at those who would be so unethical. And it won't be just the blogger who suffers with a poor reputation, but the advertiser as well.

Besides, it's a waste of ad dollars. These blatant bribes are not going to be effective.

Knowing that a blogger is paid for their posts severely limits the blog's appeal. Would a paid review, a blog post be meaningful to you? Likely not. Who is going to bookmark or regularly visit this blog? Would you read a blog or subscribe to an RSS feed in which 70% (or more) of its content was ads? Probably not.

Of the few that do visit, either out of friendship with the blogger or those who just stumbled in for the first time from from a search engine query, are these visitors part of the advertiser's target market? For that matter, how can a blog which is 70% paid postings have a target audience? So even if these were credible reviews and ads at credible blogs how could these ads even be worthwhile to the advertisers?

It's a lose-lose scenario.

Amazingly, quite a number of these bloggers in pay per post programs (and there are a growing number of these), have high rankings, linking authority at Technorati and other signs of 'greatness.'

How do they do it? Well, I'm no member of these programs, but it's pretty clear that they are organized, armed with blogger tools, and know just enough to be dangerous ~ for the short term anyway. For no matter how many people you get (trick into) visiting these blogs, the bottom line is no one is trusting them enough to believe what they say. Translation: No one is going to rush out and buy/consume the products and services which are presented.

One of the tools these programs offer is the "Get Paid To Review My Post" buttons. These are designed to get others hooked. Not just other bloggers and advertisers, but blog readers looking to make a few bucks.

I've heard the intention of the "review me" buttons and links are to provide the check & balance of the system. If a blogger consistently gets poor reviews, then they'll be ranked less or otherwise deemed less worthy to advertisers. This is to ensure the quality. (Quality I can only guess is determined by some rather meaningless criteria, for by now credibility is non-existent.) Aside from the obvious potential of misuse by other jealous bloggers, the friends of bloggers and the advertisers themselves (who can keep a blogger's fees as humble as their attitudes), the whole system is rife with misuse by the program managers themselves.

As noted before, I've been at sites where the owners told columnists to download the Alexa toolbar so that our visits would help increase the site's ranking. So it's not a big leap to imagine that when advertisers stop buying posts these programs will direct members to 'give folks a break' and give nice reviews so that they can gain and retain advertisers. A plea to 'help the program so you can continue to be paid' is a strong motivator for many, and since the average (admittedly not generated with a large sample) I saw for paid post reviews was $7.50 per review, that could add up rather quickly. Those reviewing members are going to respond.

Of course, it's just as likely that the programs will actually direct it's members posting negative or neutral 'reviews' to let up a bit to help the site gain and retain advertisers. Ditto on running about and clicking the links to advertisers to inflate numbers. Since these bloggers are in it for the money, not the authority, not the love of what they blog about, they are going to submit to these requests.

The whole thing stinks like rotten fish sitting in the sunshine. Don't let pay per post folks blow sunshine up your skirt with their talk of revenues and other matters which cloud the issue, which is one of ethics.

Decent bloggers care about their authority. Decent companies care about their image. And paid postings destroy both.

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