This whole debacle doesn’t need another opinion, but just when the fire seemed to be dying down, someone tossed in another bucket of gasoline. And now I want to go meta. If you’ve already been following the whole drama, drop down to the next drop cap.
In case you’re not a Twitter junkie or social media hound, there was a big dustup over the weekend over a sponsored blog post social media guru Chris Brogan wrote for Kmart. Basically, Kmart engaged a company called Izea to contract a group of influential bloggers to create a $500 shopping spree contest for their readers. Chris was given a $500 gift card to shop at Kmart and blog about it, and then invite his readers into a contest for their own $500 gift card.
I saw the original post Brogan wrote for Kmart when he tweeted it, and I was a little bit surprised. It was clearly labeled as a “sponsored post”, and the content of the post also made it clear he was carefully avoiding writing an advertorial. What surprised me was simply that it wasn’t what I expected after reading Chris’ social media blog for so long. A sponsored post for Kmart just didn’t seem to fit with my sense of Chris Brogan’s brand. Oh well. I don’t think anything Brogan did was unethical–he clearly disclosed that the post was sponsored, and he donated his own $500 shopping spree to Toys for Tots.
But over the weekend, I saw some tweets with links to Izea, the company that had facilitated the whole sponsored post campaign. There was a big link on their site touting the Kmart campaign, and its coverage in the media. Shortly after, Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester tweeted a string about the campaign, and the volcano erupted.
Kmart paid Shoemoney $500 resulting in buzz from paid blog post 300+ comments http://snipurl.com/7yi5w “Buying” social media is effective 4:37 AM Dec 13th from web
This may not be a scalable model however, as buying placements could reduce credibility of bloggers, reducing marketing inventory. 4:38 AM Dec 13th from web
Bottom Line: Expect more brands to ‘buy’ bloggers and tweeters as the economy dips, this truly is cost effective marketing 4:39 AM Dec 13th from web
What ensued was a rapid-fire string of tweets, followed by blog posts, followed by tweets referencing blog posts, with lots of incindiary charges and defenses. One commentator charged that Chris had sold his integrity for $500, while others questioned Kmart’s savviness in trying to buy content. And on and on it went. Chris explained his position at length, as did Jeremiah.
What bothers me about this whole drama is not about Chris writing a paid post for Kmart–he was totally transparent about it, which is a lot more than we can say for a lot of other bloggers, and even mainstream media. What bothers me is the way the debate is being carried out. There is an important question at the heart of this debate that professional bloggers need to address.
- How do we get paid for the value we deliver?
- How do we maintain the value we’re delivering in ways that don’t compromise our brand?
- How do maintain our relationship and credibility with our readers?
Unfortunately, Chris was the current case study for this question being asked. Believe me, I know how much that sucks. But as much as the whole debacle may seem personal, we can’t afford to let it stay mired there. A depressing amount of the commentary was focused on decrying critics as “jealous”, or “uninformed”, or even “morons”. Others claimed that the criticism was a thinly veiled attack against Izea and its owner, who launched the controversial payperpost.com a few years ago. And one blogger claimed that Jeremiah doesn’t even have the right to bring up the questions he posed, because as an industry analyst, he’s only supposed to comment on industry trends, not venture into editorial.
When I see people questioning the validity of debate and shooting down critics in personal attacks, I worry about the health of our profession. Sure, it’s all human, and all to be expected. But damn. The whole point about social media is the opportunity for many voices to be heard, for larger dialogs that catalyze the synthesis of ideas. And right here, in our own back yard, we the brave pioneers couldn’t even manage to get to the deeper, substantive questions–questions over the relationship of trust between companies and consumers, between influencers and their communities, between consumers and their peers–questions that mainstream media have been hammering on for generations. We short-circuited the whole debate and chose sides. What a shame.
Image Credit: Paulo Brandão