I’ve come across a couple of interesting posts in the past few days, both related to the ethics of blogging. I struggle with how to frame the issues, because I think there are two different definitions of blogging:
- Creating a personal or professional journal online
- Using blog software to power a website that may have one or many authors
When most people think of “blogging,” I believe they’re thinking of the former definition. And when I think about the ethics of these two issues, that’s where I believe questions come into play. However, I think more and more, organizations are discovering how the latter definition benefits them. But to be clear, that’s not what I’m talking about today.
Last week, Forrester came out with a report recommending the practice of “sponsored blogging” — basically, marketers offering payment or goods to bloggers in exchange for product reviews, etc. ReadWriteWeb writes how they’re sort of against this practice. They attempt to make a distinction between cash payments, products, and other offerings — and to define how advertorials fit into the whole mess.
This is an area where transparency solves a lot of problems. I started writing many years ago on the college newspaper staff, and we had drawers and drawers full of CDs and tapes [yep, I’m old] from record companies, and books from publishers. In the media industry, that’s not viewed as a free benefit — those are review copies. Music and book publishers know that most media outlets won’t review items unless you give them a free copy to try. [Consumer Reports has long stood out in this field: They purchase everything they review and don’t even take advertising.]
I think most of the so-called “mommy blogging” reviews fall into this category. Here’s the critical question for me: As a reader, which would you rather read — an unsolicited product review, just because the blogger loves/hates the item so much they can’t help but say so, or a review prompted by the company sending the item to the blogger for the specific purpose of reviewing it?
I fall on both sides. For tech items, I enjoy knowing about people’s personal preferences, but when I need the details, I go to CNET, Consumer Reports or some other site where I know I can count on the pros to walk me step-by-step through my options. For parenting and kid items, I’m much more likely to take another mom’s personal recommendation.
Whatever your deal is, being clear about it is critical to establishing trust with your readers.Whether I’m reading a magazine, newspaper or online, it helps me as a reader to evaluate your statements if I understand the source.
Which leads me to my next link. Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and a prolific blogger, writes about ghost-blogging: Hiring someone to write your blog for you. If you’re unclear at all on why this is wrong, head right over to read Michael’s post — which he wrote himself, just like he does for all his posts.
Here’s where things start to get fuzzy for me, though. I don’t think ghost-writing is wrong. But ghost-blogging? No way. I’m trying to reconcile that in my mind. I think it partially comes down to this:
Blogging is a personal medium. And online, we don’t have a lot of clues to help us decide whom we can trust. So at the very least, if you’re going to write online, you have to start by doing the work yourself. You have to be a real person with a real name. And you can’t hire someone to be you.
Hiring someone to write copy for your website? Super. [Call me, let’s talk.] Hiring someone to write your speech? Absolutely. But when your name and photo are all we have to go on, you need to be the wizard behind the curtain.
It all comes down to the same principle: transparency. Be who you say you are. It’s critical currency on the Internet.