Social Media is a medium that currently is built on transparency, trust and dare I say, integrity. Unlike any other marketing medium, the grass roots community have held this environment to a higher level of principles, mainly because its very foundation has been determined by its makers: the consumers, the masses.
While the medium continues to evolve, the monetization challenges the core principles surrounding social media. I have seen many articles on this topic and there are valid arguments on each side of the coin. I recently attended a vibrant session at Podcamp Toronto 2011 entitled “What Price Integrity?” Here is an excerpt of the description: “Blogging and social media have become huge areas of opportunity for bloggers and companies looking to use these bloggers to promote their products and/or services. …But as the opportunities have grown, so have the questionable practices.”
An esteemed group @EdenSpodek, @DannyBrown and @GiniDietrich were at the helm to give their views. A great mix of PR and Marketing folk spoke about their views of disclosure. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission has mandated bloggers to disclose under the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising or be hit with a potential fine. In Canada, this has become more of a best practice since it has not been formerly legislated. More and more bloggers are using disclosure pages or some sort of transparency statement to disclose relationship with a brand. Others in the session noted that unless they were mandated to do so, they did not feel the need to disclose. This brings up another question which @martinwaxman alluded to: Mainstream media is NOT mandated to disclose relationship with spokespeople, so why should social media?
The clear line is compensation. And yet bloggers are in a category of their own. They sit between mainstream media (all media, publishing, advertising in mass and digital) and journalists. To this day, journalistic integrity forbids journalists to accept compensation in the form of paid sponsorship. Bloggers, not long ago, were held to this standard. They were given free stuff in exchange for helping build buzz for a company. That has changed and a fervent few have helped change that viewpoint–I remember Trisha, founder of Momdot.com wrote a post last year “I work for me. NOT free”. I am a fan of momdot.com and what they’ve done to really build an amazing community. My response to Trisha was, “Times have changed and relationship and value should exceed free. I am working on a model now that involves creating a strong value exchange with bloggers and social networks that allows both parties to get what they want — whether that be product or compensation.”
The market is still evolving and marketers have to buy in to the value of Moms and consumers who provide much more relevance to the business as opposed to “free advice”.” Canadian momblogger groups like everythingmom and yummymummyclub, and savvymom.com have followed suit. And to @martinwaxman’s point: When blogger sites grow to the point of developing an engaged community, they play in the same realm of mainstream media. Therefore, should they not be held to the same standard as media? Shouldn’t companies pay for the privilege to access these sites? After all, in this world, does anything really come free?
I welcome your viewpoint on this topic. How do you see this space evolving?
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