Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who's going to clean up this mess?

It's funny because lately a lot of the topics I post about here have already been hashed out on Twitter, and sometimes it feels like everything's already been said by the time it gets here. Which is exactly how I'm feeling about the latest Twitterstorm that hit yesterday.

On December 2nd, Chris Brogan wrote a sponsored post about KMart on his Dad-o-matic blog. As part of the post, Chris got a $500 gift card to go on a shopping spree in KMart, in exchange for blogging his experience. He also got another $500 gift card to giveaway to readers of the Dad-o-matic blog. Chris explains that he brought his kids along to pick out toys during the shopping spree, and donated those toys to Toys For Tots.

Again, that was on December 2nd. Yesterday, Jeremiah Owyang found the post, and shared it with his 16K or so Twitter followers. And just like that, the latest Twitterstorm was born(BTW why do these 'controversies' always seem to pop up on the weekend?). If you want to get a sense of what people think about it, search here. I don't want to focus too much on this particular episode, but I will say this; Having met Chris a couple of times, and talking with him a handful of times, and knowing people that know him better than I do, I trust Chris and his intentions with this post. I believe Chris when he says that he does such posts as a way to experiment with the possibilities of monetizing content, and applaud him for this.

But I also think a larger issue here is that a lot of people appear to be opposed to blog/social content being monetized. Sorry guys, but the cat is out of the bag. The future of social media involves finding methods of monetizing created content. But every time a blogger/podcaster/content creator attempts to experiment with how this can be achieved, there's always a backlash.

Last year, Joe Jaffe came up with a very innovative idea for monetizing his popular podcast series, Jaffe Juice. Joe decided to ask for sponsorship for an episode of the show, in exchange for him receiving an iPhone. He got a taker on his offer almost immediately, and I believe he later got Dell to sponsor a month's worth of episodes in exchange for a laptop.

But then, as now, many people were opposed to Jaffe doing this(Check the comments, he had some 'colorful' objections to the idea). And the same objections were raised then, as now. That if Jaffe took any form of compensation for the content he created, then his future credibility when creating content, was called into question, on some level.

Guys, we need to get over ourselves.

Yes, I get that some think that blogging and social media is completely pure, and that no money should be involved in this space. Many also want to see this space grow and be 'taken seriously'. Sorry guys, but part of being 'taken seriously' means that businesses need to see a reason to be here. They need to know that they will get a return from putting money into this space.

If we want to see the social media space mature and move forward, then finding BETTER and MORE EFFICIENT ways of monetizing created content is a HUGE part of that equation. This is not a post arguing the merits of Pay Per Post, or receiving iPhones for your podcast. It's about supporting the idea of finding BETTER and MORE EFFICIENT ways of monetizing social content.

We can either decide to do one of two things:

1 - Oppose the idea of monetizing this space. This will likely stifle attempts to find better ways of monetizing social content, and leave us with the 'best' alternative being Google Ads on blogs that earn most bloggers pennies, and irritate most readers.

2 - Accept that monetizing social media is inevitable, and embrace the idea. This will lead to more people like Chris and Joe experimenting with what's possible, and better solutions for content creators making money from their efforts AND it will lead to the people that interact with that content getting more value as well.

I hope we do #2. I think the problem is we want to see this space move forward, but few want to actually get their hands dirty and make that happen.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post Mack! I can guess that of your choices, it will be #2. As long as there are collections of eyeballs in one place in a capitalist society, there will be people who pay to get messages to those eyeballs.

And Chris is on the vanguard of almost every part of SM - figures he'd be leading the way here too. He did so with the transparency and ethics that I would expect from him.

Scott Drummond said...

Hey Mack,

Hooray for this post and hooray for a responsible approach to the business of social media.

Back in June at a marketing conference I attended in Melbourne, Australia, debate about what 2009 would hold for the media floundered on a polarised debate around whether bloggers were better at sourcing and distributing the news.

The really sad thing was that with lots of smart 'new' and 'old' media folks in the room, people were totally missing the chance to effectively debate (and create) the future business models around the content, something ultimately far more important than who 'owns' or controls the media in the future.

The future business and revenue distribution models around online interaction, conversations, sociability and hyper-connectivity don't exist as coherent concepts yet. It's up to all of us to take responsibility for imagining the future of this space.

The more we invest our creative energies in effective, efficient and non-zero-sum value generation models of work, the more value we can individually and collectively add to our mediated interactions, a larger and larger part of all our lives.

Great post - really got me thinking, so thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack,

I find it rather amusing that there are so many opponents of bloggers being paid to post a review. I see nothing wrong with rewarding a blogger for their efforts. It takes time for the blogger to do the review. Why shouldn't they be compensated as long as they are open about the compensation?

I give KMart credit for the idea of using social media to get people back into their stores and I give Chris credit for doing the review with honesty, integrity and charity. I'm sure the recipients of those toys through the Toys for Tots program will have a better holiday.

Anonymous said...

In many ways it is surprising to me that this is such an issue. After all, most of us in this space are marketing/PR/advertising professionals, all trying to make a buck. Since it is a new space, there is experimentation because there aren't established and accepted norms around how professionals will conduct business to make a profit.

This is normal in a n immature, new market. We need to remember that, but not let it hold us back from maturing this space, so it is easier to do what we love, and make money doing it.

There is no room, nor should there be, for purism in social media business practices. Is there in any other industry? I think not. This is about conducting business. Just because social media has opened up communication channels and enabled anyone to talk to just about anyone else, doesn't change the end goals. We're professionals that are simply pulling a new tool out of our toolbox, to accomplish our business objectives.

Since when did experimenting, being innovative in business become a bad thing? Not in my book.

Move forward. Experiment. Be transparent. Incorporate what works. Throw out what doesn't.

These are not new methods but rather old ones being applied with a new tool.

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly said.
"Does it work?" That's the question that business asks. "How does it work?" is the question that comes with the first. Work implies exchange of goods or services for money.

How will we get the economy back on it's feet if we keep the social media space totally social? And if we do that would mean not consultant fees, or pr fees, or marketing fees too, wouldn't it?

The power of any industry lies in the money -- those who understand, those who make it, those who influence those who spend. We're on the cusp of innovation, ideas, and radical new kinds of business, if we refuse to touch the money of business -- then the folks who don't refuse will determine how the Internet works, and eventually our role will end.

We live with a chance to change how it's done.

Anonymous said...

"Many also want to see this space grow and be 'taken seriously'. Sorry guys, but part of being 'taken seriously' means that businesses need to see a reason to be here. They need to know that they will get a return from putting money into this space."

So true. I'm working with a client now to create a social media-based contest. When we launch next week, I will disclose on my blog that my company is being paid to write/manage the contest site. If there is a backlash, so be it. This company wants to engage bloggers, podcasters, etc. And they are trying to do it the right way. If there's a problem with that, then it means there is no way at all for brands to successfully utilize social media -- and I don't think that's true.

Anonymous said...

hey mack,

agree with you and actually think it's a bit sad how people are looking to blame and turn against someone. chris brogan has been providing valuable content and advice for years (for free) and if he publicly discloses that a post is sponsored then what's the big deal? it's his blog and his opinion.

if the readers don't like it then they don't have to read his blog, but making a big deal over something like this is just a bit out of whack.


M said...

Great post- transperancy is the key- say you're being paid and let people decide how much that influences their thoughts.

I completely agree with your final points - #2 is obviously the way we need to go if we want progress, new tools, etc.

This monetarizing debate reminds me a lot of how appalled many people were when online retailers started actually (gasp)for shipping in 1999-2000. A similar firestorm broke (though without the benefit of social media.) now, of course, free shipping is something you only get during a promotion (or a bad economy it seems) - folks, there is no such thing as a free lunch - here's to progress!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack,

I was engulfed in an ethical debate in 2005 when our company, Marqui, paid 20 bloggers to blog about us. We required they flag each post as one for which they were being paid, and linked to every single one, positive or negative.

Fast forward (almost) four years:

I have been contacting marketing bloggers on behalf of a client about a new tool to brand any URL,

Imagine my surprise when I got a lovely email response from a blogger who's listed on the AdAge 150 Top Marketing Blogs offering a "positive review" of the product if we'd pay him $100. (To be fair, his "advertising" policy is listed on his site.)

I don't pretend to be naive about bloggers wanting to monetize their blogs. I'm being paid to reach out to bloggers, for heaven's sake.

But to offer a positive review through that channel seems both inauthentic and unethical.

I applaud Chris' actions. To your points, I hope we find our ways here in the spirit of authenticity, transparency and (above all) honesty. It's only that way that we'll arrive with our integrity intact.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that monetization is the main issue here. It's also about authenticity, integrity, and full disclosure.

I think Chris is fairly transparent (read his "about" section), but it was confusing that he called his seat on the IZEA advisory board "upaid" (as he wrote, "I’m on his advisory board (an unpaid position, in case you want to snark about that)") when the IZEA blog said he was granted options ( I don't have an issue with making money in this thing; I'm just saying.

Still, the real issue seems to be a combination of naivete and wishful thinking. We live in a world where people become products ("personal branding" anyone?) and turn their opinions, perspectives, knowledge, and "attention" (as Chris puts it) into businesses. When you put a .com after your name, you are no longer just a person, you're a package and anything you do is going to be a promotion.

Chris' critics are basically doing the same thing - promoting themselves by differentiating their "product" from his: Choose me! Now, with more authenticity! The problem is that when authenticity becomes a "feature" of an "offering" it's already become it's opposite.

I like Chris. He's interesting, funny, and smart. He's also a brand which makes him, on top of everything else, a self-promoter. To come after him for promoting himself, his clients, his properties, etc., means that there was something people didn't really get about him and also that they didn't get something about the game (which, because it's about people, their dreams and their identities, is much more than a game. Hence the intensity.)

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of comparisons of blogs to traditional media.

If you are going to be a professional, e.g. make a living from your craft, obviously there has to be a way to get paid for the effort.

I know a lot of traditional publications that get all sorts of products, etc. to review, rarely do they mention that fact in their reviews.

Chris Brogan was perfectly transparent so I really don't see any problems with what he did.

Mack Collier said...

Thanks to everyone for the great discussion.

Mtg, I agree somewhat with you in that I think that Chris could have done a better job explaining what these 'options' are. He did say the following on Geoff Livingston's blog:

"I don’t really profit if Izea profits, unless someone gives them a few dozen million dollars, and then, I get a few hundred dollars (for shares advisors get). You could say I profit if Izea profits (but that’s pretty long term, and my kids can’t eat stock options)."

Should he have clearly said that somewhere on his blog at least? Yeah, I think he should have. I also think that to some people, it wouldn't have mattered as they didn't like the idea of a blogger getting cash, and were going to find a way to get upset about it.

Anonymous said...


Great stuff as usual.

I think it's ridiculous how people instantly condemn anyone who tries to make a little money with their blog/social media presence. People like Brogan have worked very hard to establish themselves as experts in their respective fields, and deserve a little more credit than an instant Twitter lynch mob (Twinch Mob?). In Brogan's case, he's given away so much of his knowledge, insight, and expertise for free on his blog, I don't have any problem with him enjoying the benefits of his following.

I certainly would have taken that gift card from KMart in exchange for a post, and I think you would be hard pressed, especially at this time of year and with the economy the way it is, to find someone who would do otherwise.

That being said, of course disclosure is critical, there's no need to be shady about these kinds of things.

Anonymous said...

Nice work, Mack! the bottom line is that money is the only thing that can sustain the social networks we rely on and the content we love! I'm confident that we can all figure out how to live comfortably and not lose our minds and our integrity.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post Mack.

People are treating SM/Blogging as a sacred ground that can't be touched by anything 'evil' like money. C'mon - we have to step off of our pedestal and get real. First it was the Motrin Moms fiasco and now this. The mob that jumped on Chris not only jumped on the bandwagon but they attacked someone who's been leading the charge within SM.

Along with that, it's going to put more fear into people/companies stepping into this industry when there's always such backlash - will only continue to hold us back.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe how many people are already talking about this. I guess things get around when you live on Twitter.

GeekMommy said...

Well said Mack!

You managed to distill this down beautifully from all of the impassioned twittering about it!

In the end, yes, monetization is inevitable. The difference between "professional" and "amateur" anything is in whether or not the person makes their living doing something. There will always be those who play football in the park on Saturday with their buddies for love of the game - and there will also be those who get paid to play. Are the pros any less passionate about the game? I doubt it. But some have more integrity than others.

In this case, it's a matter of making sure we do things step-by-step with the kind of honesty, transparency, and integrity Chris & the other Izea bloggers did.


Craig Sutton said...

A lot of what I feel has been said. But yes, half of what is preached in discussion I have read is involvement. What business would want to be involved if there was no possible way to get a return.

Bottom line, people will make their own choices. I have no problem seeing an ad on a blog. If your dedicating you're life to blogging how would you survive without monetization?

Great article Mack, and I support Chris for what its worth.

@ScottyHendo said...

Thanks for your comment on my post ( I agree with you that we need to continue the conversation about how to monetize. I'll let you know when I compose my thoughts and post them. @scottyhendo

Unknown said...

I fully believe that #2 is the way forward for social media.

No, social media is not for everyone. Every space is not (and should not be!) used in the same way.

YES, in order for companies to buy into social media, the ability to monetize needs to be present.

This is a smaller discussion taking place within the "What is the ROI of social media" debate, in my opinion.

Even before social media had the name of social media, people were monetizing their social efforts. MySpace (and Friendster, if I'm not mistaken) were showing ads on their sites, LiveJournal showed ads, forums shows ads, and people clicked through and converted as a result of these ads.

Yes, the game has changed dramatically, but I believe that what we're seeing is the next wave of "advertising on the internet". Only now, the PEOPLE are the ads (in a way), and that, I beleive, is the root of the mistrust.

"How can I trust [insert name here] if they are willing to take money for their actions? Won't they sensor their content to suit their sponsors?"

In my opinion, it relates back to transparency. Be HONEST that you're taking money for your actions, and make sure that the money/objects/whathaveyou that you take are a logical tie to your subject matter.

I'm a fan of #2 and I think we have to experiement in order to figure out the new "rules of monetization". Some things will be accepted by the community, some not, but we have to be willing to experiment and find a new comfort level that encourages the best of both worlds.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack,

I was thinking : show me someone that is on social media websites and also has a blog and who doesn't want to make any money (in a direct or indirect way) and I will show you a person that posts only nonsense and talks small things.

We all are here to get some benefit and no matter what that benefit is it ends with money.

We post links to relevant content, we try to write good articles. All that so that people will visit our blog, follow us on Twitter, become our friends on LinkedIn or Facebook or Stumbleupon.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Mack.

Many interesting comments have already been made. But, I started thinking about webinars. Companies sponsor webinars and pay experts to give them on topics related to issues that people who use their products are interested in. I don't see anyone screaming foul on that. I see them signing up because they gain from attending these complimentary online seminars - made possible by the sponsoring company.

In the old days, poets had sponsors. People who supported them so they could write poetry that enriched lives (in the supporter's opinion, anyway)

Perhaps the way for monetization to get started is for companies to sponsor bloggers or Twitterers who's main focus draws followers that might be interested in their product offerings. That way it can't really be interpreted as a "paid review," but rather as continuous support of experts who help their customers do their jobs better.

After all, isn't that what all of us hope for? Isn't all the time we spend blogging an effort for those of us passionate about subjects to explore them in great depth and help others be successful around that topic?

Participation takes time, thought and effort. Time any of us could spend doing paid client work, instead of sharing valuable insights. We do it because we love to help and like to share with our communities.

People have the free will to follow us, subscribe to our RSS feeds or move on to someone else if they so choose. As long as we're honest, use integrity in our choices and embrace transparency out of respect for our communities, I'm not sure I understand the big upset.

Not at the moment said...

I disagree with the either or choice you offer, because it leaves out an important bit: my opinion about it. Both sides are valid, both can exist in this space, but the one thing is missing is having the professionals about this playing with other pros and let everybody else alone.

If somebody is opposing commercial ideas he or she should just state so. Or we agree on something as in "yes I am open to such ideas". I recently did a blogger outreach and one guy was basically begging for advertisement on the blog. But he was furious when I asked him if I could send him information and called me a 'commercial pig'. This is what is wrong with the system.

If you dont want to be commercial, say so. And stop reading commercial blogs or people who do have a business agenda and play with your own folks.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Well said and I couldn't agree more.

My first reaction - what is wrong with that? I had just taken a sponsor up on a shopping spree myself, and written about my experience on my mommy blog but not a stink was raised. My readers loved it... we do need to find a way to monetize the blogosphere and this is a fantastic post Mack.

Anonymous said...

From Facebook to Twitter, everyone is scrambling to find a reliable way to monetize social media. What’s crazy is that the conventional online advertising models we’re trying to apply to social media don’t even work that well for the conventional web.

Prague Paul said...

I genuinly could not agree with you more. You are spot on.
It is no good to try and avoid what inevitable.
Social bookmarking is becoming a key online marketing form and the momey will follow it.