Sponsored Controversy – Chris Brogan was in the clear

In December 2008, renowned marketer and public speaker, Chris Brogan wrote up a blog post about how he was given $500 from IZEA on behalf of KMart and just after disclosing this and writing a blog post about his experience, people were criticizing him on how he wasn’t being unbiased and essentially was paid to write that post seeing that it was favorable and all.

But what does it matter? Because in the end, there’s hardly anything that can be written in blogs that doesn’t have a hint of controversy – at least it’s true these days. Does it matter that the point of this expedition by KMart was not only to help highlight how the store has “evolved” but that if you accepted the $500 gift card, you needed to give to charity – in this case Toys for Tots? Everyone knows that at KMart you can buy a whole lot using $500 so what’s the big deal? Oh…it’s that bloggers are getting paid to write “favorable” posts thereby creating uproar.

In Chris Brogan’s case, it was definitely a favorable review – but if you read his pose closely it’s initially one of surprise. He was surprised that he could get so much and impressed by the changes.

At a “Social Media Town Hall” session during the Web 2.0 Expo last week, this topic was broached by Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang and was basically the talk of the session – even Social Media Group’s Maggie Fox came to the microphone to defend Brogan’s actions and the ability for bloggers to earn some money by being compensated for their writings.

But what would people say if Chris Brogan was paid and wrote a negative post? What should KMart have done? Some of the responses at the “Social Media Town Hall” was that other companies would not talk to that blogger anymore to do a similiar experiment. Why? The smart thing would be for the company to engage in the discussion. What’s creates more controversy is to have a blogger write a favorable review even though they hated the experience. If you wanted a blogger to write positive stuff about the company even though it’s the opposite, then you might as well make an advertorial or something.

If a blogger has written an unfriendly blog post about your product or company for which you have compensated them for writing a review, then engage with the blogger publically and on their turf.

  • Leave a comment on their blog post asking them for specifics. Don’t be combative but understanding – you asked them to write the blog post after all, remember? So be angry at yourself for creating that type of environment.
  • Respond using your company’s blogNOT A PRESS RELEASE. A blog post gives people the opportunity to respond to your rebuttal or update on how you’re making things better. Press release is just so stiff & will definitely not reach the intended audience. Think conversational…would you issue a press release when you want to refute or update your friends on how you’re making things better?

The idea that if you, as the blogger, writes something negative about a company which results in other brands not wanting to have you write on them, is absurd. A strong social media-saavy company will engage those who have the cajones to write some negative reviews because then companies will know the bloggers can write some unbiased reviews. And let me clarify when I say negative reviews because I’m not talking about someone who writes only bad things, but someone who has a favorable opinion about your brand, product, or industry but isn’t afraid to say something’s wrong or he/she has had a bad experience.

Chris Brogan wasn’t wrong in getting paid to write the blog post. In fact, he was doing what bloggers should be doing. It seems the majority of folks may not think that blogging is a legitimate form of journalism so why should they adhere to those ethics? How is it different from having Google AdWords on your blog page? You’re technically getting paid and it’s an unofficial endorsement of the products advertised because it’s somewhat contextual, right? As Maggie Fox said at the “Town Hall”, even bloggers need to pay their mortgage. I’m just not seeing it.