Last Friday, couple of people I know got featured in the cover page of Economic Times, because they made a living out of tweeting and blogging. Subsequently there were some debates and discussions in twitter and blogs as to how ethical it is for someone to blog/tweet for financial gains. This post shares some of my thoughts in this regard.
Disclaimer: personal opinion only. Neither binding on anyone and nor intended to criticize anyone. Use your judgment and discretion.
Is it fair/ethical to blog/tweet for money? There’s no right answer for this and most suitable answer is, its best left to an individual’s discretion. If someone has decided to make a living purely out of social media, and is successful at it, then we should applaud them for their entrepreneurial initiatives. They took a bold step to abandon regular job, in quest of their passion and have been successful at it. Irrespective of what others think, if they are making money and are happy at it, others have no right to criticize them. Best one can do is unfollow or ignore these individuals, if one is not happy with the way they're making money/publishing paid contents.
Having said that, if you happen to be one of the follower/reader of such individuals, would you like to read their contents paid for by a corporate? Straight answer might be No. But relevant question will be this- Will you continue to follow/read them despite occasional paid contents? This is what determines if an individual can continue to tweet/blog for money. Obviously they know that readers/followers don’t like paid content. But then, readers/followers won’t pay to read quality content. When there’re opportunities to make some money, the temptation of money supersedes fear of losing followers. More professional tweeters would have figured out ways of promoting brands without raising suspicion among followers.
Attempting to enforce a blanket ban on sponsored content on social media will not work. So I propose following checks to determine if one should continue reading/following a person known for pushing paid content. If you're doing paid tweets and blogging, you can use these checks to find a balance and determine when to stop.
2. Paid vs Sponsored content- paid posts/tweets involve direct cash- take this much money and publish this- similar to advertisement in a newspaper. The other one is where brands allow bloggers/tweeps to experience their product/service, in expectation that these people tell others about the product/service. Inviting bloggers/tweeps for an event, giving them review units etc are done with this intention. While in case of most of the paid posts cases content will be dictated by those who pay, in case of sponsored posts/tweeps bloggers willingly write about the product/service they got to experience. Usually there’s no specific mandate for bloggers to write all positive content and bloggers write about what they saw/felt/experienced, this one bears little more credibility than a post which is written purely for money. This approach is akin to having a press conference and then expecting journalists to cover it in newspapers next day.
3. Relevance of paid content. If the content is of relevance/use to most of the readers/followers, even if it is paid it might still be accepted by readers. For example, when a new product is launched and not many people know about it, even paid posts can generate some interest, on a blog which usually deals with subjects around the said product. But when a blogger who used to write poems all the time suddenly reviews a tablet and praises it all the way, without owning or experiencing one, don’t think this will go on well
4. Level of honesty in the post. Is the blogger clearly stating the positive and negative sides of the product/service/brand? If he only praises it, ignoring or suppressing negative aspects, readers will be smart enough to know. Eventually the credibility of the blogger/twitter user will go down.
5. Over-emphasizing: A brand may be offering 10% discount, which is common practice in marketing. At the max this deserves one line mention in the post. If a blogger blows this up to cover entire post and projects this as if it is a lifetime opportunity, then something is not all right.
6. Disclaimer: Are there any direct statements that the content is paid/sponsored?
7. How readers are responding? If regular posts get 7-10 comments on an average while paid post gets less than 2-3 comments, then blogger should understand that his readers are not endorsing the paid posts. Same can be said in twitter w.r.t. retweets/replies.
8. Value add: Is there any value add in the post the blogger is bringing in or is he/she re-publishing same info available everywhere else? Giving some tips on how to use certain features, detailing salient features not that well known or other value added info can help differentiate the content from rest.
Readers/followers/fans are assets for those in the field of social media. Typically number of follower base is used to assess one’s popularity/influence level. Monetization is important, but it should be done without compromising core values and turning off regular readers/followers. Integrity shouldn't be lost while promoting brands. Successful social media expert will be one who manages to strike this balance and grows on both sides- revenue and readership/follower count.