Last night I gave away a $1,200 Sonos music system in a random raffle at Gnomedex (hundreds of people witnessed that, and Richard MacManus was the winner). Why? Because I got it for free from the company because I’m an “A list” blogger. I’m not the only one who got one for free. It’s great marketing. Get people who will talk about your product to try out your product, right?
Well, I never really gave them a review until today. Why? Because I felt sleazy about it. Even if I disclosed it I figured that you’d still be wondering in your head whether I was saying they rock just because I got a free one or because I really felt that way.
In fact, if I knew that other bloggers got a free one that would change MY perception of what they wrote. I wouldn’t know how to process that conflict of interest as a reader. I might be so disturbed that I’d unsubscribe because I wouldn’t find them trustworthy anymore. Or credible.
After all, I read blogs and forums to try to learn the TRUTH about products, companies, movements, and ideas. Advertising rarely brings truth. And taking a $1,200 Sonos system is a lot closer to advertising than blogging or journalism.
It’s why the best newspapers have rules against taking free stuff. I remember when I had lunch with Dan Gillmor back when he worked at the San Jose Mercury News. He always had to pay for lunch, even, to remove any conflicts of interest that might appear.
Todd Bishop, of the Seattle PI, paid for a ticket to Gnomedex I learned from Chris Pirillo. That made me believe what he wrote even more than if the paper hadn’t invested $500 and signed up just like every other attendee.
So, what TechCrunch writes about PayPerPost (a new company that got a lot of blog attention over the past few days) rings very true with me. Taking payments for writing stuff on my blog, even if I disclose it, makes me very uncomfortable.
It’s why I try not to accept free stuff anymore and if I do get free stuff I give it away.
Now, I’m not opposed to doing advertising. I’m joining a company where that’s the main business model. And, I just left one where, really, my entire show was paid for by Microsoft.
But, all I really have at the end of the day is my credibility. I’m going to fight to protect that. So, here’s some rules I’m going to live by.
1) If I ever run advertising I will disclose that. Even if inside a post. For instance, if I had kept the Sonos, that would have been getting compensated for writing something. So, everytime I said “the Sonos rocks” I would also put “disclosure, I received a free one which I consider compensation for writing about it.”
2) I will try to keep my advertising and editorial separate and easily identifyable. For instance, if I did do a PayPerPost post, I would start the post “this is a paid advertisement” and I would only post an advertisement in that post and would keep it separate from posts where I was actually giving you my real, uncompensated, position.
3) Disclosure is ALWAYS needed when you take advertising. At least to keep your credibility. Elliott Back
of PayPerPost doesn’t agree. Well, if I find out someone is getting compensated for what they are writing and doesn’t disclose that it will earn an immediate unsubscribe from me and will probably get a post questioning everything that blogger wrote.
Why is disclosure so important? Because I, as a reader, need to know about potential conflicts of interest.
Oh, and about the Sonos? It rocks. It’s a wonderful system. Everyone who visited my house recently fell in love with it (Buzz was begging me to give it to him, for instance). And, I can say that now with a clear head and without you wondering if I said that cause I had been compensated or not.
How about we start a blog where we can “out” bloggers who accept free stuff without disclosing that?
Speaking of which, a Nokia phone just arrived here. I’m going to try that out for a few months and then give it away or send it back before I write my thoughts about it. Will other bloggers who got that same phone make the same committment to their readers?
Does credibility matter in the blogosphere?
Full disclosure: I’ve received in the past a Lenovo Thinkpad (which I’m still using, for a few months I passed it around the office, but I’ll give that away at a future conference or send it back to Lenovo cause I think it was considered a press loan, not a gift). I also have a couple of Nokia phones (gotta send them back cause they are considered a loan, not a gift). I’ve also received an OQO (which I lost on my trip to Philadelphia, really bummed me out too cause it was a beautiful machine and I bet I’m gonna have to come up with the money for that soon since that was considered a loan, not a gift as well). A variety of books (I gave many of them away to coworkers at Microsoft). Oh, and I was a member of Sprint’s Ambassador program (they loaned us a cell phone, which Patrick left in a rental car, sigh).
Update 2: I’m sorry. Elliott is not an employee of PayPerPost. His blog made it sound like he was and I made a mistake there.