PR should never pay bloggers, right? Never say never…

PR should never pay bloggers, right? Never say never…

The “Is it ok for PR to pay bloggers” debate took an interesting turn earlier this month at EVO Conference. Actually, it didn’t really take a turn at all. From what I gather (I wasn’t there, so getting it all secondhand), one of the sessions just shined some light on an issue that has existed for a while and is not going away anytime soon.

The shining light stemmed form a presentation Aveda gave about a blogger campaign for one of their top selling products. Basically, Aveda highlighted all they were asking the bloggers to do as part of that campaign and then followed it up by saying the brand is taking a stand against monetary compensation for bloggers. Here’s a great post from a Loralee, a blogger who was at the conference and watched the discussion play out.

If you read the post and the comments that follow it or you just discuss this issue with PR folks and bloggers, a couple of things come to light:

  1.  When people discuss the issue, they are often talking about different situations. For example, so many people hear paying bloggers and immediately generalize that into paying for a post and telling the blogger what to say. Uh, no. That’s not what most companies are doing when they enter paid relationships with bloggers. And it’s not the compensation I’ve heard most bloggers say they are looking for. The Aveda project was different because it was much more involved than one post. It was a month-long project that required “use of Twitter and Facebook, 4 blog posts and a youtube video.” Those are the kind of brand ambassador relationships many, but not all, bloggers think should require monetary compensation. As Loralee put it, “as awesome as their shampoo is, you can’t pay your grocery bill in shampoo.”
  2. There is no universal rule when it comes to PR paying bloggers. For instance, although it seems like Social Media Explorer’s Jason Falls is more of the opinion that PR is about earned media, he still said at BlogWorld that “there’s no right way, only a right way for you.” And emphasized that disclosure and FTC compliance has to be a piece of the puzzle. If you read Loralee’s post, you’ll see that same sentiment. Paying bloggers may work for one brand, but another. This blogger but not that blogger. Remember our conversations about influence? How about social media measurement? There is no silver bullet, people. If you want one, I hear Coors Light has a bitchin’ new cooler box.

This is a topic PR and bloggers need to keep discussing. And we need to stop saying that paid relationships with bloggers are never going to happen. Because let me remind you of other times PR has said never in the past:

  • We said the physical newspaper would never go away. And it hasn’t….yet.
  • We said we wouldn’t consider bloggers as real media. Hmm, want to rethink that one now?
  • We said Facebook would never be a tool we we used for anything other than goofing off. Might have missed that one by just a bit.
  • We said we would never be able to pitch effectively without automated tools that help us create huge media lists. These days that non-automated tool called your brain and its friend research are a lot more effective.
  • We said executives should never be put “out there” without a PR person close by and that employees should never represent the brand unless they are in PR. Now granted, some execs still should never be out there :) . But many brands’ perceptions have taken a positive turn because their execs (e.g JetBlue, Dominos) and employees (e.g Best Buy, Dell) have connected directly with customers.

And now, many PR pros are saying we should never pay bloggers. But at the same time, some brands are entering paid relationships with bloggers now. And there will be PR pros who pay bloggers in the future. So let’s stop acting all high and mighty and calling this issue open and shut, or making even more sweeping generalizations like that it’s unethical.

Instead, let’s call it what it is. An evolution. One we as PR pros need to keep our eye on. Otherwise we aren’t doing our jobs.

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