THE BLOG
05/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why It's Wrong to Pay for Blog Coverage

It's a bad idea to pay for blog coverage.

You're going to humiliate yourself and your company. You're going to get in legal trouble. And it just doesn't work.

On The Media's Bob Garfield and I talked this morning about the most important issue in the world of blogging: ethics. Specifically, we talked about what happens when marketers pay for placement in blogs.

Here's what you need to know:

  1. Advertising is OK. Most media are supported by ads, and it's ok to have a blog supported by ads.
  2. The difference between advertising and sleaze is disclosure. It all comes down to properly saying, "And now, a word from our sponsor." If you say something is paid for, or write "Advertisement" on the top of it, everyone knows that it's not editorial. The problem comes in when you don't give proper disclosure, or try to hide it. The FTC agrees, and says that you need to make your disclosure clear to the average reader.
  3. Disclosure isn't sticky. This is the heart of the problem with disclosure on blogs and social media. Even if the original post mentions that it was paid for, that disclosure is unlikely to get repeated on Facebook, Twitter, or by anyone who reposts the paid story.
  4. Every paid blog post unleashes a torrent of blogosphere pollution. Future readers of the reposted articles have no idea that they are reading coverage of a paid ad. Hear me (and the FTC): If you pay for blog coverage, you are responsible for the subsequent deceptive posts that are generated.

Trust is a one-time thing. You don't get a second change to be honest. Here's my advice:

Bloggers: There's no reason to go here. It only takes one missed disclosure statement to ruin your reputation forever. Feel free to take advertising, but when you sell your editorial, you are forever tainted.

Readers: Zero tolerance is the only option. Boycott any blogger or Twitterer who writes paid posts. Un-friend them on Facebook. Friends don't sell out their friends.

Marketers: Don't pay for blog posts. Ever. There's no ethical or safe way to do it. It only takes one blogger who forgets to post the disclosure to humiliate your company, launch a PR scandal, permanently damage your brand, and have the FTC knocking at your door. On top of that, it generates embarrassingly bad advertising that doesn't work. It's not worth the risk (and it's wrong).

So here's my disclosure: I run a group called the Blog Council which has a free Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit that you can use to learn how to do it the right way, and we're having a conference on the topic.