The Blogstorm: If You Sell Your Soul How Much Should You Get For It?

by Marianne Richmond on June 24, 2007

The Microsoft/FM Publishing people ready campaign has inspired what is being called a blogstorm. Interestingly enough, after all the similar controversies, blogstorm does not have its own Wikipedia entry, only a re-direct to blog. Maybe it should re-direct to advertising, social media and disclosure, as well.

So, we have media fragmentation and the demise of the traditional advertising model. Plus, consumers don’t trust advertising. As Forrester analyst Peter Kim , noted recently on NPR, "Only 13 percent of consumers make purchases because of ads. Only 6 percent perceive ads as truthful."

We also have the ascendancy of social computing and the emergence of bloggers as people of influence. Some of these bloggers ARE consumers in addition to being influencers. They are also, advertisers, authors, marketers, employees of corporations, journalists, consultants, and academics. This is what blurs the lines…the very thing that the people formerly known as the audience is all about.

Oh, and into this mix we have products and services made by corporations, businesses, and other proprietors and providers all in need of consumers to purchase them. Mix up the mix and we have the conversational marketing model. This is not a black and white model. It has many colors, many channels, and boundaries that are as clear to some as they are unclear to others. In a word, it is complicated. Or is it? Isn’t it really a matter of transparency.

Within this specific blogstorm, there are divergent opinions and interpretations by many respected bloggers including participants and spectators. Its been the dominant topic on Techmeme for the past two days. Federated CEO John Battelle wrote that he was taking full responsibility for any loss of trust that occurred as the result of participation in the Microsoft campaign.

He agreed with Robert Scoble who emphasized the need for disclosure in a post titled, If you are going to sell your soul.  The lesson learned as articulated by Battelle is that conversational marketing remains a viable advertising model, but even the perception of soul selling risks the viability of the model. He writes, "Never do anything where there is a perception that integrity was purchased." Om Malik took umbrage at the suggestion that he had sold his soul but just to reinforce that even the perception was unacceptable, removed the ads from his site.

So, what did Robert Scoble mean by, If you are going to sell your soul and why is this important?

Well, what is "selling your soul" ? Rex Hammock started his post with the disclosure that he lives in a glass house. Don’t we all. We do business with people we like; sometimes we like them because we got to know them a little better over a lunch or dinner. Sometimes this was at an expensive restaurant. Was the business related decision that we made based upon what was best for the business or liking them….or liking them because they take us to expensive restaurants? Do you keep your soul if you pay for your own lunch? Do You keep your soul if you let someone else pay but you eat at Red Lobster? Do you lose your soul if the lobster you eat is at the Palm?

Rex Hammock had an great, straight to the point take ( with a nod to the Cluetrain) on what I think is the important point, the conversational marketing model is based upon transparency. How do you avoid even the perception of soul selling. Disclose your relationships.

 I will quote him directly…he said it better than I could and plus I have been writing this post for way too long already.

" Institutions are comprised of human beings. Those who have relationships with institutions actually want to communicate with human beings in those institutions. While they may say they don’t like “advertising,” customers and members like talking with people about shared passions. If someone buys your product and you can tell them how to use that product better, that’s called “conversation.” If you can learn more about your product from listening to your customers, that’s called “conversation.” If you think like “an advertiser” and want to “package conversation” or worse, “purchase conversation-like ‘blurbs,’” that’s not going to be effective conversational marketing. It’s traditional advertising wearing a new dress. (Again, traditional advertising is fine in many instances, if it is helpful, honest, informative — and not merely hype. You just can’t dress up something old in a new dress and say it is something different than traditional advertising in a new dress — "

So, we all know the difference between right and wrong. If not, all you will lose will be your credibility.As Scott Karp writes, "every online publisher needs to draw a dark line and be very careful not to cross it."

Rex discussed the Nikon Blogger program and stated that he did not understand the need to defend his participation on ethical grounds. I wasn’t presented with the need to face that particular ethical dilemma.Would I have sold my soul for a Nikon? I will never know….I wasn’t asked to the dance. After years of buying Nikons, the next camera dilemma I will face will be which Canon to buy.

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