Should PR and Marketing pay bloggers to post?

The concept of paying bloggers to create a post about your product or service is not a new one – and it’s becoming more of an accepted practice by both PR and Marketing teams, and bloggers themselves.

It’s led to the creation of disclosure rules by the FTC in America, and continues to provoke debate amongst many people involved – the trigger for this post was a previous debate by Laurence Borel (@blogtillyoudrop). The post and comment which followed mainly took an anti-payment stance, which I respect, but also respectfully disagree with. And as someone who works in marketing (including seeding content and campaigns), as well as running three websites, I’d be interested in views on my personal opinion…

Why you should pay bloggers to post:

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Image by DavidDMuir used under Creative Commons

As blogging has evolved, many people are now building up a profitable sideline, or in some cases, their main income through blogging. If we generally accept content naturally wants to be free, and that generally only exclusive niche content can create revenue (which is the commonly held consensus by most people), then most bloggers will struggle to create revenue in a market held by a reasonably-sized incumbent who can field full-time paid writers.

It’s not to say it’s impossible – by building and engaging a community, taking direct paid advertising, or occasionally finding an actually lucrative affiliate deal, bloggers can still build a mini media empire. But by removing the emerging practice of paid posts, suddenly one relatively easy method of generating income has been removed for bloggers. And it’s important to remember that while many bloggers are already in a reasonably well-paid full time job, a significant proportion are closer to breaking even or losing money on something which they could potentially be using as their sole profession in the future.

There’s an argument that bloggers should only be paid in products and services for review, which is a reasonable assumption to make – but when you have a preferred service for internal collaboration or book-keeping, free use of an alternative isn’t much use. And there are very few bank managers who accept 12 months of a free service as a payment for bills, meaning that some of these gifts will inevitably be auctioned, and end up as cash anyway.

In my professional life, I haven’t experimented with offering payments to bloggers – mainly because the content etc being shared and seeded doesn’t necessarily drive direct transactional revenue, and tends to be be more around sharing relevant exclusive content with people interested in that particular subject. There are also brand values to consider – at Bauer, and now at Absolute Radio I work with brands that have the ability to create exclusive content, and have a quality that people are often happy to be associated with.

Why you shouldn’t pay:

Having a budget to spend on paying bloggers to post carries some risks for both parties. One important element is disclosure and ensuring that paid posts contain ‘no follow’ links to avoid the bloggers and companies involved provoking the wrath of the FTC/Google/OFT etc.

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Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elventear under Creative Commons

It also encourages PR and Marketing people to possibly become a little lazy – why spend time researching a blog, getting to know a blogger and searching for relevant content to share when you could bung them some cash and get the same type of hit rate? In addition to the ethical consideration, there’s also the chance that a large number of people might accept payment for irrelevant content to make some money, and their sites are far less likely to be trusted authority sites which will drive conversions (Unless they’re prominent affiliate marketing bloggers, anyway!)

It also means that blog outreach suddenly carries a direct financial cost about resources and some freebies – something which can draw attention to the ROI and conversion rates. And although you should be tracking all of those elements closely already, sometimes social media and humans can be a little unpredictable, and now you’ve got an upfront cost to recover.

There’s also the potential to come off as impersonal and possibly cause offence if you pay – whereas picking picking something relevant and important to an individual blogger can get fair more good will – and there are quite a few studies online that refute any link between financial reward and goodwill/creativity, so you’re just as likely to get a great post with a polite request or a gift.

So what’s the answer?

There’s no right or wrong answer – it all depends on your brand, your goals, your relationships with bloggers, and your previous results. Just don’t fall for anyone telling you there are any correct rules above and beyond the legal requirements and common sense ethics.

Comments

  1. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for adding to the conversation. There have been mixed reviews around the topic in the blogosphere but I still think it's a bad idea to pay bloggers against a few kind words, and call me naive, I don't think bloggers would want to place irrelevant content on their blogs.

    I do however believe that we will increasingly see bloggers getting 'hired' by PR/marketing agencies to blog or vlog on their behalf, very much like you would get a celeb to endorse your PR campaign.

    This to me is a transparent, and perfectly acceptable way of getting around the whole paying bloggers against a few kind word issue…

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