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Izea and SocialSpark: Bloggers as advertising inventory?

Recently there has been lots of controversy surrounding a company called Izea, which connects advertisers with bloggers via a marketplace application called SocialSpark.

Here's how it works: An advertiser can post an "opportunity" in the marketplace in the form of aSponsor sponsored blog post about their product or service, plus what they are willing to pay. Bloggers can browse these opportunities and select one to take on. The blogger then gets paid to write a post about that product.

A high-profile example is influential blogger Chris Brogan's post on Dadomatic about a K-Mart shopping spree. Chris was connected with K-Mart via Izea and given a $500 gift card to spend at a local store, and then encouraged to share the wealth with his readers/community via a contest.

The concept of pay-per-post has always been controversial. Blogs are essentially organic conversations, and many readers feel slighted when advertising infringes upon that. Chris Brogan wrote an excellent post explaining his involvement with the K-Mart contest, disclosing his reasons for doing it and detailing a history of successful blogger/marketer partnerships (including Seagate's ongoing sponsorship of Robert Scoble).

Here's my take. Many online influencers have become celebrities in their own right. Just like high-profile actors or athletes, money and sponsorships are going to come flying at them fast and furious. At the end of the day, it's up to them to decide which advertisers and brands connect best with their personality, reputation and fans/readers/community. Bands are considered "sell-outs" the minute they leave the garage, and bloggers will be criticized in the same manner as soon as they start selling ads or writing sponsored posts.

I believe it is the blogger's right to monetize their work and talents, as long as they participate in full disclosure. Izea, in fact, has put together a "Blogger Advisory Board" to craft the company's Blogger Code of Ethics.

So, what are your thoughts on sponsored blog posts? Do bloggers lose their credibility the instant they run ads on their site or participate in marketing partnerships? Or is this an acceptable new way for them to generate revenue from something they're good at? I welcome your thoughts and discussion in the comments below.

Nathan T. Wright

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Comments

Ethically, from professional journalist's standpoint, acting independently is a big deal. In other words, in order for a news writer to maintain credibility, he or she must remain objective and avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

Generally, blogging is more opinion oriented than hard news oriented. I'm not saying bloggers can't be objective. But as a reader, I wouldn't look very seriously at a blog post or article that the author was paid to write. In my profession, this is called "pay-for-play," and that compromises integrity.

I'm all for full disclosure. But I think, ultimately, maintaining a credible blog and accepting payment to write a positive piece about any given product would be very difficult. There needs to be some line of separation. In order to maintain credibility, there always needs to be a distinct line between news and content and advertising.

I guess it comes down to a choice. What do you want to do with your blog? Do you want to seek and report the truth while interjecting your own opinion (my understanding of a serious blog), or do you want to let others determine what content will be published based on a fee?

I don't think you can have it both ways.

Perhaps a blogger code of ethics would help clarify what the standard is for this medium. But who will determine what is acceptable and what is not?

Nathan, you said it best, when you said it's their reputation on the line. The blogger has to decide if they are going to remain authentic or not. Personally, I don't think I'd want to muddy up my blog by doing it. It ruins credibility. But, if your popular blog starts to become a lot of work and you'd like to make money on it, I can understand the need to start making it a "job" and earning income. I would just think there are other ways they could do it. Like sell ads on the side of the site, but still allow your posts to remain clean.

@Todd - Thanks for your comment, very insightful coming from the journalist perspective. I think you bring up another issue, which is: Should bloggers be considered Journalists with a capital J? It's my opinion that bloggers are *not* journalists. Their responsibility is to their readers, their community, and their own personal integrity - not to the codes and ethics that Journalists must adhere to. Meaning that, I believe they can responsibly take on their own advertising partnerships, if such partnerships are relevant to their reader base.

@Ryan - thank you for sharing the WOMMA code of ethics, I think this is important for any blogger to look at who is considering using their blog as a revenue-generating tool.

I'd argue that journalists are also responsible to their readers, community and integrity. It's out of those responsibilities that the ethics of journalism derive. I don't see a difference (ethically) between something self-published online and something in-print.

Nathan makes an interesting point, comparing bloggers to journalists and celebrities. They can certainly be both, but perhaps not at the same time. I don't begrudge anyone the right to monetize their content. Hell, let 'em take all the freebies they want. But doing so will and should compromise their editorial content on that product or industry.

I would argue that many Journalists inject their opinions into articles all the time and are not truly objective, like Todd mentions. Of course, I am not stating that Todd is not objective. I am more leaning on our local Gannett representative, The Des Moines Register, and some of their "News" reports that are very much skewed towards either the papers liberal perspective or the "authors" own perspective. Of course, I do not have any specific examples at present, that would be too easy. But, I know others have had similar conversations previously and know what it is I speak.
With that in mind, if Bloggers want to get paid for their time and fully disclose their intent, I say go for it. Blogging takes a lot of time and effort and most of us do it as a side gig to many other commitments.

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