People Ready for conversational marketing please disclose yourself, or better yet just go away.

OK, Tony‘s got the great analysis of the trainwreck caused by what Federated Media is calling “the birth of conversational marketing”. He’s pointed out that this is not about the integrity of the individual bloggers involved, rather the hypocrisy and most importantly the similarity to Pay Per Post. These points seem lost on the participants and some commenters like Don Dodge who seems to be suggesting that those who see this as more than a small advertising issue are “dumb as bricks”.

I have a lot of respect for John Battelle, but I’ve also noted with skepticism his enthusiasm for bringing advertisers into “the conversation“. I’m all for advertisers and I’m all for conversations but I’m very skeptical that these “conversational marketing” campaigns can avoid diminishing the participants as the “People Ready” clearly has done.

Ironically it has been the comments of the participants more than the campaign itself that have left me concerned about who I’ve been reading.    The best comments about this, by far, are coming from people like Tony and Matthew Ingram who has another post about credibility and the slippery slope of journalism becoming marketing.

Here is my comment over there:

Yes.    This story has fascinated me because among other things it has brought to light the *potential huge deficiency* of having “A list bloggers” and those who help them advertise try to rule the conversation as happened in the early stages of this fiasco.    This works in traditional media but it fails in blogs.  That’s a *very* good thing.

The defect is in spite of the fact that these folks are bright and very credible folks.  However as you note they are *at risk* of sliding down a new and very slippery slope where money trumps honest conversation.   It started to happen here and a lot of people got pissed.   (IMHO Tony Hung’s got this all exactly right).

Also interesting but not surprising is that the best commentary here is coming from people who are not the A listed deal makers of Silicon Valley.     Rather than whining about this they   should be sending a thank you note to those who are helping to keep them off that slippery slope.

Well, I hardly expect Tony or anybody to get a thank you note, partly because Mike Arrington and John Battelle have more than credibility at stake and seem to see this as an assualt on their business models.   They have a *lot* of money at stake in these things.     Big money.   Tens of millions from IPOs or corporate buyouts of their mini-media empires that are setting new standards in the industry.

Although I think they deserve fat paydays for all they’ve brought to the table, this fiasco has led me to wonder how much those paydays are starting to distort, disrupt, and potentially destroy the real kind of conversation that Tony talks about in the same way we’ve seen websites (including some of mine) distorted by money considerations trumping quality editorial and user concerns.       Katie Couric cannot responsibly address issues surrounding “huge salaries” because she’s in that game, and it has got to be harder (I’d say almost impossible) for John Battelle to criticize Microsoft if he’s about to pitch them for a million dollar “Conversational Marketing” campaign the next day.

So where does this leave us?     It’s simple:

1) Disclosure.     Screw what you have said about detractors pounding sand, Arrington – disclose your conflicts *more* or suffer the monetary consequences which I predict will be severe.

2) Democracy.        I’m replacing Searchblog (which has languished anyway while John was pitching FM) with Tony Hung and TechCruch with Matt Ingram.

3) I’ll be encouraging others to do the same.   We need new voices.   Real ones.

7 thoughts on “People Ready for conversational marketing please disclose yourself, or better yet just go away.

  1. I’m not sure what ‘conversational marketing’ is exactly having merely glanced at a few of the links but it appears that it involves the use of shills and fake weblogs. Just as some people are not able to differentiate between an infomercial’s scripted interviews and overt advertisements, there may be some who are unable to determine just how neutral a website may be. I guess a pay-for-clicks scheme was sure to eventually attract fraudsters and so is a webblog format that is really a product of an advertizing agency or a lobbyist.

    Not desirable but not at all surprizing.

  2. “Not desirable but no at all surprising”

    Yes FG. I think it’s struck a chord (this is one of the most talked about things among tech folks right now) because blogs were suppose to help avoid this nonsense rather than encourage it.

  3. Just as a good many “grassroots-public policy” organizations are really advocacy organizations formed by lobbyists, I imagine a good many blogs will turn out to be the creations of lobbyists and advertising agencies.

  4. FG I think that blogging is now mature enough to start suffering from the defects you are talking about where it’s not really clear if people are writing about things from interest, profit, or (most likely) a combination of them both.

    For a few years now “A list” bloggers have weilded a lot of power from linking to other sites and bloggers and starting conversations online about topics that interested *them*. Because they tended to be well informed and interesting writers that *was* a good thing initially. However this power is now metastisizing into control of the conversation by a small group, disrupting the very thing that makes blogs so intriguing as a new medium of free speech.

    This is natural and expected, but it’s generally not the kind of conversation people want to hear, which is why I’m effectively boycotting some of those I used to read in favor of the people they have effectively kept out of the limelight.

  5. A writer can be motivated by profit and he can be highly emotionally invested in his topic perhaps even obsessed with it. I think the issue is one of disclosure. Similar to a scientific journal that requires an author to announce any competing interests. Whether this would be sufficient I do not know but it would certainly be helpful.

    Search engine (and links) affecting access to blogs is hardly new… its what affects access to websites also.

  6. “Bringing advertisers into the conversation” ???

    Anyone see that WalMart thread on this site recently? What is all this nonsense? Spam sponsored by vindictive lobbyists? I wonder if I am now supposed to end this post with “Great site, very informative. Many thanks for sharing the information.”

  7. FG I think you are correct that disclosure is key. Many ships have long ago sailed with respect to blending news, commercial interest, internet, etc. Thus the strongest way to protect “the public interest” is probably to make sure we all know who is paying who for what.

    But, of course, even that has limitations. I don’t run ads at this blog but I do link to my sites that have ads, so how is this relationship reasonably disclosed? One approach I’d like to see is a very public and easy way to find out who owns a website, how to contact them, and some form of conflict resolution issue. This would not really have helped “People Ready” become legitimate in my eyes though.

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