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.