The issue is something I’ve never considered before – a company can effectively attack competitors through the use of blogs. Sometimes companies disclose their status as a competitor, but typically they do not. This issue, more than anything, raises the question of how credibility is built with a particular blogger or group of bloggers. This is will potentially have a huge impact on any blog advertising model, including Google Adsense and YPN. In this day and age opinions are bought and sold every form of media. Sometime it may take the form of an outright cash purchase, but more commonly it takes a more subtle form – taking an editor out to a nice dinner or sending them some free merchandise (commonly referred to as “schwag”).
A cynic may theorize that all PR efforts are a form of exploiting a supposedly unbiased source. Bloggers, however, are not journalists. A journalist, by definition, should be an objective observer of events. They should never push their own political or religious agenda to their readers, for example. There are millions of blogs, however, that address political and religious issues. How do they do this without alienating their audience? Because the blog universe is a collection of decentralized micro-publishers that cater to a specific niche. Here’s my point – if a blogger decides to “sell-out” and accept payment for their opinion, they will quickly lose all credibility with their target audience and, hence, their revenue model. On the other hand, if they accept payment from an advertiser to objectively discuss the advertiser’s product and they disclose this fact, I would have more faith in the opinion that they offered then I would without the disclosure – if they didn’t disclose the relationship then I would, as a naturally skeptical person, wonder if the advertiser had paid them and take what they say with a grain of salt.
I also want to distinguish between market research and advertising. Let’s assume I am a market researcher with a design for a new toothbrush. I reach out to a group of bloggers and ask them for an objective review of my design (which has been rendered by a graphic designer). Some bloggers like the design, but some criticize it for its bulkiness and inability to fit in the mouth of a person with an exceptionally small mouth – this data is invaluable and it has helped me engage an audience that will eventually be a potentially customer – it sounds like a win-win-win. If the blogger disclosed his willingness to review the product publicly for the advertiser, I can’t imagine readers having a problem with his willingness to do this. Suppose, however, that I have invented my larger than life toothbrush and I am ready to bring it to market.
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