Friday, May 17, 2013

The Ethics of Sponsored Posts

EcoYogini shares a few thoughts on being paid to promote a product....

When I first started blogging I was excited to hear from a few companies wanting to give me "free stuff". My "bribes" have decreased significantly over the past two years (ie non existant), but over the course of my blogging career I have received a beautiful prAna revolution mat at 50% off, a gorgeous Tonic yoga top, a recycled content yogoco yoga mat bag, some makeup samples and a yoga book to review.

I'm not going to lie, getting free stuff rocks, especially if it's products that I would endorse without bribery and can't normally afford (the prAna mat is a great example). Although it felt a little weird to get bribes from "the man"... no matter how awesome the company.

More frequently in the blogging community, sponsorships and endorsement posts are the norm and an fabulous way to make a bit of money while doing something you love (blogging). However, when it comes to critical blogging, it becomes a balance to strive for unbiased reviews or reporting of information and essentially being "paid" to promote a certain product.

This topic is an important one for the blogging community and although the environmental blogging community has discussed this on several occasions (please feel free to link in comments below- my memory is fuzzy this morning), other blogging spheres still have some work to be done hammering out what is ethical for your readers.

Many blogs have product endorsement and sponsorship policies and guidelines publicly posted on their blog for potential sponsors and readers. Environmental blogs typically have strict guidelines regarding what companies and products they will endorse and often will state in some manner in the post a disclosure on sponsorship.

Personally, I made a decision some time ago that I wouldn't accept an active, ongoing product endorsement and any "freebies" for review would only be accepted with the clear statement to the company that I would be critical and honest (even if I don't like the product). This doesn't mean I disagree with bloggers accepting endorsements, I just didn't want the pressure or hassle myself, personally.

Recently, a blogger friend commented that they felt uncomfortable and disappointed when reading a sponsored post that was not clearly advertised in the post title. They felt misled that they were reading an unbiased review of a product only to discover at the very end of the post that it was sponsored.

I will admit that I do take sponsored posts with a grain of salt. It's hard not to when the writer is essentially paid to promote a product and as a result is not unbiased. It's the reality of accepting a sponsorship role in blogging. That said, I do appreciate when bloggers are honest about the origins of the review and potential bias, and I also feel very confident in certain bloggers' strict sponsorship and endorsement policies.

What are your thoughts on blogging sponsorship? Do you have companies that you are confident promoting? Do you struggle advertising the fact that the post is sponsored?


Anonymous said...

I've never been offered the opportunity for a sponsored post- but I do love free stuff! Do companies normally allow for objective reviews or do they require favourable reviews only? If they do allow you to post a negative opinion, I wonder about pressure, obligation, etc. given that you've received that free item.

Heather N said...

I've struggled with this myself and have come down to the conclusion that I love working with brands and love to share products that work well and save me time and/or money. I do disclose at the end of the post and think that is adequate. Many people question the 'opinions are my own' statement, but trust me, I'm always honest. The reason I'm not ripping products apart on each sponsored post is that I won't accept products I wouldn't use or brands that I wouldn't buy myself.

Heather N said...

Halitrax... they want honest opinions. Maybe it comes down to the 'no publicity is bad publicity) but I had a situation where I got something and we just didn't like it at all. I told the company and asked if they really wanted a negative review, and they said yes. I pointed out what I didn't like and who it may be good for instead. I would steer clear of any company who only wants a good review, you are not a puppet and opinions are never for sale.

Eco Yogini said...

I think the key is knowing that although your opinions are your own, it is important to recognize that you are being paid to post them. Which adds a layer of bias.

Which is fine- it's just important to recognize that not all your readers will understand this.

I really like the idea of posting a clear page for your readers to read, and perhaps even a few blog posts, on how you choose companies, why you accept sponsorship and decide to endorse products.

That way it increases the trust and belief in your readers (who really don't know you as a person).

I'm also more of a "disclose at the top" kinda reader though....

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I've discovered a lot of great companies and products through sponsored posts, so I don't mind them on occasion. I also know how much work blogging is so don't begrudge anyone getting a little back for producing great content.

Eco Yogini said...

@Erin: very good point- blogging does take a lot of time. especially if it produces great content and you're right, it's a nice way to get to know new products.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Sometimes sponsored posts are about a certain topic rather than a review post. I think of these as similar to the little blurbs before a Hulu or PBS show ("this show is brought to you in part by..."). It's a way for a blogger to get paid a bit for writing good content while the company gets some press on a blog that has a readership likely to be interested in their product/service.

While I generally want to promote LESS consumption, there are really great green companies out there and sometimes you do have to buy something. I think it's fine for bloggers to share in the revenue instead of just doing free marketing all the time for products they believe in.

I think the key is to make sure that 1) you are promoting companies you are very comfortable being aligned with -- as a green blogger, this for me means green ethical businesses and 2) you are posting your honest opinion.

I do believe in the inescapable nature of bias. Receiving a free item or payment naturally makes you feel a little differently about a company/ product. So disclosure of course is always important (and legally necessary). But I think sponsored posts/ paid reviews can be done in an ethical way, and I think we'll be seeing more and more of it. I personally find sponsored posts and sponsors in the sidebar to be a much more palatable form of revenue for me than banner ads where I have minimal control over what's being promoted.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

P.S. I personally don't care that much about whether the disclosure is at the top or the bottom of the sponsored post. The first time I read a post and got to the sponsorship blurb at the bottom I was a little taken aback, but now I see them everywhere and am more comfortable/ familiar with that type of arrangement/post. However, your friend's view -- which is probably similar to others who don't spend tons of time reading blog posts -- does make me think it might be best to put disclosure for sponsored posts at the beginning rather than the end, at least until they become more common and familiar.

Remember that bloggers care a lot about their credibility. Just b/c a post is sponsored doesn't mean a blogger's opinion and content is up for sale. Unless someone is already a sellout, I doubt sponsored posts would suddenly make them one.

Eco Yogini said...

@Betsy: exactly! well put.
I also think that sponsored posts are really more common in the environmental blogging world- or we've just been better at addressing and discussing this issue on our blogs and on our facebook groups- what is the best way to go about it.
so i know the blogs that i read have thought about it and only chosen companies they feel 100% comfortable with.

but yes, if there are some readers who would rather see the disclosure at the top, perhaps that is good feedback...

Anonymous said...

I don't mind people getting sponsorship or free items or whatever - so long as there is full disclosure. Though at the same time, I'm less inclined to really, really connect with that blogger. Not that I assume they're unethical - just that I don't always know what the real story is. So yes, in general, I find my blogging loyalty going to people and businesses that aren't receiving a ton of free stuff, that aren't sponsored, etc. I just feel like people who blog just with the intention to share are doing it because they love it. And that makes me want to read what they have to say!

Amber Strocel said...

I participated in a contract with a company I personally use, which involved writing four sponsored posts. I was honest and up front about the situation, I explained it at the beginning and the end of the post, and I included the #spon hash tag in my tweets.

While I did my best to be up-front and ethical in my approach, as a blogger I still ended up finding the situation uncomfortable. Yes, I made a bit of money, and that was nice. No, I wasn't endorsing something I don't use. But on the whole it just felt kind of icky to me, personally.

That said, I will occasionally accept free products for review, especially books or kids' craft supplies. I find it less uncomfortable. I disclose that I didn't pay for the product in case of potential bias, but still do my best to be honest. I'm very choosy, so I'm not inundating my readers. The biggest downside has actually been that I've inadvertently reviewed a couple of products that aren't available in Canada, which is a pet peeve of mine as a Canadian. So now I make sure to ask.


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