Understanding Izea’s Sponsored Blogging Service

My role as an analyst is to find out what types of social media are effective for Forrester’s clients, this weekend provided a unique opportunity to watch how sponsored blog posts are now emerging.

Understanding Sponsored Blog Posts
I posed some questions on Twitter when I learned of it on Sat (I embedded them below for any late-comers), and then got on the phone (yeah that old thing) with Ted Murphy the CEO of Izea to get the facts, and then talk to Chris Brogan, one of the bloggers who participated and is also on the Board of Advisors of Izea, who has since explained his actions in this lengthy and active post (over 170 comments and 17 trackbacks). Ted said “the call was balanced and open”, and Chris Brogan said “He’s a very fair and good analyst.”. Let’s stay with this theme as this is a very charged topic.

Izea (and social spark), a spin-off the heavily criticized Pay Per Post has launched a campaign offering influential bloggers gift cards to go shopping, and then share the wealth with their community via a contest. This is good, I’m all for bloggers getting paid. Update: I just discovered the inventory of bloggers, where you can purchase sponsored blog posts.

Let’s examine why Izea campaigns are likely to be successful

  • Recent research shows that corporate blogs are not trusted, but we know that consumers trust their peers, so savvy brands will want to benefit from word of mouth.
  • The economy is sinking, consumers, bloggers, well everyone, can use extra cash in the hand.
  • Pay Per Post did not require disclosure, Izea requires up front disclosure –this is ethical.
  • It’s doubly attractive as each of the bloggers can hold a contest, offering additional prizes to their readers, this spread like wildfire in Twitter –reaching a large audience.
  • I learned from Ted that the bloggers that would participate would receive traffic, as the advertising network within Izea would point to the blogs that are sponsored.
  • Click through rates will be far higher than banner ads, Ted shared me some numbers, and if he’s right, they are significantly higher. This makes sense as the source is higher trusted than an ad.
  • It’s inexpensive for the brand, while I hear of many soical media campaigns for Fortune companies being 50-100k, the payout to bloggers and community is a mere 5k, although I’m sure there’s many service fees going to the marketing team at Izea.
  • But what are the risks?
    With every benefit comes a risk to each party, and this one is no different.

    Risks to bloggers and their communities
    Bloggers will simply have to ensure that they are delivering trusted content to their audience (transparent), and it’s relevant to their current topics (authentic). If readers are going to a tech blog, and expecting tech content, they may be surprised if the content shifts to a different medium –like consumer goods. Ted explained that the bloggers will choose the content they will write about, so in theory, this will work. The good thing about the blogosphere is that it self corrects, the community members will let the blogger know what they do and don’t like –it happens every day. Update: Julio Fernandez notices that the tweets are generating spam, and takes a screenshot.

    Risks to Izea
    The other risk is the inventory may not be sustainable (long term). What’s the inventory? The bloggers. Izea will need to ensure that the blog posts are spread out so the sponsored posts. If bloggers continue to do sponsored only posts, they do run the risk of losing editorial trust from their community, and then losing audience. As Izea gains popularity, expect the demand to increase for these campaigns.

    Risks to Brands
    For brands, they should realize that this is not the only way to reach customers, many brands are reaching customers in social networks, building online communities, and using corporate blogs. Brands shouldn’t put all their resources into sponsored blog posts.

    Bottom Line: Sponsored blog posts to proliferate
    Getting bloggers paid is good, word of mouth for brands is also good, as the prizes and content spread to the readers of the blog they win too. The only risk is if the editorial becomes trusted, but we should expect bloggers to self-police themselves. Two years ago, I never imagined that I would write a positive post for anything coming out of Pay Per Post, but I think this model is getting refined.

    Twitter is in an interesting beast, information flies so quickly, that some may misunderstand or distort what really happened in the first place. For some reason, people think that I was against sponsored blog posts or specific bloggers, that’s not true, you can read from my tweets, that I was asking questions to learn and did due diligence to get on the phone with the parties involved, any of the risks I mentioned in the tweets, I’ve also outlined in this post.

    The tweets are listed in chronological order, so the first is at the top, I removed any tweets not about this topic.

    Kmart paid Shoemoney $500 resulting in buzz from paid blog post 300+ comments http://snipurl.com/7yi5w “Buying” social media is effective 4:37 AM Dec 13th from web

    This may not be a scalable model however, as buying placements could reduce credibility of bloggers, reducing marketing inventory. 4:38 AM Dec 13th from web

    Bottom Line: Expect more brands to ‘buy’ bloggers and tweeters as the economy dips, this truly is cost effective marketing 4:39 AM Dec 13th from web

    @moon Yes, I’m fully aware of Ted, and Izea. Paid product placements are nothing new, what are impacts to individual bloggers and tweeters? 4:49 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to moon

    @tedmurphy (Founder of Izea/PayPerPost) have you considered the brand damage this could do to your inventory (bloggers)? 5:06 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to tedmurphy

    @moon @tedmurphy is this true? @Chrisbrogan used a seperate blog for the paid Kmart post? What’s the URL? 5:21 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to moon

    Here’s @chrisbrogan ‘s paid post for Kmart http://snipurl.com/7ynb1 Transparent, Yes. Authentic? Debatable. Sustainable? No. 5:26 AM Dec 13th

    Got off the phone with @centernetworks discussing and debating IZEA paid blog posts. More news on that soon. 5:59 AM Dec 13th from web

    @RevzNexus I need to learn more, I requested meeting with Ted Murphy and also with Chris Brogan, I may try to talk to Kmart too 6:02 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to RevzNexus

    Just talked to @tedmurphy, asked him many questions, I’ll blog my analysis if brands and bloggers should to this on Monday. 6:30 AM Dec 13th from web

    Had a good call with @chrisbrogan He’s on board of advisors for Izea. They model is getting refined. More brands will certainly use Izea. 7:19 AM Dec 13th from web

    Expect more bloggers to sign up for sponsored posts as the economy takes a downturn, this is just the start. 7:22 AM Dec 13th from web

    @chrisbrogan Thanks Chris and @tedmurphy, I’m trying to understand all sides of the issue (short and long term) before advising my clients. 7:28 AM Dec 13th from web in reply to chrisbrogan

    I highly respect @chrisbrogan as usual, he gives a thoughtful and transparent post explaining Advertising and Trust http://snipurl.com/831w6 about 15 hours ago from web

    I hope this shows why Izea is going to grow, and explains my stance.

    Related Posts: (I’ll be updating this)
    I’ll be adding links to posts that add to this discussion, on both sides of the fence.

  • Lucretia M. Pruitt: What is Your Time Worth? What’s Worth Your Time? (who’s actually one of the unpaid Wal-Mart Mommy Bloggers)
  • Aaron Brazil: IZEA, Social Spark and Redemption he’s one of the bloggers in the program
  • Mashable: Do Brands Belong on Twitter? Related, as the blogging campaigns spill over to twitter.
  • CenterNetworks: Allen Stern does a deep thought piece on paid sponsorships, read my comments at the end.
  • Jennifer Leggio of Zdnet has posted her thoughts, and suggests the campaigns are sustainable, she always has a good perspective.
  • Karl Long: Brands in Social Media and Selling Influence suggests that there are different questions we should all be asking
  • Podcast: Chris Brogan was interviewed by Six Pixels of Separation, hear his opinion.
  • MediaPost: Shows actual numbers how the Kmart brand has benefited from this campaign.
  • Duncan Riley gives a reasoned perspective why sponsored posts are not that bad –and why you should not do them.
  • David Churbuck: Shooting Fish: Blog Whores, David’s heading the social media programs at Lenovo, and discusses why he’s unsubscribing from some folks
  • Stowe Boyd: Izea: Where Is That Line Again? Stowe lays a very balanced post on where the ethical points start and stop.
  • Julio Fernandez took a screenshot of “twitter spam” and gives his thoughts
  • Mistress Mia: Chris Brogan Firestorm Begs a Big Question “No one does anything for nothing.”
  • Ross of crowdSPRING compares advertising to sponsorships, and points out the differences.
  • Dave Taylor: Is Jeremiah Owyang an analyst or is Aaron Brazell right to call him out? Dave addresses some discussions that I had with Aaron.
  • Adam Singer: Paid Blogging Is A Lose-Lose Situation a very comprehensive analysis
  • Steve Spalding, a blogger who participated in the Izea program responds that he’s not a journalist. (edited)
  • Esteban Glas: Riding Every Single Wave
  • 97 Replies to “Understanding Izea’s Sponsored Blogging Service”

    1. Have to agree with Chris – you are a fair & good analyst. In fact, I’d go a step further… you are an exceptional analyst with a level, balanced perspective that many on the internet should be envious of.

      I need to remember myself that in the end, I always learn from your analysis – and I should never assume I know what you are going to say before you say it.

      This post is spot on.

    2. As I noted when we spoke, I will write a post about my thoughts early this next week. But in reading your post, I have a question. Is this really the most important risk to brands? is this what you plan to tell your clients when they ask about risks to their brands?

      “Risks to Brands – For brands, they should realize that this is not the only way to reach customers, many brands are reaching customers in social networks, building online communities, and using corporate blogs. Brands shouldn™t put all their resources into sponsored blog posts.”

      Brands shouldn’t put all their resources into sponsored blog posts is the main risk to a brand who decides to hire Izea (or any other paid blogging outfit)?

    3. Thanks Lucretia, glad you agree with my take.

      Allen, the risks should be neutralized if the bloggers and Izea live up to their code of disclosure and transparency. I think of this as a tactic to supplement what they are already doing. I look forward to reading the other risks you think there are.

    4. Hey there,
      Whatever anyone’s opinion on monetizing blogs, can we as marketers start calling these models by the right name? (It’s the responsible thing to do as professionals).

      They aren™t sponsored posts because a sponsor makes an already existing initiative possible. Like a conference, charity event or a newsletter. But that conference, charity event or newsletter could exist with OTHER sponsors and they are NOT part of the core content (or, in this case, 100% of the content).

      These are pay-for-posts because the entire post is about the company that pays for it, instead of an ad that™s separated in a newsletter or a logo of a sponsor at an event. I just want to be clear so that we don™t start using marketing messaging that™s not true. Maybe when IZEA renamed from Pay Per Post it also started calling them ™sponsored posts™. I™m honestly not sure; I just know that this is the first time I™ve started hearing the words sponsored post and it doesn™t ring true to me since the “sponsor” is actually the entirety of the core content–and the only reason the post happens is because it is paid for… as every time I see one it’s the first time I’ve seen the blogger write about the company.

    5. I have got to hand it to you Jeremiah, this is about as fair and balanced as it gets. Feel free to call me at any time, I will be happy to share information as the space matures.

    6. I look forward to it Ted. I would like to see numbers, the actual results for what the brands received for their investment.

      Perhaps you can show me some case studies when the time is right.

    7. Sorta 😉

      “Pure” editorial is actually of the blogger’s/writer’s own making and inspiration. These posts would not happen sans remuneration–as I only see the bloggers write about these companies when it’s a paid post arrangement.

      Now, if a blogger wanted to do a contest of their own design and then reached out to WMart/KMart/Target and whomever came in first to help them do so, that would be sponsored. But that’s not the case. These are paid-for and while the blogger is giving their honest opinion, the only reason they are writing about the subject matter in the first place is because payment initiated it. It’s important (as responsible marketers) that we call these items by the right names… if not, it seems as though something is trying to be hidden or made to “sound better”. Make sense?

    8. from my perspective this post isn’t fair and balanced – sorry jeremiah – the risks just don’t bring in any balance. it is a great sales post for ted and izea 🙂

      i’ve managed enough CPG brands online to know that the risks are way more involved than what you are suggesting.

      and I generally agree with CK as well that these posts are paid posts.

    9. This is an excellent analysis and helps to bridge the Twitter firestorm with concrete business facts. I think the initial reaction to sponsored reviews was emotionally driven (myself included) as the authenticity of relationships is one of the critical factors in the success of social media as a sustainable marketing/brand force, and any immediate reference to money seemed tantamount to a bought review.

      But after further exploration, this experiment, for lack of a better word, has revealed a potentially viable opportunity for companies and brands to expand their reach, and stimulate viral/WOM activity via ‘sponsored’ posts, and I am eager to see how it continues to evolve within the blogosphere. That said, the most powerful element of the sponsored post is the readership’s trust in the blogger to offer an objective, unbiased review. If that trust erodes, the business model can’t sustain.

      However, given the turn of events and rampant controversy over this, I suspect that even greater care will be taken in preserving that trust, and in doing so, is likely to elevate the thinking — and the integrity — of the space overall.

      In the end, it would seem that scrutiny is the most powerful driver — not money. And there will be many eyes watching and scrutinizing the next moves of those entering this arena, monitoring activity, gauging response and attempting to measure success. I suspect that as an analyst, there will be no shortage of data for you to review in the coming months!

    10. Jeremiah:

      What I like best about this post is your openness re: your participation in the conversation as it was happening. Those that were not able to follow it this weekend or are new here have been given context for your comments. To me, what was missing all weekend was context. The comments just started flying and never stopped. And, those comments hurt some people on both sides of the issue.

      That’s what I didn’t like. There are real people behind these the tweets on twitter and we need to remember that. There is only so much that can be communicated via 140 characters.

      I applaud you for getting on the phone with both parties vs. continuing to participate in an online forum which could, at best, only provide a sense of what people were feeling and thinking but gave no real context for those feelings.

      I personally think people were a bit jealous of Chris, quick to put him on trial and find him guilty. Everyone was hunting for the smoking gun so they could be the first to expose him. It was pitiful. It seems to me that this was very unfair to Chris. What if he had not been able to respond due to a family emergency or something?

      To me, logical questions would have been: “Do I normally trust this person?” If the answer is yes, then my next thought if I didn’t like something they did would have been to say, “Well, I don’t know why he did this, but I am sure there is a decent explanation-let me ask him in a respectful and supportive manner.” Instead, the issue(and Chris) got ripped to shreds over and over again in a space where it really is very tough to explain yourself.

      I admire Chris for this: He listened, he responded all day long, but never once did he lash out to attack someone who disagreed with him as many seemed to have done to him without the slightest knowledge of his ouevre and what he stands for in this space.

      It seemed,to me, to be about this: Money. He took money. I hope, collectively, this community can see that the work of people like Chris must eventually be monetized.

      One final thing, since I have learned to trust Chris and have not stepped foot in a KMart for years, I WOULD now after reading his post and seeing his name associated with theirs.

      Chris is a Dad and he shops. I knew he was being paid, but so what. Would I really just not give Chris any credit and discount everything he said about his experience because of 500.00. No. Since I knew he was being paid for the post, I read his opinions with eyes wide open. If I had thought that what he said was totally a pitch, I would have asked him privately. I would not have blasted him publicly before I had all the facts.

      I want to be careful not to judge people before I know all and hope that our community will allow the brands willing to support our work do so as long as all is disclosed and transparent.

      KMart-you are on my radar now. Smart move.

    11. Jeremiah,

      I think your post is right on.

      However, I think an important issue is being missed in this debate: Why is it better to use someone like Chris Brogan to spread the message about Kmart’s attributes, rather than an existing, average and uncompensated customer?

      In my view, this is the true power of social networking: people now have a platform to talk to their peers.

      The Internet is lowering the economic barriers to communication. Ideas can now be spread without buying a radio or TV tower, or even setting up your own Website.

      So why is Kmart not using its base of customers to do this?

      It makes me wonder just how much confidence Kmart has in its customers.


    12. CK

      I totally get you and agree, I addressed that in the first risk called “Authenticity”. If the sponsored post is something the blogger would already write, or is a common topic, it works. If not, they lose authenticity –and therefore trust.

      We agree.

      Allen, Hurry up and publish your post and stop monkeying in my comments! (kidding) I already setup a placeholder for your post up above –I’m waiting.

    13. Leslie Carothers

      Thanks for taking the time, I’m taking some flak from some who don’t know the full story, I hope it’s transparently here.

      Josh Fialkoff
      You’re right, the opinion of a trusted friend matters most (see the trust research I linked to). The thing is, these bloggers are influential and often trusted, so it works –and it’s amplified.

    14. as i noted on the phone, my first responsibility on the weekend is to my startup and i want to perhaps run a different post first – in addition, ted says he is working on the sears posting so maybe i can tie that in.

      I am sure you will get all the paid bloggers agreeing with you 🙂

    15. I agree that “sponsors” would have to spread their sponsorship around. Otherwise you basically have the same person touting the same products. Spreading the work around will allow for various perspectives to come out in the different bloggers’ particular styles. Then audiences can make their own mind up better.

    16. @allen: should you stop by this thread again, I’d sure love to know what other risks you’ve encountered so as to learn more from you. (note: I don’t endorse paid-post or magpie models, but, like free speech, I endorse anyone’s right to say what they want or monetize their blogs how they please). I just see the risks to outweigh the benefits.

    17. While I appreciate your research & analysis, pay per post still makes me anxious. It’s a slippery slope, and I can’t trust every blogger to do the right thing.

      For my music blog, I’ve gotten more than my fair share of pitches from labels, PR firms and bands offering to pay me, send me “incentives” or buy advertising in return for writing reviews of bands. I even had one last month offer me gift certificates just for reading their pitch.

      So by Izea’s model, I would disclose the band is paying me for the review up front, right? But the trouble lies begins if I say all positive things about the band’s album (even if I believe it), my readers would assume my review was biased due to my compensation.

      This is where my issue with the practice falls. I have ethics, a personal policy on these requests and feel responsibility to my readers to rise to a higher standard.

      I do not believe enough in humankind to assume that everyone will take this higher road — especially when $$ is involved.

    18. This controversy is absolutely baffling to me and IMHO people are asking the wrong questions especially if they have any interest in business on the web.

      First of all the competition was a brilliant and simple idea. How to make an idea spread on twitter with a very minor incentive, the ‘chance to win’ something. In this case the motivation to have a chance to win a Kmart gift certificate drove people to rebroadcast that message to their networks. So brilliant the idea, I copied it the same day and posted this to twitter:

      @karllong is giving away 10 x $25 gift certificates for http://threadless.com – just RT this t o enter, will tweet the winners 

      Now I only had 1,800 followers at the time and the result was nothing short of extraordinary. That message got retweeted or rebroadcast over 500 times, that means well over 25% the size of my network took an action to rebroadcast my message to their networks. The very first person to RT was http:///twitter.com/Coryobrien and he had 1200 people following him so I almost doubled my ˜impressions™ on the first hop. I also added 250 people to my twitter network.

      Why did this work so well? Probably because I write the number 1 t-shirt blog on the internet (according to google) so my personal brand is totally enmeshed with t-shirts, so it™s totally appropriate for me to promote T-shirts.

      To be quite honest I think personal networks are the future of advertising, so forget the ˜controversy™ and focus on the revolution people.

      Izea is actually on the right track with their business model which is essentially to empower people to profit from their ‘influence’ or networks. We are the media, and if we are put in charge of what we promote, on what terms, and for companies we believe in, there are few bloggers who will not participate. If patagonia sponsored me I would happily pimp their products for cash, I love what the company does. They have 30 open positions a year (non retail) and they get 30,000 resumes for those positions, people are inspired by what the company does and stand for. I would totally sell my influence to promote companies that I firmly believe in. Sell out, but do it selectively and on your terms.

      Now, Jeremiah is probably in a very different position as an analyst he has to remain very independent, and his credibility depends on that.

    19. “While I appreciate your research & analysis, pay per post still makes me anxious. It™s a slippery slope, and I can™t trust every blogger to do the right thing.”

      Folks, this was a great quote by Greg. Because, let’s all agree that what ALL of the paid-post model really comes down to is that unquantifiable-but-wholly-important gray area called TRUST. What I’ve been saying forever (well, forever offline, 2.5 years since blogging online) is that people and companies do not understand how important trust really is.

      Until they’ve lost it.

      (And then they realize what an uphill battle it can be to win it back)

      That’s one gamble that I can’t personally take, nor as a professional could I ask my clients to take. My business is to bolster them, not put them at great risk. Experimentation is good, but there are such better ways than a post that begins with “XYZ paid for this post”. Um, that’s about as far from original as I can think of. We’re more creative than that. By virtue of being all 2.0 we’re at the front of the curve, why can’t more of our programs reflect innovative strategies now that we have our brainpower AND these terrific technologies?

    20. @greg swan
      Ultimately compensation is based on reach and trust between the reader and blogger. If bloggers don’t take the high road they will lose their following and any potential for future compensation along with it.

      Those that don’t adopt high standards in disclosure, transparency and honesty won’t be attractive to IZEA or our advertisers.

    21. An excellent post. I love your analysis, and appreciate your friendship.

      One point that was buried in this all: I’m a publisher. I own ALL the business, not just the editorial reporting stuff.

      It’s not an easy thing, but it’s what I plan to do.

    22. you don’t lose trust by selling out, you lose trust by doing things that don’t fit your brand. If your brand has clear commercial aim like techcrunch or any pro-blog then of course you can have sponsored posts. I use lots of sponsorship on my t-shirt blog and even started selling my own t-shirts but it fit the brand. I am looking at monitization, the future of the web is going to be dependent upon business models that generate revenue so start looking into it.

    23. Greg Swan

      I can’t believe how much I’m agreeing with Ted, give our history, but I think he’s started to mature his business plan. Yup, his model is built on trust, and as soon as brands start to see backlash from blog readers –they’ll pull out.

    24. Karl

      We agree, I pointed that out in my first risk, that’s called “Authenticity” meaning: does it fit the editorial agenda? Or is it something that comes out of left field that no one anticipated.

    25. to be clear – trust only matters on blogs where trust matters – for some bloggers, their readership doesn’t give a rats ass what they do and will continue to read them even if they didn’t write “paid campaign” on the top.

    26. @karl: “I would totally sell my influence to promote companies that I firmly believe in. Sell out, but do it selectively and on your terms.”

      (Great points across the board, I hear you.)

      The thing is, I promote people, products and ideas that I believe in all the time. Because they move me to do so…not because I’ve sold my influence or I’m being paid by anyone. Because these fine folks make me better at my craft, it’s my pleasure to reciprocate. It’s just natural. And since my biz is a consultancy, it’s separate for me.

      I’d have to think how I could get behind a company with that, though. My head is more towards creating programs (that are expensive) that advance the profession and having sponsors (actual sponsors that are to the side NOT part of content) pay for that cost. For instance, remember the collage I did with all of our feedback? That cost me $400 and I was happy to do it for the community. But a 4k program that requires a camera crew and travel? I’d need a sponsor. But the content itself would need to be something that bettered the profession.

      Anyhow, you raise some great points–and I promise to give them more thought; thanks.

    27. Jeremiah–

      You made a comment as a premise for analysis about the future of paid posts: “Recent research shows that corporate blogs are not trusted, but we know that consumers trust their peers, so savvy brands will want to benefit from word of mouth.”

      I think it bears some discussion whether or not consumer trust of peers is immutable. I think you’re absolutely right, that we’ll see a lot more paid posts, for all the reasons you discussed. But I strongly suspect we’ll also see the instrinsic trust that consumers have for their peers attenuated–the same way people have questions about glowing reviews on Amazon, epinions, etc.

      It’s a brave new world. Sort of. I think many of the lessons msm learned over the years are just being hammered out all over again.

      Thanks for your role in making this an educational experience for all of us.

    28. CK, Karl

      What if the model was reversed? After a customer gave a fair and honest review of a product they were somehow rewarded that way? I don’t know of any such system, but if it exists, it could bypass Izea.

      Chris Kenton

      I was waiting for you to chime in. Yes, word of mouth and customers sharing opinions with each other (even in support communities) are going to show great promise in 2009.

    29. @jeremiah: Hmmm. But it still makes ya wonder the “intention” behind the post. Personally, I really like that we’re questioning intention, trust, etc. of these models (notice I’ve been focusing on the models, not singling anyone out). Because if 2.0 can make us better people and better marketers, then my time is “paid” back in spades.

      2 good programs are what Sci-Fi did with engaging its ALREADY loyal audience/evangelists and thereby giving value to the blogger and their readers. And what CNN did with the YTube debates in letting the citizens ask the questions and it was open to all. Those are the kind of marketing programs that I rock with; paid-for posts (not sponsored, these are out-and-out “paid”) just seems too much of a shortcut and way too vulnerable to trust.

    30. I am encouraged by the fact that Chris and others took part in this experiment. The ensuing conversation is laden with lessons.

      However, I’m leaning towards both CK in Allen that these are paid posts. These posts flat out pimp the buyer. Thrusting themselves into the middle of conversations seems to me like more of the same old push marketing tactics that social media so strongly resists.

      Additionally, in what kind of blog do these posts naturally fit? It makes sense for Chris to do this once to experiment with it. It doesn’t make sense to me for him to write another. His blog isn’t a consumer review blog that reviews products and brand experiences.

      And if a blogger decides to get paid regularly doing so, the blogger and his/her community know that the blogger must throw in a little positive bias from time to time to ensure future cash flow. I don’t see how the blogger’s credibility can remain ironclad in the long run.

      I’ll be frank, I’ve been around in the blogosphere for only a short while

    31. KyNam

      Actually, Chris put this in his Dadomatic blog which is for Dads, and is borderline “consumer review” as you stated, not his social media/community blog at chrisbrogan.com. So therefore, he did try to find the right audience for the campaign.

    32. The one thing that struck me from the past 24 hours is that there seem to be many people voicing their frustration/dislike of PPP, but few offering solutions/better options. I do appreciate Jeremiah attempting to review what he feels are the pluses and minuses of this. And while I have always thought we could do better than using the PPP model for compensating bloggers, I do appreciate that Ted seems to be tweaking the model to try to improve it.

      But in the end this all comes back to what I have been posting on blogs all day; we need to accept that if social media is going to move forward, monetizing the created content is going to be part of the equation.

      We can either continue to complain about PPP and sponsored posts, or we can roll up our sleeves and come up with a better option. I refuse to believe that PPP and Google Ads are the best options we have for compensating content creators, but at the same time, if we settle for this, then that’s what we deserve.

      But I think it starts with all of us accepting that monetization IS a part of the future of social media. Once we accept that, we can get to work and find the best solution for compensating content creators AND creating value for the people that interact with that content.

    33. Just to be clear about sponsors (because I am not a fan of we good marketers manipulating messages…or being manipulated):

      Oprah does a show on fitness. In the show she references health books and fitness equipment. Those products (books, bicycles) that she references–as PART of her health focus program– then give the audience those gifts and viewers discounts on ordering those gifts with a special code. That is a sponsor because that program’s editorial was on fitness and they were a “natural” fit and picked from a variety of products (believe me there are zillions of books and bikes). Same thing with a conference being sponsored. That event has certain tracks and the content is not altered, the sponsor just gets to have logos on signs and thank you’s in their brochures. Maybe they also give out a keychain or a flashcard as a takeaway to event attendees.

      When a post centers on a brand…that was only cited because said brand paid for it…it is a paid post. While it is up to each blogger to do or not do these paid posts; it is not correct to call them “sponsors” (it’s shady messaging, folks). Because when paid, your content has not been sponsored with complementary items, it has been wholly bought…even if you say “I like this, didn’t like that,” the entire reason you’re doing the post (your “program”) was because you were paid by a company. I wouldn’t do it, but if others want to, up to them.

      What would I have done? I would have found actual advocates and approached them. Then I would have created a Customer Advisory Board as an ongoing feedback loop. But I get why going after an influential blogger made sense to them. I just would have made a full program out of it with people who support KMart and could have a hand in improving the company’s products and customer experiences.

    34. @Mack: yes, we do need to come up with better. I have referenced 2 examples of “better” up above (Sci-Fi, CNN) and just explained what I would have done in this situation in the comment above this one. I agree we need far better ways… after all, we’re smart marketers. Let’s um, innovate.

    35. Quite an interesting conversation — thanks for hosting it!

      Help me understand how Izea’s model is that different from the many, many social media bloggers who get comped conference tickets (sometimes because they are speaking, sometimes not) and then blog about how amazing the conference was?

      Or they promote it in advance…to generate more traffic for the conference?

      I can’t recall seeing one of them disclose that they’re being compensated for pre or post-conference promotion by receiving a comped ticket. And yet…we all know it happens all the time.

      IMO, whether you’re taking a camera, a conference ticket or $500 — it’s all the same thing. You are receiving something because you have influence.

      And for what it’s worth — I’m okay with all of the above, as long as it is transparent and honest.


    36. Great analysis Jeremiah,
      but IMHO there is still one point you don’t cover: controversy. As, from the blogger’s side, the key definitely is honesty and transparency, how would a brand (and Izea) react when confronted to controversy ?
      If Izea chooses its bloggers based on a supposed positive reaction to the brand, this could create a negative bias on the whole campaign.
      If not, controversy could lead to negate the positive aspects of it, if the blogger is influent enough.
      It is not only a matter of word of mouth, but, as we all agreed on, of trust.

    37. I don’t see what the big deal is. Advertisers have always bought access to trusted voices and they ride that train as long as it makes economic sense. As I posted on Chris’ blog, “Arthur Godfrey did it, Willard Scott did it, C. Everett Koop did it, why can™t Chris Brogan do it?” I have to admit though, after reading Chris’ original post, my initial reaction was, “Oh great, just what the world needs – another retail outlet for those ugly vacuum cleaners!”

    38. @jowyang: good insights. A key element of sustainability is achieving the right balance of organic and sponsored content. This balance exists in all media, but differs by media (and even by community/sponsor). As you advise clients on this marketing approach, I believe that balance is one thing they should understand about the blogs they sponsor.

      @CK: As a blogger, advertiser and investor with IZEA since 2006 I’ve watched the terminology evolve and solidify on “sponsored posts” written by blogger and “sponsor posts” written by sponsor (see Techmeme or PaidContent examples). I believe this is because all sponsorship dollars really go towards supporting the whole blog/blogger, rather than the space for a single ad unit/post — just as conference sponsor dollars fund a conference even though they may receive a specific session/mixer in their name.

      If that perspective doesn’t help, you might also consider the 2nd definition for sponsor at dictionary.com, http://m.reference.com/d/search.html?q=sponsor

    39. Hi Jeremiah,

      What an affair! I`ve been mulling it over all weekend and have some ideas on possible solutions to ensure that bloggers, companies and readers are all protected. Not the lightest reading, but then these are some serious issues, and I think we should take some preventative precautions. My work as an ombudsperson previously gave me some insights into how to maintain neutrality and an arm`s length relationship. Just saying you will isn`t enough. We should put some better systems in place.



    40. “Help me understand how Izea™s model is that different from the many, many social media bloggers who get comped conference tickets (sometimes because they are speaking, sometimes not) and then blog about how amazing the conference was?”

      Because money was involved. You are exactly right, there’s no difference in being comped a $2,000 pass for a Forrester conf (for example) vs getting a $500 shopping spree. But when you add actual MONEY to the equation, people freak.

      Great comment Drew and I was thinking about this as well.

    41. BTW I am going to disagree with my friend CK on her assertion that we should call these ‘Pay Per Post’ instead of ‘Sponsored’. I think the former is a model for paying bloggers, the latter is a type of post.

      If we have a blogger that writes a post that they are compensated for, calling it ‘Sponsored’ implies that they received compensation for the post, that someone else sponsored the message. Which is exactly what happened.

      But if we call an individual post ‘Pay Per Post’, we are implying that this blogger routinely writes paid posts (Because PPP is a model), which may or may not be true. So I think the PPP label carries an additional negative stigma, which we should try to avoid applying to one post.

      I think saying it’s ‘Sponsored’ is an accurate description, and let’s the average reader know exactly what has happened.

    42. So lets look at it this way. Would your perception of the content change if you found out that every single post was a ppp? or Would your perception of the content be different if you never knew?

      People are “bought” all the time and we never know. Chris provides “full disclosure” and gets skewered.

      I will admit that I tend to stay away from reading “sponsored posts”.

      With that being said,I have been approached a lot to write sponsored reviews and I have decided to not do them. Why? Part of it was that I thought that I might come across as disingenuous, and the other? They wern’t offering enough cash. Which makes me wonder how many of the pundits and critics would have turned down the K-mart offer?

    43. @CK – to continue our debate from Amber’s Altitude Branding: I think it’s very important to distinguish between blogs like yours, where trust is a real issue because of the nature of the content and the mass of blogs out there where the content isn’t king or even the ten of spades 😉
      Seriously- a PPP (and that is the correct term) on FluffyPuppies.com, a blog dedicated to pictures of fluffy puppies may even come as a welcome relief.
      On your blog it’s a real problem.

      To further this discussion overall, we need to stop lumping “blogs” all together. The only thing an online magazine like HuffPo has in common with this blog is that they’re both online. Yet people still refer to them both as blogs.

      Content is a great differentiator and we have to look at that as a basis for deciding when and where PPP works. (NB: I suspect that half the moaning on Twitter was due to the misunderstanding that Brogan had run the PPP on his marketing blog rather than his Daddy blog)

      @drew/@mack – I hear you, re: conferences, but there’s a big difference there: bloggers promoting conferences do so to also promote themselves. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s fairly blatant. Nothing symbiotic about PPP

      Re: “Sponsored” vs “PPP” – I’m with CK here. “Sponsored” only works when the post resembles a broadcast media sponsorship where the content is within the realm of something the show normally covers.

      @jeremiah – we kind of travel in the same circles, but have never formally met, so “Hi.” – I thought your point about scalability is well-taken: if lots of blogs start getting sponsored posts, I think they become (a) less noticeable and (b) far more annoying. Which will result in people seeking out blogs that don’t engage in that sort of behavior. Not every blog can become “monetized” and it’s likely that most can’t. The audience is just too splintered.

    44. @Alan: thanks for coming over here. I too have landed on Jeremiah’s blog for the first time, at least you properly introduced yourself (Hurricane CK am I 😉

      I do agree that we need to stop lumping all blogs together–might be a good thing for you to write on at some point. Thank you for the broadcast sponsorship analogy, I was thinking that same example this morning. A commercial or show sponsor is to the side–not the FOCUS of the content. The show would happen anyway, no matter the “sponsor,” but these posts? They would never happen without the paying company and the content is 100% about them.

      @Mack: no problem on disagreeing, I see it as clearly paid–as the writer would never have written about it and the writer actually writes about the company (see above comment to Alan). In any case, we do agree better monetization models are needed and I thank you for going several rounds (on several blogs) with me on this great discussion 😉

      @Jeremiah: sorry I never formally said “hi” either but, well, here I am and it’s nice to meet you. We know a lot of the same people (ask Mario Sundar about me 😉

      @VC Dan: Hey, any blogger is free to monetize their space. I might not like the PPP model but I just want to ensure we’re not “flowering” any messaging to make it sound better… because marketers (and, um, politicians) have a tendency to do that in order to sell ideas–and I like to keep us honest and accountable. Thank you for chiming in, I mean that and I’ll check out the link.

      @Drew: Glad to see you here. Just FYI — David Berkowitz (http://www.marketersstudio.com) has a conference sponsorship policy. He posted it earlier in the year and ask us several times to comment on it–he really wanted our feedback in forming the policy and he was sure to ask me about it ;-). The conferences that he goes to:

      1. Are marketing conferences (he’s a marketer, he covers marketing/tech). Actually it’s incredible the amount of conferences he attends, even before his sponsorship.

      2. He then relays the findings to us both at his blog and at twitter. I don’t need to “win” anything or go to a store, I can get thought goodness by virtue of him covering a marketing conference that I wouldn’t be able to. His blog is there to share knowledge and the program does just that–and for free (and everyone gets the knowledge, not only the winner of some coupon or gift certificate)

      3. He also asks the conference for discounts on tickets for readers and, sometimes, is able to get free tickets to give to others.

      So he’s not making money off the conferences, he’s attending a conference and getting more knowledge on a subject that he then shares (and sometimes copiously!) with his marketing audience to further their expertise and his own. And he offers good and bad feedback as he usually would–he doesn’t worry since he’s not being “paid”. You may see this as the “same”, I don’t at all.

      Here is David’s full policy that he’s had on his blog for months: http://www.marketersstudio.com/media-sponsorship-policy.html

    45. The discussion’s fascinating here – so glad I had a few minutes to read all of this. Like Jeremiah, I had some big issues with PayPerPost but after speaking with Ted earlier this year, I’m much more open to Izea as a concept that works. That’s largely because even though it still made me squirm a bit, I couldn’t come up with one good reason why this was flat out a bad idea – even if it’s better for some blogs than others.

      Meanwhile, thanks CK for sharing the media sponsorship policy. As an epilogue, I couldn’t get to the events that I was promoting so when a renewal option came up I passed on it. It didn’t feel authentic. Yet if related opportunities come up the sponsorship policy will still stand, and I still do keep it prominent in the upper-right of the blog.

    46. The PayPerPost idea has been around forever. I have been asked countless times by companies if I would post something up for some cash. Izea merely has packaged this idea and made it public, good on them.

      It all depends what kind of blog you have. If you run a professional blog and you are not blogging for dollars, you would never use something like this. If you’re running a “cat blog” as Seth Godin names it, or merely blogging for dollars via AdSense, then this is a great offering.

      Good PR remains vital, campaigns like this will never get you “digital ink” on Technorati Top 100 blogs, for example.

      This is the online equivalent of advertorials, and should be treated as such…its paying for placement. Readers don’t take such posts as seriously as they do posts that were written purely as editorial content. They also may jeopardize a blogs reputation. It all depends on WHY you blog whether this is attractive to you. I think it is fine and up to the blogger to decide, I don’t see why people get so bent out of shape.

      If you don’t like it, don’t read their site – simple.

    47. Great Job Jeremiah – I give you a lot of credit for this post.

      I love your “Risks to Brands” argument and how companies should learn about all resources available rather than putting all their eggs in one basket.

      Conversely, I think it’s vital that everyone understand that there are going to be outlets that go against “traditional” social media thought. Yes, I actually said “traditional” 😉

      Ultimately, I would argue the that “sponsored” blog post model is a natural next step in the groundswell evolution.

      As long as we talk about it and people like Ted listen, life (and business) will be good.

    48. Hi Jeremiah,

      You mentioned “we know that consumers trust their peers.” That is the problem I have with IZEA’s campaign for K-Mart and Sears.

      I have no problem with sponsored articles. It was clear that the client gave the blogger $500 gift card.

      A few weeks ago I saw the video that Loren Feldman did about his K-mart experience. I clicked the tracking URL Loren had on his site and visited K-mart’s Web site. (I saw that the link had DoubleClick tags) I even added the image of the bloggers working with K-mart to my Facebook page as it was a clever campaign.

      My problem with this campaign is the instructions for people to spam their friends with the Twitter reTweets.

      IZEA should measure traffic to the different blog posts as well as the traffic to K-mart and Sears. But this campaign should not encourage people to spam and violate the trust of their peers.

      I guest my problem is that the campaign is working. If I saw 5 messages about Kmart, it would not bother me… but when a bunch of people post the same message, it became spam.

      My message to @TedMurphy: http://twitter.com/SocialJulio/status/1059044739
      Images: http://cli.gs/KmartSpam
      and http://cli.gs/SearsSpam

      One good thing that should come out of this is a new tool to block specific terms from our Twitter stream. I don’t want remove people that I follow, but I do want to block the “RT Sears $500”

      Happy Holidays! @SocialJulio

    49. I agree with Julio above about the twitter spam. That’s pretty much the only thing I don’t like about the campaigns. As long as there is disclosure and the product or service is a good fit for the community that the blogger represents, I don™t see a problem with it. I think it™s very much like a celebrity endorsement but with much more credibility if it™s disclosed. I spoke with Ted Murphy at Affiliate Summit East in Boston, and I think he gets it.

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    51. I’ve thought about this some more and I have a quick conclusion:

      The whole paid blogging idea is an attempt at cheap, uncreative PR…there, I said it.

      No one comes off looking good.

      It is advertorial 2.0 – you can not count it nearly the same as you can a true PR campaign.

    52. Jeremiah, overall a very good piece (which is how I managed to get this far into it). I take exception to the “IZEA blogger” thing, I know you probably didn’t have an opportunity to dig deep into the posts that you linked to but if I am an “IZEA blogger” I am a very, very bad one because other than this little experiment (which went fairly well, if you look at metrics that bloggers tend to ignore) I have taken exactly zero paid posting opportunities from IZEA.

      Like Chris, Loren, Tamar, Liz, etc . . . I participated in this for a set of reasons entirely my own which I’d be glad to share with you if you send me an email. It might be enlightening.

      Again, not a dig against the article but in times such as these when people’s knee jerk reactions can cause people lots of damage, I prefer to keep that top of mind.

      Change or don’t change that portion as you see bit, but those are my ten pesos.

    53. Jeremiah

      As I see it this is just another useful marketing/social media tool. Nothing more (it’s not suddenly going to solve the overall goals of bloggers / brands) or nothing less (as long as bloggers remain authentic).

      Bloggers / brands who abuse this tool might enjoy short-term gain but, in the long-term, it will affect their reputation.

      So keep it authentic, and it’s just another useful marketing / social media tool.

    54. Many of the sites/blogs in their directory don’t seem to be very quality. Has anyone else noticed that? But then again, with a sponsored post costing just a handful of dollars, I guess you get what you pay for.

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    56. Hey there,
      Whatever anyone's opinion on monetizing blogs, can we as marketers start calling these models by the right name? (It's the responsible thing to do as professionals).

      They aren™t sponsored posts because a sponsor makes an already existing initiative possible. Like a conference, charity event or a newsletter. But that conference, charity event or newsletter could exist with OTHER sponsors and they are NOT part of the core content (or, in this case, 100% of the content).

      These are pay-for-posts because the entire post is about the company that pays for it, instead of an ad that™s separated in a newsletter or a logo of a sponsor at an event. I just want to be clear so that we don™t start using marketing messaging that™s not true. Maybe when IZEA renamed from Pay Per Post it also started calling them ™sponsored posts™. I™m honestly not sure; I just know that this is the first time I™ve started hearing the words sponsored post and it doesn™t ring true to me since the “sponsor” is actually the entirety of the core content–and the only reason the post happens is because it is paid for… as every time I see one it's the first time I've seen the blogger write about the company.

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