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Chris Brogan...

This isn't said in anger. I love your post. I think you've done a great job raising the right questions, and I respect you. Here's my question, and why I did what I did:

Looking at the ads on both sides of this post makes me wonder if you think that's the only relationships writers should have with advertising. I'd ask: do they work for you? Are they paying your mortgage? If no, I'm exploring alternatives exactly for a guy like you, who deserves to be paid for your efforts, and who might be able to eventually find the kind of advertorial relationship you can endorse.

Would that make sense?

Lisa Hoover

Great post. This is an amazingly complicated issue. You're right, Chris isn't a journalist and probably shouldn't be held to the same standards. As long as he fully discloses he's being paid, I guess I don't see it as any different from product endorsements from celebrities, ball players, etc.

It's exceptionally difficult for journalists to write sponsored posts, even on a personal blog, because that's a line you never, ever want to blur in your readers' minds.

The ironic part is that, as a writer that provides online content for blogs and more mainstream media outlets, I sometimes get accused of "shilling" for a company when I write something favorable or positive. You just can't win for tryin' eh? :-)

Daniel Tunkelang

Steven Hodson put forth a strong defense of the sponsorship model a few months ago:


Of course, the real challenge is figuring out a way for bloggers to make a living. A recent post of mine led to an interesting conversation between me and Hodson on the subject:


Ron Miller

Thanks for the great comments. I'll start with Chris. Thanks for being so open to this discussion. I think it's something we need to talk about and work out because we are learning as we go.

Let's talk about the types of revenue. We have ads, which nobody has a problem with. These are generic, random and are not generated at the behest of the advertiser. Nobody could suggest that I was writing on behalf of the person advertising beside my posts. I make little money from these ads, just enough probably to cover my Typepad fees.

Then, there's sponsorship, which Daniel brought up in the Mashable link. The idea is you get somebody to sponsor you like the old radio shows and soap operas and they pay the bills. Sponsors usually stay in the background and don't dictate content. This is a model that might work for a blogger like me, but only if I didn't write about the sponsor's products (and maybe the products of its competitors). In Scoble's case, it would mean not writing about hard drives.

As Lisa says, it's complicated and for journalists even more so. We can't accept sponsored posts, which means I couldn't do a post like the one Chris did for ebillme. It just couldn't work for someone like me who writes about software all the time. It would speak directly to my credibility.

I don't want to be holier than thou about this because I know full well it is not always black and white. There are plenty of greys and I understand that, but I know for me, I have to be very careful about how I would approach this.

I know we all want to make a living, me included. This blog is more a labor of love than a way to make a living. I have other outlets where the publishers pay me for that. But for others like Chris and Daniel who don't feel the journalistic obligations that Lisa and I feel, there may be room here to work out something that makes everyone comfortable. But in the mean time, I still say be careful because until we work out the parameters of what's fair, your personal reputation is on the line and you have to be very, very careful with that.


mack collier

"Let's talk about the types of revenue. We have ads, which nobody has a problem with."

Honestly, the ads I see being served up next to this post serve absolutely no purpose to me at all. It's clutter, the ones on the left, I dunno what the hell they are, and I'm not looking for a Nike pullover like the one on the right. So while I don't have a problem with you trying to monetize your content, I see these particular ads on your blog as being clutter.

And to be fair, most ads on blogs ARE clutter. Sure, not many people have a 'problem' with them, but the next time I hear someone say that they like the ads on a particular blog, will be the first time.

I think the core of what Chris was trying to do is what he always does; experiment. We need more experimenting with blog monetization. That's how we IMPROVE THE PROCESS.

Otherwise, we will be left with our 'best' alternative for monetizing blogs being a buncha ads that just get in the way.

Ron Miller

Thanks for your comment, Mack. What I meant is nobody has a problem with ads from an ethical standpoint.

Your point about their purpose is well taken, and I understand that Chris was challenging the conventional thinking when he did this, but I'm not sure having KMart pay Chris (or anyone for that matter) to write a post improves the process.

Not to belabor the point, but what it does to me is possibly hurt your own personal reputation, your personal brand, which someone like Chris (or any of us) has worked so hard to build.

I will say, at least with the ads, I know they are random and have nothing to do with the content. When you are paid directly by the company to write a post about the company, there is undeniable room for conflict of interest, perceived or real, a risk I'm not willing to take. I have conceded that it could work for some bloggers. I'm not sure what else I cans say on the matter.

Dan Thornton

The big problem with ads is that noone has an ethical problem with me, but noone sees or interacts with them either...

Personally I think the nature of a personal brand will change and evolve - after all, there are plenty of bloggers who focus on different ways to make money, and noone complaints...

It's the more fortunate of us who are able to blog as a supplementary outlet to our day job - but what happens when the day job goes, as so many are?


Personally I'm not too concerned with a sponsored post and frankly I don't think it is much different than advertising. Both achieve the same goal but by different methods.

If I come to a site that has too much advertising or a blatently corporate dominated message I tend not to stay too long, however I have no problem with bloggers & writers making money.

Ron Miller

That's fine. Some readers will feel the way you do, but others may feel your opinion is compromised.

Remember, there's a difference between being paid by a company to write a post for a company about that company and being sponsored by a company.

I have no problem with bloggers and writers making money either. It's how I make my living so I have a big stake in that, but I still think we have to be careful because even though you aren't bothered by it, some people will be and it could affect your reputation.

Thanks again for keeping the conversation going.


mack collier

"Thanks for your comment, Mack. What I meant is nobody has a problem with ads from an ethical standpoint."

I would argue this point as well. I'm not an expert on this, but from my little research, I believe ads are served up based on the content of your posts. And certain keywords pay more than others, correct? If so, there is an incentive for bloggers to alter their content in order to get higher-paying keywords in their posts.

Again, I will say that I could be completely wrong about how your particular ads work, but that's my understanding about how they work, in general.

As for the question of whether or not Chris' post improved the process. Notice how the blogosphere and Twitter community has gone crazy discussing this? Now the onus is on US to keep pushing this conversation forward. I have noticed that whenever a blogger decides to attempt to monetize their content, we are quick to criticize, and rarely offer other/potential solutions.

The only way this conversation and process moves forward, is if we start looking to IMPROVE the process. I think that's what Chris tried to do. Think he's wrong? Then what would you do instead?

Ron Miller

I don't think anyone would suggest that writers write posts based on what they think they might get paid from ads. That's just a huge stretch and nobody really knows what ads are going to be served or how much they pay. There's a lot of transparency there for the writer because the whole thing is a crap shoot controlled by the ad server.

I agree that Chris has started a conversation, but that's just the beginning. Chris is a clever guy and it's worth having the debate, but it doesn't mean he's right because he started the conversation, only that he had the foresight to talk about it.

As for I would do: I get paid by publishers who have the clout to generate larger audiences. Maybe we should form networks of bloggers and increase the likelihood we will all make more money from ads together than we do separately. It's a thought and it's better to me than taking money from corporations (no matter how up front we are about it) to post on behalf of that company.

I don't believe that taking money to post about a company improves the process. I think it diminishes the process and has the potential to reduce the credibility of the blogger who does it. Again is that worth the money? Not to me.

David Meerman Scott


First - congratulations on sparking such an interesting debate and having people come to talk on your blog. I've been a reader from the start. How cool to see the progress you've made.

Yeah, this is an incredibly complicated issue. But the main thing here is that bloggers are not journalists.

In my opinion, if you disclose, you're cool on the ethical front. Are there things that other bloggers would happily do that I won't? Of course.

Regarding ads. Would you take an ad for a porn site? For a gun manufacturer? For a a fundamentalist religion advocating violence? That's an ethical issue for you as the blogger to decide.

I get paid to speak at conferences and run seminars at companies. In the past few years, I have done blog posts about some of the companies I've run seminars for like Dow Jones and the New York Islanders. I've disclosed the relationship. Is that wrong? I don't think so. I've learned something cool as a result of my exposure, like the New York Islanders way of embracing bloggers and I want to tell my readers about it.

I have deep respect for Chris Brogan. (Disclosure - Chris and I are partners in New Media Summit, a series of conferences.) Now, by saying that I have respect for Chris (which I do) is that wrong because he is my partner on a venture? I don't think so because I have disclosed the relationship.

Blogging is not journalism.

Keep up the good work.


Ron Miller

Hi David:
Thanks for the comment. Honestly, I've learned loads from reading your writings over the last couple of years.

Regarding ad types, I do have some control over ads and I ask for them to be related to technology, so the scenario where a possibly distasteful ad would not likely happen here, but I agree it is up the personal blogger to decide (and risk alienating some readers, I might add).

As for your other points, I would say there are subtle differences here. Chris wrote a post specifically because he was paid by the sponsor to do so, not because he did business with them and was writing about that experience. What you did with Dow Jones and the NY Islanders was perfectly fine in my view and didn't raise any ethical questions because you were writing about your experiences and you told readers exactly what you were doing. While DJ paid you for the job, they weren't paying you to write a post about it. That was just a happy outcome.

Further, the fact that you and Chris have a business relationship is not really relevant to this particular discussion. Again, the fact you told me only speaks to your high ethical standards, but you could have defended Chris as your friend and I wouldn't have thought less of you had I found out you guys worked together occasionally.

As for blogging not being journalism, well when you put on a blogger hat (and I had this debate with another blogger today on another site), you do actually in my view take on at least some journalistic responsibilities as I wrote in Citizen Journalists Need to Learn from Jobs Rumor Debacle (http://www.daniweb.com/blogs/entry3298.html).

It's a fine line, and as I wrote not all bloggers need to be held to the same strict journalistic standard as working journalists, but they do have to be careful about accepting this type of pay for a post arrangement because (I'll say it again), it will turn at least some readers away at some point.

Thanks again for writing, David.


Brent Leary

Hi Ron,

This is quite the conversation you have going on here. And just think we're just at the tip of the iceberg with this. But it's an iceberg that we'll need to navigate around in order for social media - and the companies who use it - to successfully help us meaningfully connect.

I have had Chris on my show, and have met him personally. I've also been the recipient of his generosity. I think he's straight up in what he does. And because he made it plain for all to see, I have no problem with the Kmart post. He wasn't trying to hide it, or attempt to pull a fast one. I think he's trying out new and different ways to use the media and the business models that may come out of using them.

Will everything he and others (me included) try work? No. Will things that work for some, work for everyone? No. But it's important to stretch and experiment with the ultimate laboratory, which we are lucky to have at our disposal. As long as we're open and honest with our motives and execution - and are open to the public debates that will follow - we should be able to figure this out together.

Thanks for the great post.

Michael Krigsman

I have the highest regard for Chris' integrity and I also like him as a person. He's a great guy.

That said, the best bloggers will follow a model established by the best journalists: avoid conflicts of interests and even the appearance of conflicts. It's not always easy, and we may all slip sometimes, but strategically it's a must.

Bloggers using personal credibility to create infomercials will eventually erode their personal brand. Consider infomercials on television: don't you look down on the people hawking stuff? Infomercial blogging is a short-term strategy that will bring downstream negative consequence to participating bloggers.

Is the money really worth risking years of credibility building? It's not my cup of tea, but obviously others feel differently.

Michelle Manafy

Well, Ron, I'm a journalist. J-school, 20 years in publishing... and this is a line we have always walked. Frankly, journalism is a business and needs an income. When you get into B2B, that line gets mighty fine. Blogging is at the front line of this issue today. To my mind, paid posts are "advertorial". They are paid advertising content that intentionally looks like the real, unbiased stuff. Not unlike most White Papers and webinars, the content is thinly veiled advertising. The way we've always handled it in print publishing is by clearly marking it as such. I think that ASBPE has good guidelines (http://www.asbpe.org/about/code.htm) for this sort of thing as it relates to print publishing and perhaps the organization should consider extending the guidelines to the digital world. So you know, we are doing a story in the March issue of EContent (http://www.econtentmag.com--where Ron is a contributing editor) about the state of editorial integrity in digital publishing. Stay tuned.

Jason Breed

Let me take a different course here as I did on Marc Meyers post on the same subject. Bloggers, analysts and journalists alike have too many things to possibly cover them all. The only way to break through the clutter as a business is to get them to try your product or service out. Case in point, friend of mine has a motorcycle manufacturer. They regularly invite bloggers, journalists and reporters to a great destination to ride the bikes on a test track and provide a great overall experience. The expectation from the company is a post or article on their bikes. Only the best reporters get invited though.

Relate it to pro sports. there are millions of high school athletes, tens of thousands of college athletes and only a couple thousand pros (people paid to play because they are that good). I still watch pro sports even though I know its not for the love of the game anymore, it's to feed their families. I am still entertained.

Final thought here, because Chris has been so successful, he has created too many opportunities for himself. Only the ones he chooses to do will we get to see. Whatever they are though, don't hate the player...hate the game.

Julie Roads

Ron - Cheers on creating this incredible conversation. My thought from the beginning, was that Chris has established himself in my mind, and the minds of many others, as a trustworthy person full of incredible information. So, for me, because it was Chris that sparked the conversation, I never thought for a moment that it wasn't okay, his integrity wasn't tarnished.(and I understand that your post is in no way a personal attack on Chris)

I know everyone is talking about the concept, but look what Chris did. He didn't just throw his self out the window and write for Kmart, he mentions that they don't have good clothes for grown men, he bought toys for tots (charity)...he was being a dad.

If he did sponsored posts on a regular basis and liked everything (and wasn't honest), wouldn't it be a different story?

I'd like to think that there's a right way to do this. Don't we see this anyway? There is a right way to blog and a wrong way. A right way to be on Twitter and a wrong way. You can be human, authentic and real or you can be a spammer. So while I do see all of the harm (and potential harm) here, I think that Chris did pretty good...


You are not comparing apples to apples, social media is a totally different animal and will not be held to the old standards of journalist.

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