Forrester says Sponsored Conversations are OK
Does sponsored content suspend credibility in your eyes? Before youanswer that, let's take a look at the issues. In the spirit of fulldisclosure - I received the draft report for review directly from Forrester. Since both Josh Bernoff and Jeremiah Owyang are analysts I read, follow, and quote, I read the report with interest. I'm meeting Sean Corcoran for the first time.
[Forrester's Sponsored Conversations Matrix]
I'm willing to talk about it, because sponsorship goes to the issue of sustainability for many. Ignoring the trend would be like not talking about the pink elephant in the room. Especially in the next couple of years when things - economically-speaking - might get pretty tight for brands/companies and professionals, it makes sense to revisit how sponsored content would work.
Traditional marketing is giving us more and more dis-connects. Will new ways of marketing, when implemented with transparency and honesty, give us better results? Note that I did not call this new marketing. To me new marketing is a business' willingness to realign with the marketplace.
Blogging is maturing, and many are making a consulting business and career from what started as something they did out of passion. I followed with interest the evolution of Darren Rowse's business with ProBlogger, Digital Photography School, and TwitTip. He started TwitTip way after my blog and look at the number of RSS readers.
With influence comes the ability to expand one's products and services. Darren is a good example of doing that. Another example is Brian Clark with Copyblogger and Teaching Sells. Branding is not for traditional brands anymore.
Yes, I know we're talking about the more gray area of sponsored content. I asked my friend Chris Brogan to comment on this trend. I wanted to have his perspective because his work with Izea a couple of months back was the catalyst of such an animated - and in some cases unbalanced - discussions by many. He said:
"Content marketing and sponsored content is here in 2009. It requires transparency and rigor, but it's here."
It's a very accurate statement, and that is the reason why the Forrester team decided to put together a draft report on this topic. Analysts, too do need to make a living, don't they? If you look at the matrix they put together, there are some interesting suggestions as to why a sponsored conversation might work for some bloggers.
Forrester makes five recommendations in the brief: mandate disclosure,ensure freedom of authenticity, partner with relevant blogs, don't talkand then walk away (yes, that is directed to marketers). Steve Rubel says that the distinction between writing an advertorial and writing in a blogger's own voice might get prickly.
I agree. In fact, I'm aligned with what Wendy Piersall - another business person I respect and read - says in the comments to Steve's post:
"We are definitely going to see more of it, because the metrics are emerging to prove sponsored content works.
Fewbusinesses don't rely on some sort of sponsored endorsements. Referralfees, product placement, and celebrity endorsements have been aroundfor decades (centuries, even, as Olympic athletes were paid to useproducts in ancient Greece!).
I oncereceived a free (but not inexpensive) camera to review and I thought itwas a piece of crap. I offered to send it back to the agency and notwrite the review, but they (impressively) asked that I write it anyway.Influencers aren't willing to ruin a good reputation by shilling crap,nor by pissing off brands, either."
"Guidelines for blogger disclosure are as trustworthy as Wall Street is to self-regulation!"
That may be. I think it depends on the person, like everything else in life. In the comments to Owyang's post, Janet Swaysland from Beeline Labs shares some advice to companies and bloggers who are wading in sponsored conversation territory:
1. The conversation must have a purpose. It has to be about morethan the sponsor's brand, or even the specific product category thebrand is selling in to.
2. Make “the company they keep” and the opportunity for bloggers toreach a broader audience more valuable than any compensation they mayreceive.
3. Sponsors should participate (judiciously, and disclosed assponsors) in the conversation, demonstrating genuine interest and depthin the topic. If the sponsor has nothing to say, they shouldn't sponsorthe conversation.
At my blog, I'm the editor, the writer, the publisher - and in some cases your friend and colleague, that person above getting paid to write what she thinks. In fact, I know you probably believe more what I write here, than what I say in company meetings, where I am paid to offer my experienced and project-tested advice. Think there are no politics at play? But this is a conversation for another day.
The blogosphere can be a powerful marketing channel, true. This is new territory, complete with the need for full disclosure and honest reviews on top of that. Whenever I review a book I received as a gift, I disclose that piece of information - that has been the extent of my sponsored conversations here. As my readers, it's your choice on whether to believe me or not - on anything I write.
Do you have any thoughts, feelings, guidelines, examples, you'd like to add here? Ask questions, too, please.