Sunday, June 26, 2005

Should Bloggers Disclose Financial Compensation?

In today's Sunday Boston Globe (pp. A1, A22), Jenn Abelson wrote an article citing concerns about bloggers who receive compensation to mention certain companies on their blogs. According to the article, a marketing firm -- USWeb -- enlisted 2,000 bloggers to mention USWeb's clients' products and services on their blogs, sometimes regardless of whether the blogger had direct experience with the company. (When more blogs mention, and link to, particular websites, those websites are rated higher in search engines like Google; this has led some in the advertising industry to interpret blog to mean "better listing on Google." Currently, there is no government regulation regarding such disclosure of compensation in the blogosphere.)

It seems like failure to disclose financial compensation on blogs represents yet another form of "undercover," "stealth," or "shill" marketing. Further, non-disclosure seems to violate the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Code of Ethics, which supports honest disclosure of identity and relationship with a marketing company.

The situation is complicated by the following example: a software marketing company mentioned in Abelson's article -- Marqui of Portland, Oregon -- discloses that they pay bloggers to have their clients' names mentioned on blogs. However, the blogger mentioned in the article didn't consistently disclose that she received compensation. Thus, Marqui would seem to be abiding by the WOMMA* Code because they disclose they pay bloggers. But should the blogger receiving compensation also abide by such a code? How much can, and/or should, a marketing company control the actions of the people they compensate for their participation in marketing campaigns?

To me, this issue of the most effective and ethical way to manage institutional identity and affiliation is of paramount importance to longevity of word-of-mouth, buzz, viral, and blog marketing. I am especially interested in this identity management in more interactive settings, especially interpersonal contexts. Stay tuned for upcoming reports from research projects on this and related topics.

* Disclosure: As mentioned in previous posts and in my bio, I am an Advisory Board member of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association which has developed a code of ethics surrounding the online and offline word-of-mouth marketing industry.


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