Working with Bloggers: The Art of Proper Disclosure and Responsible Outreach

There has been a lot of buzz around Microsoft’s blogger outreach fail and let’s face it, it could have happened to a number of different brands. Microsoft is just unfortunate in the fact that they are a big name and their fail got heavily promoted.

Quick version of what happened: Microsoft went through an agency to reach out to bloggers to promote Internet Explorer on their behalf. Said agency didn’t follow proper disclosure guidelines nor did they properly vet the bloggers before reaching out in the first place.

To me, it raises the whole issue of confusion in two important areas of blogger outreach. Proper disclosure and should we be paying bloggers or not?

Pay or Not?

The pay or not to pay topic is so finicky. Bloggers deserve an income as their mentions bring brands revenue.

But, a lot of people view a paid mention as insincere… So a lot of brands and agencies give away free product but is that always enough?

Here is my post that I wrote for SpinSucks on the matter, it explores all segments of the pay-or-not-to-pay bloggers spectrum.

Guidelines and Disclosure

First of all, the reason why people got really upset at Microsoft and their agency is because they were paying for a passing of links and not properly disclosing the fact that they were paying for PR in the first place. This goes against everything Google and even their own search engine—Bing preaches.

It just takes a little research to understand disclosure guidelines and the best place to start is with a presentation by Andy Sernovitz on staying out of trouble when working with bloggers from the Outreach Marketing Summit. Here is the link to the summit on demand so you can check out his presentation. Or if you prefer to read here is a post he wrote on the matter. And regardless of your info intake style, download this checklist on ethics from Wordofmouth.org.

Ethics

Not only are legalities important but establishing an ethical code will get you far.

Ethical practices include things like:

  • Vetting your bloggers for a contextual fit before reaching out them in the first place.
  • Don’t send mass emails. Read each blog before reaching out. This will help ensure that not only are you sending good outreach emails but that the blogger is going to move your marketing efforts forward.
  • Use outreach marketing’s primary principal of bringing advocates, consumers and influencers in to your brand instead of playing the numbers game for one time campaigning.
  • Prioritize authenticity and assets like links and followers will just fall in to place. Don’t tell bloggers what to write. Simply request an honest review—even if it’s negative.

Brand and Agency Responsibility

Brands: Look to Ford

ford

Ford has their “rules of engagement with online influencers” published on their website. Definitely go give it a look now. Here is the link.

Key takeaway: “While we may make vehicles available for test drives, we never instruct people on what to say. In social media, it must be your authentic opinion or it doesn’t count. We require anyone who we provide a vehicle or other experience to fully disclose that relationship. That openness is key to maintaining trust.”

Agencies: Look to Ogilvy

olglivy

I love Ogilvy’s code of ethics which consists of a series of promises they not only pledge to their clients for sincere blogger outreach efforts but to the bloggers as well. Here is a link.

Key takeaway: They pledge to actually read every blog they plan to contact before emailing. How cool is that?

This topic is hot! Weigh in in the comments and let’s have an awesome discussion about ethical blogger outreach!

This entry has 2 replies

I think payment is fine, so long as it doesn’t have an impact on what is being said, if it is a product review (ie paid rave reviews) that could mislead readers and trick them into spending hard earned money on a duff product, and as long as it’s made clear in some way that it is paid for, or ‘in association with’ or whatever, so that people know they’re reading something that is sponsored. 

In all fairness though, whether it be by being sent products, or payment, all blog inclusion for brands where they have liaised with a blogger is kind of sponsored in a way. Just because no cash exchanges hands, that brand has sent ‘something’ of some value to a blogger, which could be seen as reward, or incentive.

ClaireDC Very good points Claire. I compare giving incentive the same as paid focus groups (minus the media element) which brands have been doing for years to collect honest feedback, not fake raves. That’s where critics get confused. If they’d only look at how focus groups are conducted (Participants are paid and the feedback they give can be good, bad or in btween. I will admit, focus group answers are private, unlike blogging) But if the critics would just view it in this way, things would be clearer. Has a focus group EVER paid for fake rave reviews? We all know the answer to that. Of course not. All the more reason why paid influencer programs need to be regarded as “focus groups without the media element.” The brands are paying influential blogs because it’s one way to break through the noisiness of today’s SM environment. I believe there’s actually a 4th bucket to POE (Paid/Owned/Earned). I call it S for “solicited, uncertain” because the brand does NOT control the final results/message, in contrast to P where the brand most definitely controls the message (e.g., Geico ads, StateFarm ads, etc.)
~ Alex Yong

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