You may be aware that journalists and bloggers are sometimes offered free stuff in exchange for media coverage of some sort. This free stuff may come in the form of anything from products to services to tickets. In exchange, they are usually expected to provide advertising/promotion, reviews or direct sales pitches. Often, you may not even know that the blogger had received something in exchange for writing the post or article, although this is changing due to a relatively recent FTC ruling requiring such disclosure.
I was just offered a ticket to an event I really wanted to attend. I had been aware of it earlier, but decided not to attend due to the time and expense required, even though I knew it would have been an excellent learning and networking opportunity. To receive the free ticket, the caveat was that I would need to publish a post promoting the event – right now. It just didn’t feel right. Well, let me clarify. There is nothing wrong with an event organizer offering free admission to select people with some degree of reach and influence who they feel are well positioned to help spread the word. This happens all the time and there are many who are more than happy to take them up on the offer.
Instead, I suggested that I blog about key learnings from the conference which I felt would benefit my readers and community. As this would have taken place following the event, this did not provide the up-front exposure they sought. Again, this was their choice to make and I completely respect that.
I’m Not So Pure
Before it appears that I’m aiming to set myself ethically above others who may have agreed to publish a promotional post, I need to share that I have done this before. When I was selected as one of the Official Bloggers to attend LeWeb, the largest tech event in Europe, it was an honor. I was given free registration for the conference, though I paid all travel expenses out of pocket – quite a hit on my credit card. LeWeb does require their Official Bloggers to post related content prior to and following the event. I didn’t feel this was much of a burden as I was able to craft it to suit my style and audience. Plus, it was kind of a big deal to be selected.
I also agreed to blog after attending a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. There was absolutely no caveat about what exactly I would write, only that I shared that I’d attended the show. To craft my post to fit my style and audience, I also wrote about Cirque du Soleil’s stellar social media program and their strategic outreach to bloggers. I saw LOVE, by the way. It is so much more than a show, it is an incredible experience. (And, no, I earn no extra Cirque points to mention it again a year later.)
Where Do We/I Draw the Line?
As with many things in life, we aren’t easily able to define exactly where the line is, but we know in our gut when it’s been crossed. Being asked to post this promotional piece didn’t feel right to me. I’m sure the fact that the post had to be written the same day I was asked didn’t help me feel any more comfortable.
The reason I care so strongly about where that line is drawn is you. Without you, no one will be around to read my blog. Without you, the community around Almost Savvy is nothing. They just wouldn’t exist; rather, they would exist, but they would have little value in terms of momentum and engagement. You have many sources of information competing for your time and attention. You choose those which interest you; you choose those you trust.
I am ever mindful of the value of your trust. Trust is often compared to a bank account. It takes a long time to build a substantial balance. Day after day, I try to share helpful information through my blog, Twitter, the Almost Savvy page on Facebook, speaking engagements, etc. The hope is that each of these actions result in small deposits being made into my trust account. As you get to know me, you come to trust me and what I offer. Simply because I wanted to attend this event did not seem to be enough of a reason for me to make a withdrawal from that account.
What’s Most Important: Your Feedback
I shared this on the Almost Savvy page on Facebook and asked if I had made the right decision. I was delighted with the insightful and thoughtful replies I received. The feedback ranged from “You made the right decision…and showed integrity” to “I think it would be OK if you disclosed the fact that you were compensated” to “No blogger or journalist should ever publish something where the content is pre-determined in exchange for something of value.” (I’ve paraphrased, you can view all the original comments here.)
What I’ve Decided – This Time
While I very much appreciate some members of the Almost Savvy community being willing to cut me some slack and support me in publishing a promotional post, I’m sticking by my decision not to do it. I’m not saying I won’t ever do it. I know enough to never say never. Still, I couldn’t get out of my head the fact that I did want to hear the content presented and meet others in attendance. I chose the best of both worlds and bought a ticket. I won’t always be in a position to do this, but I got lucky and it happened to work out this time. I hope to be able to share some of what I learned with you in the near future – on my terms.
What Do You Think I Should Have Done?
This is a tricky area, one which I want to navigate carefully. Your input and thoughts are most appreciated. Please let me know in the comments below what you think I should have done.
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