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Blogging for Tickets. Am I Selling Out?

Blogging for Tickets. Am I Selling Out?

I’m torn at the moment. Ethically speaking, I made the right decision. Practically speaking, I’m disappointed.

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.

My Conundrum

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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16 Responses to “Blogging for Tickets. Am I Selling Out?”

  1. nomalab says:

    I see these as two key points in your post: “I was just offered a ticket to an event I really wanted to attend” and “You choose those which interest you; you choose those you trust”.

    I’m guessing this event is about social media and networking – the very topics I come here to read about. You already told us it’s a really cool event (what better endorsement than that!) and if you then say you’ll be able to attend, thanks to a free ticket you received in exchange of a little promotion/advertising, I’m happy for you and me both. If you go, I get to read all about it from a source I trust. That’s second best only to having been there myself.

    It’s “just” a ticket. Free entrance. Not a car, not a trip to the Himalajas. “Paid” in full right here, right now. I’m sure it would not color your reports from the event, after the event.

    No withdrawal from my trust account.

    Now, if you were to promote something totally unrelated to Almost Savvy (wine tasting, climate change or handbags) and disclosing it’s in exchange for free admission – then I must admit I would feel a bit cheated.

    Just my 0.02€

    • @nomalab All good points and much appreciated feedback. I tend to err on the cautious side, especially when it comes to how my actions impact others. I way thinking of people who subscribe to my blog, particularly through email. I hate to think of them opening their email, only to find that I’m promoting an event.

      I’ll keep your words in mind should I suddenly start receiving gifts of the wine, climate change or handbag variety. :)

    • AlmostSavvy says:

      @nomalab All good points and much appreciated feedback. I tend to err on the cautious side, especially when it comes to how my actions impact others. I way thinking of people who subscribe to my blog, particularly through email. I hate to think of them opening their email, only to find that I’m promoting an event.

      I’ll keep your words in mind should I suddenly start receiving gifts of the wine, climate change or handbag variety. :)

    • nomalab says:

      @AlmostSavvy Must add: I’m not too keen on seeing paid/sponsored blog posts in general, but I’ve followed you on Twitter & Almost Savvy for quite some time now. Long enough to trust you, long enough to know you value that trust and won’t abuse it.

      You’ve never tried to sell me anything. Sure, you have services to offer, but you’re not pushing them down people’s throats like the gazillion “social media gurus” I’ve blocked on Twitter or whose blogs I’ve long ago stopped reading.

      If you were to promote an event or a product, I’m sure you’d only pick something you’d be happy endorsing anyway (sponsored or not) plus would do it with full disclosure.

      I agree, it’s always best to err on the safe side – especially when it comes to feeds and emails – but I’m willing to bet a good bottle of wine (or a very cheap handbag) on most of your subscribers trusting you at least as much as I do.

    • AlmostSavvy says:

      @nomalab Thanks so much. You have no idea how much this means to me.

  2. sue_anne says:

    To me it comes down to two things:
    a) Are you willing to disclose in the post that you received a free ticket to the event?

    b) Are you being truthful in what you say about the event?

    Transparency and authenticity to me are the most important things. As long as you cover both, I’m okay with a promotional post.

    • AlmostSavvy says:

      @sue_anne Hey Sue Ane. Thanks for breaking it down so clearly. I’m beginning to rethink this issue based on feedback I’m getting.

    • nomalab says:

      @sue_anne Yes, that’s pretty much it.

  3. kelvinringold says:

    I think you’re being too hard on yourself. I agree with Sue_Anne. Unless there’s something I’m missing, they just wanted you to bring some light on their event to your audience. You already felt the event had merit and you wanted to attend, so it’s not like they were swaying your opinion by giving you tickets; they just facilitated you getting there. Absent the “requirement” to say favorable things afterwards, promoters often get the right people into their events by providing them entry.

    However, I also understand your desire to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but I suspect your readers have been with you a while, and have a good bit of faith in your integrity. It is unlikely that they feel you could be bought so cheaply. Now, if they offer a house in the Bahamas for a blog post? send them to me ;-) (smiling)

    Have a great day.

    • AlmostSavvy says:

      @kelvinringold Well said, Kelvin. While some readers may have been around awhile, I hope to be gaining new ones, too. I’d hate for any to think I’m pushing content on them for my own personal benefit. And, if I’m offered a house in the Bahamas in exchange for a post, I’m not sending them to you because I’ll be taking the deal myself! :)

    • kelvinringold says:

      @AlmostSavvy :-) Well, so much for appearances. LOL. I’d have invited you over :-D Have a great day / evening.

  4. tonykarrer says:

    I agree with you that this is an ethical dilemma – and lots of us have faced it. I don’t think that I can really advise you what’s right or wrong – that’s your own decision – and the best decision is made just the way you did it. Listen to your inner voice.

    But what’s striking about this example is how the conference organizer did such a poor job of handling it. In fact, you inspired me to write a post with some thoughts around what conference organizers probably should be doing instead of what this conference organizer did.

    http://www.browsemystuff.com/wpblog/conference-blogger-outreach/

    I’d be curious to get your thoughts on whether these approaches would have made it comfortable for you.

    • AlmostSavvy says:

      @tonykarrer Hey Tony, thanks for chiming in. I’m actuallly sitting in the event right now. Yeah, I know – multi-tasking is not always good. I’ll definitely read your post between speakers.

  5. Brainmaker says:

    I love that you lay it all out in such a transparent way. The choice, the angst, the past choices. This is what makes our community “3D” – we can walk around the whole event and see it from different angles. This is what allows us to become more intelligent – more dimensional – ourselves. Transparency is a great deal more than a buzz word. Being transparent (in the way you have here) is sort of like having good posture. It nudges us all to stand up a little taller.
    As to the issue, I agree that you can in good conscience accept a ticket to entry even with a bit of a deadline expected from you, reveal that in your post, and uplift everyone in the process.
    Thanks, Irene. This is what makes it so worthwhile to be connected.
    Suzanna Stinnett

    • AlmostSavvy says:

      @Brainmaker Thanks, Suzanna, for your thoughtful comment. The feedback I’ve received has been immeasurably valuable.

  6. JennaTest says:

    testing, will delete

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