Are Sponsored Blogs Credible Marketing Tools?

April 4th, 2005 by Bob Bly

A small company with just a few employees wants to promote a new anti-cancer technology ? specifically, a cancer vaccine — it is developing.

The company president, an R&D scientist, is busy 24/7 in the laboratory and has neither the time nor the inclination to write a blog.

The marketing director suggested, ?Why don?t we hire a writer to write a blog on cancer vaccines ? which of course will talk a lot about our company and its research program??

They asked for my opinion.

To me, it sounded like a good idea ? except wouldn?t they ethically have to divulge prominently on the blog that it is sponsored by them and that they are paying the blogger to write it?

And wouldn?t that in turn entirely destroy the blog?s credibility and marketing effectiveness?

What do you think?

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This entry was posted on Monday, April 4th, 2005 at 10:42 am and is filed under Blogging. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

33 responses about “Are Sponsored Blogs Credible Marketing Tools?”

  1. Dylan said:

    I know of another company that is considering doing exactly the same thing. Now this is a large organization. I would be interested to know if people think there is a difference if a large organization does it and what rules of disclosure they might find acceptable?

  2. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    I don’t believe it will entirely destroy the blog’s credibility and marketing effectiveness — IF the blog is upfront with the readers. In fact, this might even add to the charm. The blog could say, “Hey, we’re biased. But you’re not. Tell us what you think about so and so. Scrutinize our facts. Challenge our opinions.”

  3. Craig McGinty said:

    Instead of being just an anti-cancer technology company, why not become a resource for anti-cancer technology? Not only will this build the company’s credibility amongst its peers, but it will gain the respect of its audience.

  4. Anonymous said:

    What, you think companies write these blogs for free? Huh-uh. Even if it is the CEO writing the blog, he/she is getting paid. There are many businesses who hire good writers to write content for their websites and a blog isn’t any different in that respect. Besides, almost every company who pays for content expects it to reflect their bias. Most readers know this. What will be critical is for the blog author to be sure that the information expressed is accurate which every writer worth a grain of salt will understand is their responsibility anyway. I do believe, however that Steve’s suggestion of saying…”hey this is what we think, what do you think?” is a good one. From what I’ve seen, the most successful blogs are those that invite readers to share their opinions, and then respond to those opinions in a way that says the company was listening.

    Candace York

  5. Bob McCarthy said:

    If the president writes his own blog, it presumably would be under his name and his company’s name – in which case, there would be no problem.

    To do otherwise – to create a false identify and to post a blog from a fictitious third party that would then endorse the company’s technology – would be, I believe, an ethical violation. If this were a publicly traded company, I would guess that the SEC would also have something to say about it.

    As for who actually writes the blog, I don’t see why a disclaimer or disclosure is needed. Why is a blog any different than other promotional writing? How many sales letters have we all written for corporate presidents and vice presidents? How many press releases or white papers?

    Much of what we do as copywriters is ghost writing. And ghost writing a blog is no different than any other promotional vehicle.

    Another scenario not mentioned here would be to hire a medical scientist to creat his own blog endorsing the company’s technology. If there is compensation involved, I’d say disclosure is a must.

    Bob McCarthy
    McCarthy & King Marketing, Inc.

  6. TonyD said:

    The risk of not disclosing is mockery and disdain from readers and customers is great if you do not disclose. Since credibility is one of the main benefits of blogging, as soon as you’re revealed as a fake, you lose the benefits. Putting a shill on the blog and calling him a credible expert is faking it, and also a waste of time and money. If you want PR, just hire someone to write PR.

    Your blogger has to be engaged with the product he’s blogging. If he’s not, it’ll show the first time someone makes an intelligent comment. The solution is to hire someone who’s willing to engage the product and educate him/her self and have them do the blog. It’s a process not unlike hiring a good marketing guy to engage your customers directly. Bob has some good suggestions about where such a person might be found.

    Regular interview with the President and Marketing directors to get good content is probably a must here as well.

    And keep it up with the great questions, Bob! :)

  7. Susan Getgood said:

    In my opinion, if the sponsorship is declared upfront and the writer is agnostic in the writings — making it a general resource about cancer vaccines, not JUST the company, you could have a really nice blog, the benefits from the sponsorship of the (fairly) neutral resource will accrue to the company AND if/when the president gets out of the lab, you also have a place for him/her to drop a note.

    If the blog is truly a good resource, the company sponsorship won’t get in the way of the community embracing it. If the blog is just an excuse to shill one comapny’s products, the community will flush it.

  8. Anonymous Coward said:

    While I am not sure where exactly the marketing director is coming from – hiring someone to blog about the company without disclosing sponsorship is a recipe for disaster. The blog would also probably not be very good as most blog readers do not like the style of PR disguised as writing.

    I agree with others comments. Two successful ways I could see this happening:
    They hire someone who knows what they are talking about to write a blog focused on cancer vaccines clearly identifying their sponsorship. The more freedom they give the blogger, the better the blog and the more credibility.
    Second option is: why don’t they see if someone else in the company is interested in blogging. The company can’t be that small, and while the president’s ego might not be able to sustain having someone else be the spokesperson for the company, that is exactly what blogs are about (real communication from real people).
    Otherwise the blog could easily devolve into a pile of PR crap (not that all PR is crap – but PR disguised as a blog is usually mostly crap). Check out http://www.gapingvoid.com post on april 1st – talking about similar issues – and http://blogthenticity.com/.

  9. Peter said:

    Heh, I was just about to drop the same link from GV as Anon. I agree it’s gotta have a heart to register a pulse with a community, otherwise the effort is in vain.

  10. Bruce DeBoer said:

    I agree with Susan G.

    Here’s my take:
    Blogs act as knowledge resources, stimulating sources of conversation for common interest groups, and networking portals. They don’t function well as raw promotional vehicles. Answer questions about a product or service, pass on important information (no hype) and remain transparent in your goal of being an authentic channel of communication.

    Your viewer is there voluntarily with a self motivated purpose. They don’t care about your company or the product, only what you can do for them. If anyone sniffs out an illegitimate vibe they’ll move on to a more enjoyable site were they are respected.

    My company has been successful at blogging because ours sits on our website but NEVER talks about our offering. The topics are – however – pertinent to our customer base. Issues discussed can often be solved by hiring us but I will be quick to recommend another if I feel we would not be the best solution.

    Integrity, honesty, transparency, quality – these are traits that Internet customers value. Remember – more than any other channel of commerce, alternatives are close at hand. Give them the slightest reason and your customers will move on in a nanosecond.

  11. Candace York said:

    But, did the company actually say that they weren’t going to put this blog on their own website? If they host it on their website, and clearly call out that the blog author is writing it for them, then where is the conflict of interest? I could see a problem if they pretended that the blog author was an independent who was not being paid, but if they are clear about the blog being a company sponsored blog, and they do not present it as being the CEO writing when in fact it is someone else writing, then the risks should be lower. But, again, the author must provide value and technical accuracy in the content they include, and not mis-represent.

  12. steven streight aka vaspers the grate said:

    You assholes who ghostwrite blogs are ridiculous and old fashioned idiots.

    The new trend in business, religion, govenment is Credibility Enhancement based on Community and Interaction with Constituents.

    A blog provides a platform for authentic, candid, sincere, two way communicaton with a target audience.

    See my “Anti-blogs and the Bloatosphere” at BLOGthenticity for more info.

    Nice captcha BTW.

  13. Debbie Weil said:

    If the blog genuinely provides useful information and is a resource center then it doesn’t matter who writes it or sponsors it… as long as it’s made completely clear. I’d recommend being completely transparent about the fact that the blog is being written by an outside expert. Even include a mini bio of this person. Hiring a blog writer is not much different from hiring an editor to write your e-newsletter. You just need to be transparent about it. Personally, I’m not a believer in “ghost-written” blogs. Eventually, they’ll be sussed out.

  14. Haakon Rian Ueland aka regnskogens mirakel said:

    It is beneficial to have a ghostwriter do the blogging. And, I am not sure if it matters whether this fact is mentioned or not.
    When I (someday, hopefully) get a book published, a number of specialists are involved. The guy checking for spellingmistakes, the editor, the fact-checker, the setter and so on. They are not credited; they are the means to having my book published.
    A blog-ghost is the means to translate a scientists cryptic language into understandable words. The scientist should get the name on the front cover.
    Naturally, if the BG is simply given some glossy brochures and told to blog the content, without any input from the scientist, the situation is totally different.

  15. Don Marti said:

    Better the bottle washer’s real blog than the CEO’s fake blog.

    Why not recruit, encourage, and help train employees other than the CEO who are interested in blogging?

    I’d bring in lunch and do a seminar on blog software, writing for the web, and the confidentiality requirements that are appropriate to the industry.

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