Paying bloggers risks the notion of 'earned media'

Last week, a study entitled "The State of Blog Relations" was released by APCO Worldwide and the Council of Public Relations Firms (PRWeek, March 24).

Last week, a study entitled "The State of Blog Relations" was released by APCO Worldwide and the Council of Public Relations Firms (PRWeek, March 24). In response to the statement, "It is okay to compensate bloggers for writing about my clients, but it is not up to me to tell them to disclose the payment," PR executives were in a near unanimous disagreement (96%). Meanwhile, 48% of bloggers who responded agreed with the statement, and another 16% were either neutral or had no opinion.

There are several points to make about the results. The first conclusion to be drawn is that PR pros must take some responsibility when it comes to transparency questions between themselves and bloggers. It is easy to argue that the industry is not responsible for whether or not bloggers disclose any compensation, but that rational argument is unlikely to register with the public if a blogger is exposed for interaction with PR pros that is considered questionable. The industry must, as strongly as possible, insist upon full disclosure from bloggers regarding any relationship between the two.

But perhaps the most important point deals with the statement itself. The PR industry should not be in a position to compensate bloggers, or else risk the negation of "earned media" from its core competencies. The industry traverses a dangerous path if, as the media industry fractures into tiny pieces, it begins to rationalize compensation to entities not of the "traditional media."

Clients still understand the concepts of earned media and of third-party credibility, and also the fact that these important concepts should not be dismissed lightly. Should the lines become blurred as new media advances, the industry would face some real danger to its long-term viability. It is heartening, though not necessarily surprising, to note that PR pros responded appropriately to the statement.

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