After waging a small war on pay-per-post for years, I've come to the conclusion that sponsored conversations, as they're now being called, is a blogging business model that is not going away.
Forrester seems to think so anyway, having just completed a report on the topic, reaching the conclusion that "this practice will take its place alongside public relations and advertising activities in the blogosphere." That's a pretty bold assertion, don't you think?
Rather than further marginalize myself as an idealist or blogging purist, I've decided to take a more pragmatic approach. That being, if you can't beat em...might as well make sure ethical standards and best practices are encouraged.
How do I propose doing so? By convening a summit.
I outlined my proposition in a comment on Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang's post. I repeat it here, hoping it will become somewhat of a rallying cry for those of us who cherish this industry and want to see its best interests protected.
I've staunchly opposed the idea of "sponsored conversations" for years. I believe that editorial and advertorial should be distant relatives, if related at all.
I know this form of "journalism" pervades every type of media, so it's not surprising that it has crept (or leapt) into new media as well.
Above all, however, I'm a pragmatist and realize that, like it or not, this new business model is not going away. Given that, I believe its incumbent upon those of us who cherish the dignity of this medium to come together and create an ethical standard by which we all can abide.
As you well know, blogger ethics been a topic of conversation for years, one that's been met with equal shares of derision and ridicule by many.
We've feigned the notion that new media is a territory that exists outside the realm of governance, one where each person does what is right in his own eyes. Given that new media is becoming more and more mainstream, that argument is archaic.
I propose one of two tactics:
1. A workgroup be formed sponsored by an objective third-party which does the grunt work of creating such a standard.
or more preferably
2. A summit be convened consisting of all the major players who would have a vested interest in the outcome.
As president of the International Blogging and New Media Association (IBNMA), I would have great interest in offering our organization to serve the role as sponsor. I think we are ideally-suited for a number of reasons, not the least of which is our only interest is in pursuing that which is best for the social media "industry" as a whole. We take no official position on this matter, so our judgment as an organization is not swayed in either direction.
Alternatively, I could see both IBNMA and Social Media Club serving in joint partnership, and maybe some other entities as well (Blog Council, SNCR for example.)
I also suggest that BlogWorld and New Media Expo be the venue where such a summit takes place. A day could be set aside in advance of BWE proper.
The bottom line: It's time we come together and do the hard work of ensuring that transparency and authenticity, which, by many, are now considered nothing more than cliches, continue to be the chief cornerstones upon which the social media enterprise is built.
I truly appreciate the role that Forrester has played in shedding light on this issue. Now, let's go the next mile by convening a summit or forming a workgroup. Frankly, I prefer the former and believe that the latter would follow in due course.
I recognize that, like me, many of you oppose the idea of sponsored conversations. However, I think you would have to agree that the tide toward the more widespread adoption of this business model is advancing at a rate too rapidly to stop, especially considering Forrester has given it their blessing and that a number of highly respected, high-profile bloggers have endorsed it.
I would ask that, in the best interests of the business blogging and social media industry, you be willing to set personal differences aside and help us craft a standard that everyone can live with.
I am not asking you to surrender your convictions about the practice, but, rather, view it from a larger perspective, the health and welfare of the industry.
Of course, the alternative is to do nothing and let market forces dictate the outcome. Perhaps that is the better course of action. My concern is that we have danced around this Maypole long enough and it's time to reach a conclusion.
So, in summary, I'm calling for a summit of all the major players from all sides of this issue: Ted Murphy, Chris Brogan, Jeremiah Owyang or Sean Corcoran, Matt Cutts, Michael Gray, John Battelle, Wendy Piersall or other blogger who is on the anti-sponsored conversations side of the equation, and anyone else who has a dog in this hunt...maybe even Jason Calacanis
(OK, well, maybe not Calcanis). I suggest Blog World and New Media Expo as the venue (hold the summit the day prior).
What do you think? Is it time to lay this issue to rest? Should a Sponsored Conversations Summit be convened? I would appreciate your feedback either way.
Related posts on the topic that add fuel to my fire:
Matt Cutts vs Ted Murphy on Paid Blogging and Sponsored Conversations - Searc Engine Journal
An Open Letter to Matt Cutts - Ted Murphy
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