Thursday, December 17, 2009

It is a fine line, but it is a line nonetheless

I was talking to a friend who mentioned that a company is paying her a certain amount of money each month to say good things about that company. This friend uses some social software as a medium to say these good things. It wasn’t much money, and this friend isn’t being dishonest in what they say, but thinking about this arrangement brought up several issues in my mind.

Things get sticky when it comes to endorsing products. There is a fine line between me giving you my opinion of something, and me being paid to sell you something. You, the reader, should always know the difference. Let’s say I go to a restaurant and I write a review on my blog. That is me giving you an opinion; nothing wrong with that.

Now let’s say the restaurant pays me to place an advertisement on my site. Nothing wrong with that, either.

What is wrong is if the restaurant pays me to say nice things about their food, and I don’t disclose the fact that I’m being paid. Even if my review is honest, it is vital that I disclose that I’m being paid to review the restaurant. Why is this so important? Well, it comes down to trust.

If I don’t disclose that I’m being paid for a review, and you the reader finds out, then there is a loss of trust. This loss is a huge deal. Trust is something that you don’t gain back. If I didn’t disclose advertising dollars, then my readers would forever more wonder if what I was saying was really my opinion, or just something for which I was being paid. My opinions would be worthless, and I would likely lose many, many readers. Why read a site when you don’t know if you’re getting an honest review, or a paid-for pitch?

Even worse are the problems for the restaurant. Every time you hear a review of that restaurant, you will wonder if what is being said is true, or just another sneaky pitch. The restaurant would lose all credibility. There is nothing wrong with advertising, but you can’t do it behind people’s back. They will never forgive you.


Al said...

I totally agree!

Btw, did you hear about the new Honda™ snowblowers? They work really well it the recent deep snowfall that we've received... oh yeah, and they're on sale at your local hardware store... just sayin'.


Matthew Buckley said...

Oh yes, the Honda snowblowers are the best. You can't beat their value. They start every time you need them.

So, Al...where do we cash these checks?

elena said...

Oh, yes. I hate those subtle little dishonesties.

Can we just be forthright? If we're shamelessly hawking somebody's wares, we should say so. For instance, if I ever get published, I plan on shamelessly hawking my own wares. But of course people would know I stand to gain by my sales and I certainly wouldn't be the one they'd go to for a fair evaluation of how great my stories are.

I hope even if we are being paid to sell, we wouldn't say anything we don't seriously believe. But people need to know our objectivity might be tainted.

robmba said...

Well, the FTC just ruled on this issue a couple months ago, so the trust argument is moot, isn't it?

ali said...

Haha, I'm wondering if I was just guilty of this very thing! I've been asked to review books for a certain publisher. They send me the books to review. I don't get paid, but I do get the free books. They only asked that I not post a review if it's a negative one. I don't *have* to blog about it if I can't give an honest, and good, review. So I did my first one, but I didn't say that I'd been asked by the publisher to review the book. I just reviewed it.

Is that dishonest?

Matthew Buckley said...

I wouldn't say it's dishonest, not by a long shot. Just be up front that you are getting the books for free. You can even state that you are not being paid cash for the reviews, so people know that the opinions are how you really feel.

李小 said...

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