Thoughts on “Pay for Play”

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard some brand folks dismiss a blogger program because, “we don’t pay for play.” I’d like to take the opportunity to clarify the Sway Group position on this.

To say outright that bloggers should never be paid by brands is foolish. As influencers and storytellers, there are many instances in which bloggers deserve to be paid. I taught two workshops on “The Business of Blogging” at the evo Conference this past weekend, and one of the points I shared with the audience is that many bloggers are now so much more than bloggers. Many bloggers (including quite a few in our stable of talent) are full-blown media entities.

What does this mean? This means that they have both paid and unpaid real estate available on their sites. The paid includes advertising, advertorials and sponsored posts. These are all clearly labeled as paid, and consumers are able to make their own determinations on the influence of the payment. The unpaid includes editorial content and reviews (some bloggers do accept payment for reviews, but I don’t believe that this practice is an ethical one).

As Sway Group blogger Kristen Chase pointed out on Twitter last Friday:

If [they]‘re saying, I’d love to send you product to try to see if this is something you might want to feature on your site = editorial.

If they’re saying “We want you to try this, mention this, tell your readers about this, and include link graphic etc” = sponsored post.

There is another area in which bloggers are now receiving payment, and it is one that I think will grow exponentially in the months and years to come. And that is the practice of using bloggers as spokespeople. In the presentation that Sway Group shares with brands and agencies in meetings, we showcase a statistic from the 2011 BlogHer Social Media Matters study that was co-sponsored by Ketchum. According to the study, bloggers have more influence on the purchasing decisions of women than celebrity endorsements. This is a tremendous finding, and one that will hopefully change the face of endorsements moving forward.

To those brands who question the practice of paying bloggers, I ask this: Do you also oppose the practice of celebrity endorsements? If the answer is no, I see a huge contradiction here.

I’d love to continue this discussion. Share your thoughts in the comments!

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