Blogger Relations: Good Intentions, Bad Execution, Lessons Learned

IStock_000003517490XSmallWe recently discovered that one of our clients had been paying some bloggers to write about one of their products.  (Actually, these bloggers were already writing about the products; our client just paid them to continue to do so: the client had no say whatsoever in the actual content.)

While it’s good that the client contact who developed these blogger relationships never tried to influence the blog posts, the problem is that the bloggers had never been required to disclose their financial ties to our client.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that that’s a no-no.  

Long story short: this is a case of a marketing manager – operating within one of the many vacuums that form in big companies – executing not-so-well on what was essentially a good idea.  They just didn’t fully understand the rules of the road.  It was a sin of omission, not a sin of deception.  A particularly diligent in-house PR manager caught wind of what was happening, and immediately escalated it to the client’s Corp Comms group, and to SHIFT.  Once we all realized what had been going on, rest assured that there was a mad scramble to set things right vis a vis transparency & disclosure.

And here’s the lesson:  this could be happening in ANY big company. 

It’s not hard to imagine the ounce of naivete required for a marketing manager to consider a paid blogger relations campaign.  They might not even think to check-in with the corporate PR department – they may give such a campaign no more weight than if they were crafting a new piece of direct mail. 

To the unsophisticated marketer, this “blogging stuff” may simply represent a new channel to exploit. 

Whether you work in-house or at an agency, please use this gaffe as a reason to double-check whether or not your client is engaged in similar practices.  Here are some questions to get you started in your investigation:

Have official “rules of engagement” re: bloggers been documented and disseminated?

Have all marketing employees reporting to corporate marketing (and/or to a business unit) been educated on the “rules of engagement” re: external blogs?

Is there a chance that any of the business unit marketing groups have engaged in a paid or unpaid blogger relations campaign?

If any of our marketing managers have paid bloggers to write about our products/services, did we require public disclosure of the relationship?

If you dig up unsettling answers, start the process of disclosing any paid blogger relationships ASAP.  You can worry about “what went wrong” from a process perspective once you’ve wiped that slate clean.

Posted on: September 19, 2007 at 8:59 pm By Todd Defren
5 Responses to “Blogger Relations: Good Intentions, Bad Execution, Lessons Learned”


  • I feel for ya, Todd. It’s funny because there have already been a handful of standards and ethical codes published in a variety of places. We’ve all talked about this for a while now.

    While I hesitate to define bloggers as journalists, I tell clients to keep the ethical principles of communication with mainstream media in mind. A rule of thumb – if it doesn’t pass the smell test when you replace the word “blogger” with the words, “newspaper reporter,” you probably shouldn’t do it.

    We have to decide if social media needs its own ethical principles or if the basic right-and-wrong stuff of communication generally will suffice. I think there may be some issues that come up from time to time that are new, but frankly, most of the time we all just need to use common sense.

  • Todd Defren says:

    John – You’re probably right that “training” may be more impt than participating and/or creating their own social media presence… but dang, that sounds kinda boring. ;)

    Kami – You nailed it. I didn’t sleep a wink on the night that we learned about this flub! You also make excellent points about “islands” vs. “monoliths.” This issue came from way out of left field.

    Jason – Ahh, clients. Gotta love ‘em. That’s part of the job description, eh?

  • Jason Falls says:

    Excellent reminder lesson. Working with corporate clients wanting to wade into the blogosphere, it’s amazing the void of awareness they have as to what’s right and wrong here. I’m knocking around how to counsel them not to advertise their blog on other blogs … or at least do so tastefully for the online community. Tough nuts to crack these clients.

  • Kami Huyse says:

    Wow Todd, this must have been tough for you. Bravo for bringing it here so that the points can be debated.

    Corporations, though they may seem it, are not monoliths, but instead are a collection of islands. And often each island has its own culture and language. This is why it is so important for companies to have policies, then you can just point to the rulebook, fix any issues and move on without a civil war.

  • John Cass says:

    I think you write a compelling arguement for any company to consider social media training, even if they are not ready to launch their own blog or other social media technology. There is always the possibility of some interaction with the community by some employee who might mess things up for you. I think this sort of training offers more potential than even social media training for people who want to start launching their own sites.

Show some social media love would ya?

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