I obviously do everything to be “hard to understand” myself
Beyond Good and Evil
In this era, and climate of moving towards an ethical standard ever more, many in the local digital and marketing scene still do everything wrong. Sometimes it comes to mind whether it is truly surprising that the author of “On the Genealogy of Morality – A polemic” [PDF link] is German. Then of course came two World Wars and it took many years for humanity to see right again in the German culture and approach to good or wrong.
Good or wrong, which obviously leads to the words of Master Provocateur Orwell:
If there were a party of those who aren’t sure they’re right, I’d belong to it.
But sometimes right or wrong is easy. It is wrong to give gifts and have required expectations for those. Just as wrong as paying people to become an ambassador for a brand. It is the easy thing to do though and more often than not, the subjects of offers, so-called gifts, will gladly promote both brand and products, without trying to even be a hard-sell. Such is the human mind, such is the appeal of money.
When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses
So are brand ambassadors fancy terms for promo girls/boys?
— Sherwin Sowy (@ssowy) August 22, 2012
More often than not companies and brands have started to offer benefits to those who will promote them. Sadly in the local scene people will even go as far as saying that if your event doesn’t offer free booze and food, nobody will attend let alone promote you or your event. At this time there are even rumors about attendance fees being paid to bloggers.
Of course the benefits often go beyond invites to events, and the almost compulsory swag bag at every event, leading in several cases to financial benefits, or paid ambassadorship. Ambassadorship regularly also covered with smugness, attitude rather than honest opinion.
That isn’t how things should go though. Disclosure is not the lesser evil which builds relationships with the audience. Disclosure, while required, should not be why we rate writers, reviewers and publicists. Instead honest reviews should be.
But usually the problem squarely lays squarely with the writers, the publishers. Because such is the appeal of money. Such is the appeal of greed.
It’s like someone invites you to a party and you don’t show up. It doesn’t really matter.
First Blood: Part II
And it is important we talk about this issue. I get my fair share of event invites and that in itself is rather rewarding. But more often than not, I don’t think I get these invites because I can be valuable for the organiser, but rather because I am an element in the chain of the SEO’ed and now SMM’ed internetz. And as such, in the immortal words of John Rambo, I’m expendable.
Often I will not attend the events I’m invited to, exactly because of that reason. Because writing about the event does not do anything else than contribute to the hype machine, often without any option to bring insights or share knowledge. Totally and utterly useless to the reader. Some brands understand and accept this, because the times I attend I do my best to bring value to the table. Not just rehash the words I heard.
No matter how smart the marketing is, I can not nor will I promote the next Galaxy Y as the second best thing since sliced bread. Yes, only the second best thing, because the first best thing is obviously Marmite.
And that should be fine, because every brand is fully aware that a low end product can not compete with the reviews gathered by high end products. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to be how the (local) publishing scene thinks.
But we should. Just like the best self-marketer in the whole fictional world, Tony Stark, we are not the slaves of the brands and the agencies they employ. And they will continue to invite us to events, even if we wrote a negative review before. As publishers our obligation is squarely, and only, with our audience, our readers and they deserve an honest review, not just hype. And so do startups. Because negative criticism can be constructive.
Our readers may/will spend money based on our reviews. Reviews more often than not written to be part of the hype machine. Often also out of fear that the next free food, free booze event may not invite said writer. The loser is not only the reader who may just have spent several hundreds or thousands on a disappointing product but also the brand.
Only when you can say that you, and the brands you write about, are expendable can you deliver an honest opinion. Once you can remove all ties, ditch the appeal of money or gifts. Leave every swag bag behind. Refuse any rewards.
Which leads me to the IMMAP Summit 2012. I was probably the most low key absentee at the IMMAP Summit 2012 and there’s a reason for.
As written previously, I was invited to the IMMAP Summit 2012.
On the eve of the event, I realized I was invited by a member of a sponsor representing the sponsor, not in the person’s role as a Summit Committee member. After an initial miscommunication, which alerted me to the fact that I was supposed to arrive at 6.00AM to help with the setup of the event, was cleared up I was acknowledged that said sponsor ran a ‘me too social media optimized event website’. And that included a little hook to the invite: I was supposed to promote said ‘me too social media optimized website’ via live tweets.
A website which exists with only one purpose: the link at the bottom of the site, a link to the agency’s main website. An agency showcasing with their behaviour that they haven’t reached the era of building relationships by working hard to win the love of future brand advocates.
We don’t pay people to blog about the brand. Instead, we look for people who love the brand.
Lucy McCabe, Ogilvy One at IMMAP Summit 2012
Needless to say the next morning I decided to sleep in rather than selling out at the cost of tweets. Tweets linking to a website I don’t see any use at all for. A website bringing nothing more than SEO-optimized rehashed content.
For the agency worst than the lost tweets is that they are now blacklisted from any possible future partnership with me. Blacklisted because I do have ethics and their ethics don’t seem to have reached this era yet. Blacklisted because they expected my reputation, my tweets were a given in return for their invite. Not in return for excellence.
My reputation is worth more than you can pay.
Ethics are important because your site and your tweets, are your reputation. In this era of social media connections everyone sees everything. We see you participate to giveaways, we know when you win and we know that your food blog has a link ‘Feed me’. We know that we can not trust your opinion, your articles and tweets because they can be bought.
If what you write and tweet can be bought by an invite, a gift, some bucks or a free meal, your credibility is shot.
Permanently shot and you become nothing more than an expendable link in the hype machine. You don’t bring anything to the table, at the sole cost of some drinks, or a pitiful swag bag. Or an invite.
- A blind item because one of the agencies paying those will soon speak out, bringing full transparency. If not, we will do so. [↩]