The Zero Boss posed an interesting question recently: Is ReviewMe morally superior to PayPerPost?
If you don't know about the PayPerPost controversy, it's essentially an opportunity for bloggers to get paid for reviews of products and services. The problem is that the fact of payment is hidden in addition to the blogger giving up some control for how the posting is placed and so forth. Bloggers who agree to write paid reviews become suspect due to readers' concerns over conflict of interest. Hide the fact of the payment and trust between blogger and reader can erode quickly. The blogosphere has long prided itself on its transparency with many of us now relying on the medium when we want to be educated and informed when making purchasing decisions. The PayPerPost model poses a serious threat to the very thing that gives blogs their power. ReviewMe tries to avoid this problem by insisting bloggers disclose that a review was paid for and states it will pay for both negative and positive reviews.
The issue that Zero Boss highlights which I find particularly compelling is that just the act of knowing he would get paid started to change his voice. While on the face of it, ReviewMe appears to be an answer to many of the criticisms leveled against PayPerPost, he discovered there was still a very subtle and disturbing influence of the simple fact of payment. As the Zero Boss became aware that he was a voice for someone else, he began to tone himself down, making his post more polite, less edgy. In the end, unwilling to let himself be compromised, he chose not to post and opted out of the program. He just wasn't willing to castrate himself for $125.
It's such a subtle dynamic and one I see being played out in areas outside of paid endorsements. Even self-produced marketing materials and blogs done by professionals are a variation on this theme. Anyone who hangs a shingle out with a website has had to make a number of decisions regarding content, color, font, and "vibe" of the site. Who shapes those decisions? The business person and what they want to represent, or you and what the business owner hopes you will pay them money for?
It's a tricky question and fear of using one's truest voice cripples many a small business owner and solopreneur on their search for brand distinction. In terms of branding, the weakest websites are the ones that play it safe, hoping not to turn away potential customers. And if the business owner blogs, those decision points get a lot stickier. I'll admit, I occasionally get in "moods" when I write and unladylike words fly out of my keyboard. I have debated going back and toning down a rant or two because some of my readers are very genteel folk and I don't want them to cringe or be offended. And, of course, there are those who read me in part because of my periodic rants and cage rattling. Some readers like to know the nitty gritty personal details of my life and some prefer the more professionally focused articles. Maybe it's the Greek blood or maybe it was the number of different opinions I was getting on the like/don't like continuum that had me abandon all hope of pleasing everyone early on but it has worked out well. I never feel myself compromising any sense of integrity in what I say and how I represent myself and, even with my many moods, no matter what I post you can be pretty clear that I am the one writing it.
That's why I'm still here, one of the minority of small businesses that have made it past the five year mark (seven for me). If I were vanilla, I'd have faded away.
People who blog as a hobby may miss this but a lot of folks out there are tied to the web for their rent and the potential of monetizing blogging adds a dimension of tension into the equation that needs to be looked at with open eyes. Money always has an interesting effect on our voices and the closer we are to the source of money, the more likely we will start to be shaped by what we think they want to hear from us. It can tone us down or rev us up. It can influence our opinions or at least our publicly stated commitment to them. Many a small business owner has had a business fail by letting their concerns over the impact of their true voice take away the very juice that could have put them on the map.
For those of you out there building businesses and struggling to find your voice, stand strongly and show us what you've got. Compromising yourself and your word is a slippery slope. Do what you've got to do to pay your rent but hang on to your integrity.Powered by Sidelines