Buyer beware – bloggers may be taking payola!

by SteveBayle on December 1, 2009

Many of us rely on the reviews and ratings of bloggers when making buying decisions and for good reason. Bloggers often are much more frank than ad-supported media that is worried that a negative review may result in lost revenue.

However, marketeers have discovered this fact and found that they can influence bloggers by employing payola. Payola was a technique used by record promotion men to influence radio DJs to play the tunes they represented. Gifts ranged from alcohol, to hookers, to outright cash. Payola was a huge scandal in the late 50’s and 60’s. Check out the Rolling Stones song “Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” for a wry portrait of one of these payola players.

In today’s Boston Globe there’s a lengthy article entitled “Product Placement” about Internet payola:

Beginning today, bloggers, Twitterers, and others who write online reviews or endorse products using new media must disclose it when they receive free merchandise or payment for writing about an item. The guidelines update the FTC’s 1980 guide addressing the use of testimonials in advertising, remapping marketing rules for the digital realm, where it’s hard to know if the exclamatory musings of fashion hounds and best-disposable-diaper posts by suburban moms are inspired by a great product or a free product.

The bedrock of our mobile application will be the simple formula that Relevancy + Trust = Confidence. While Google has made billions of dollars delivering relevant information, they take no responsibility for the trust element. Just because a site has a lot of in-bound links doesn’t mean it is trustworthy. Popularity may or may not equal relevancy but it certainly doesn’t always equate to authority.

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