Jim Edwards weighed in today on how Novartis has been paying bloggers to post nice things about their new iPhone app. Edwards was less than favorable of both the app and the campaign, saying of the app, “It’s a good thing this app is free, because it’s terrible,” and regarding the campaign, “Standards for brands may be high, but standards for blog posts are low”. Edwards has a point – Novartis is just one of many companies to be publicly flogged for their use of “sponsored posts” through companies like IZEA or MomTrends.
What many companies (and their agencies) are discovering is that influencer relations in social media is difficult – and very different from traditional PR. Online influencers like bloggers, forum posters, and Twitterers need to be approached in different ways, with a different tone, length, and purpose to your outreach. You can’t “pitch” online influencers, for example. You can only alert them to relevant news/updates and hope they find it interesting enough to share with their audience. If you’ve done your job right, then you should have selected influencers who are naturally interested in the topic, and alerted them to relevant news. As long as you’ve done so, voila! you’ll find they start talking about your brand.
Not only does paying for sponsored posts lead to a tisk-tisking from the blogosphere, as Edwards also points out, often times the posts are of very low quality and uncompelling. Many bloggers are happy to write about a product in exchange for money, even when they’ve never used the product. Their endorsement in these cases falls flat and fails to convince their readers.
I’m not saying that companies should not be ponying up cash if they want to reach people in social media. Integration between influencer relations and the media/advertising house is essential to building relationships and reaching people over time. However, as with those dinosaur publications like the NY Times, there needs to be a line between editorial and advertising. The line may be shifting and the engagement changing in nature, but simply paying someone for an insincere endorsement is never going to be the answer.