Just as I was stringing together some thoughts in a previous post about my own purposes for blogging, and elaborating on the "honesty" of conversation, "conversational marketing" makes the headlines once again.
The current issue involves Microsoft's ad campaign which involves FM Publishing. Specifically, as the Valleywag headline reads, "Federated Media: Microsoft pays star writers to recite slogan," suggesting John Battelle's Federated Media "paid" A-List bloggers to participate in a slick Microsoft ad campaign.
Most of the blog storm centers around the "ethics" and responsibilities" of blog authors. FM VP Neil Chase chimes in on the Valleywag post, and describes this as the new age of conversational marketing - and that there is no harm of foul in a three-way conversation between the reader, blog author and the business which is engaging the readers. He goes on to describe how the authors weren't paid to engage in the conversation, and the only monetizing aspect comes from the ad impressions delivered by way of Microsoft ad campaigns.
If the next step in the evolution of online discussion is to involve marketers into the discussion, and history can teach us anything, then maybe its the conversational marketing methods themselves that might require more careful consideration. Its not a conversation when conversational marketing campaigns turn social marketing into a shill machine before the conversation ever has a chance to flourish. Under such pretenses, conversational marketing can potentially hurt the editorial integrity of the authors and the reputations of people and businesses connected to the marketing campaign.
When they launched their Vista operating system, Microsoft became all too familiar with the kind of online attention and controversy that can stir when the social engagement doesn't require that every participant have their hands in front of them. In fairness, Microsoft isn't alone as its happened to many great companies including Wal-Mart, Sony and Dell.
Egregious or minor faux pas? The one thing we do know is that bloggers are taking notice. Its interesting how history and research continues to reinforce how the online community has already become this finely tuned, self-regulating mechanism that ultimately proves to be accurate in its views. Like it or not, the online crowds in their wisdom will make the final determination whether blogger reaction is justified or not.
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Below are some links to product or company mentions in mainstream media:
Protecting the firm’s name on the web | Law Times
Safeguard Your Brand Reputation Online | Inc. Technology
They’ve got their eyes on you—are your ears burning? | ComputerWorld Canada
Blog author threatens to go "on a killing spree" | CNW Group
Blog author threatens to go "on a killing spree" | PR Newswire
Tips on Safeguarding Your Online Reputation | WSJ Startup Journal