beyond the press release


Paying To Play In The Social Media Sandbox

A recent post on looked at certain marketing companies that offer to get a story placed on the front page of link aggregators for a flat, per-item rate -- for example, $240 for a story to appear on Digg's front page, $80-$200 for Reddit, and so on. These "marketing" firms also offer services on other social media streams -- Twitter, Facebook, et al. The thrust of the piece is that these companies are manipulating social media to yield short-term visibility results for clients. The cost of this service is cheap and the promised exposure is enticing -- but is it ethical? Or effective?

Some have argued against the pay-for-play model that is slowly becoming prevalent across social media networks, but on the other hand, social networks need a way to make money. If companies are transparent in their dealings, is there anything really wrong with this model? Social media continue to evolve so rapidly, and because there is no formal regulation -- yet -- us marketers are learning and making up the model as we go.



And while a marketer's ethical conduct in regard to social media is a topic that is fairly new, the issue of pay-for-play in media sponsorships has long been the subject of debate and industry scrutiny. Five years ago, advertisers were faced with considerable pressure as product placements were being written into television and movie scripts. Last year, it was the "mom bloggers" who were called to task for failing to be transparent in their product reviews and their "sponsors."

A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

The survival of social media networks is entirely dependent on its users -- if there are no users, there is no network. Sites like Digg and Reddit are completely dependent on user-generated content. Meanwhile, companies seeking increased visibility may opt to use PR companies to generate and distribute content on their behalf, or set up a corporate social account in order to share content.

Social networks need content and companies want exposure. Marketing companies that offer to connect the two are, in a sense, facilitating a mutually beneficial relationship. But rubbish content providers beware: because they are user-generated, the crowd will police it. Diggers will respond to relevant messaging, and identify and dismiss blatant pay-for-play. The Twitterverse will naturally cull shilling streams, because no one wants to follow spam.

Relevancy and Transparency

In these dealings, what's critical is transparency -- and relevant, meaningful content. Provided that companies fully disclose that they have sponsored the content, and that the content is useful and interesting, users won't really care where it is from. The second that consumers believe they are trying to be swindled by false or inauthentic content, the company's brand reputation will be shot. Consumers will read sponsored content if it is relevant and engaging -- but what they won't stand for -- and should not stand for -- is having their intelligence insulted, free content or not.

Where's The Strategy?

Carving out a social media presence, however, is no overnight trick facilitated by a few social media releases or paid front-page listings. Companies that are unwilling to invest the time and capital to develop the relationships and relevancy that social media is all about, are truly missing out. This, of course, is very similar to the companies that issue a press release and expect media outlets and customers to be knocking down their door.

I remember the good old days (about 24 months ago) when the biggest complaint about social media professionals was that their expertise was largely derived from their adolescence wasted on MySpace. But the kids had it right -- social media is an ethos, and social media marketing should reflect that. A comprehensive, holistic approach is the only workable strategy for social media marketing; specific tactics can be honed, but unless you commit to engaging on a conceptual level, the power of social media will go wasted.

So what is the future of pay-for-play in social media? What is ethically acceptable when it comes to appearing on social media sites? Social media isn't journalism, so who defines or indeed regulates these parameters?

2 comments about "Paying To Play In The Social Media Sandbox ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Steve Lundin from bigfrontier, December 2, 2010 at 8:07 a.m.

    Why pay for play is a a pile of dog excrement: one the strongest "social" aspects of social networks is to provide peer interchange of ideas. Whether these ideas be on a person, a product, a political party - whatever - the networks were originally developed on technologies that allowed peers to trade information. As we all know - certain peers became more equal than others - and started putting a price on their uber-equalness. We have found that many of these more-than-equal social networkers actually print their policies right on their websites. It's not unusual to find things like: "we keep the product that we review" or "any review requires an ad purchase." Well, the problem is that consumers are still looking to social networks for the original purpose: peer information. Only now one party in that congress has betrayed the original "trust." There's really a simple solution for this: change all social sites that charge for reviews or have pay for play policy to .AD, and let the market decide where it wants to get its information.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 2, 2010 at 9:50 a.m.

    Who would have ever "thunk" public media - public is social - would wind up being advertising sounding boards?

Next story loading loading..