In the case of junkets, however, ask yourself what is the company getting in exchange for thousands of dollars? In the slimier cases, there’s an explicit quid pro quo. But the ambiguous cases are almost worse. The company is pretending they don’t want anything in return…so why are they sending you there? They are counting on implicit social pressure to write something and make it favorable. That gives them good press and the plausible deniability that they paid for it.
While VC-backed PandoDaily might not be the best source for this advice, it still rings true. Lately in the Indian social media circles, brands have realized the potential of popular bloggers or more specifically people on Twitter with a large number of followers. Even back in the day when I ran DesiPundit, I used get at least one email a day from people touting their products (more often than not, crappy products). In fact, even thought DesiPundit is hardly popular now, I still get such emails on a weekly basis . I used to recommend buying one of our (rarely-bought) advertisement slots on the sidebar (in the old avatar) but never heard from them again. Even then, most brands knew that having a display graphic block advertising their product hardly held any value compared to someone who heartily recommended it within the content of the blog. One guy even took it to an extreme by openly selling personal book reviews.
Brands since have gotten more sophisticated with luring bloggers and as in the case cited above, offer to fly people to their product launches and tempt them with free ‘review’ products. In India, there is an increasing tendency of organizing tweetups and blogger meets that are sponsored by brands in hope that the people gathered there will mention the association. Brands have become much smarter too. Sometimes they will explicitly tell the bloggers/Twitterers they send on a junket that they don’t have to mention their brand. This, in my opinion, is even worse. Because now the onus is on the person accepting the favor and in reality, people don’t heed that advice. Either because they feel obligated to mention at least something they are genuinely enjoying, or want to brag about it to their followers, or simply because they know they will not get such offers in the future if they really do heed that advice.
Also, who doesn’t enjoy an ego massage at being told that, we want you to have this free stuff for having so many followers. Everyone likes being valued and Twitter gives you a tangible number of your worth online, just like daily pageviews or number of RSS feed subscribers did in the past. Although secretly I think most people value some followers more than others so are wary of pissing them off. As in other aspects of life, if you lose respect among your peers, no matter how many brands beg you to pimp their products, a self-respecting person will not be happy. That, my friends, is a saving grace among crass promotion that we see around us.
Ultimately it boils down to what your motives are for being on Twitter or for blogging. If you are in it for personal brand-building or earning a livelihood off social media, it is a perfect fit. I have quite a few friends who do their fair share of social media promotion. The ones who are self-employed, are students, or are working in advertising, are more likely to do so. Even among them, there are a few who have steadfastly stayed away from succumbing to brands’ pressure and even among those that have, I trust a handful to not get carried away (if they overdo it, I’ll bid farewell to them). The rest, I unfollow or simply mute their hashtags (if they are kind enough to tweet with one).
No matter how noble their intentions are, their promotion-related tweets/blogs take down my opinion of them a notch. While I understand the validity of pursuing their self- and monetary interest, that’s not why I’m on Twitter or blogs. It is one thing with Twitter inserting sponsored tweets in my timeline but a whole different thing when people I follow for their interesting tweets choose to consider me as a mere number to earn a quick buck. Twitter at least gave me a platform to share and read interesting content. If you are making me think about any hidden motive you may have behind your tweets then clearly I don’t trust or value your thoughts anymore.
- I got an email just as I was writing this post [↩]