When the Conversation Turns Nasty

  |  June 27, 2007   |  Comments

As with all A-list controversies, the vitriol surrounding a Microsoft sponsorship of several Federated Media tech bloggers over the past three days is a bit irritating and overblown

As with all A-list controversies, the vitriol surrounding a Microsoft sponsorship of several Federated Media tech bloggers over the past three days is a bit irritating and overblown. But it's also totally fascinating, and an important one for marketers to watch. That's because the entity that's incurred the most damage here is not Mike Arrington, Nick Denton, Om Malik or John Battelle, but Microsoft, which had sought to affiliate its "People Ready" tagline with influential tech writers and wound up the object of derision in the comments sections of TechCrunch and other sites across the FM network.

Background for the uninitiated: Before the mess, FM implemented a campaign for Microsoft that involved the creation of ad units and a microsite where FM bloggers weighed with their thoughts on "people ready," Redmond's primary ad slogan for its business products since last year. The campaign fell into FM's "conversational marketing" bucket, touted by John Battelle since he founded the company. In form and execution, it closely resembled sponsorships FM had already created for Cisco and Hakia. (I wrote about the Cisco effort in the background to this story.)

John Battelle nemesis and "conversational" curmudgeon Nick Denton was the first to cry foul on ValleyWag, calling FM and its bloggers so many shills for Microsoft, and the fiasco spiraled quickly. Everyone's weighed in. CNET picked up on it, and Mike Arrington promptly attacked CNET. Om Malik, an FM author, issued a rapid mea culpa. Jeff Jarvis damned the enterprise. Fred Wilson came to its defense and called Nick Denton "old school." The inevitable satirical site appeared. And on and on. Finally John Battelle tried to put an end to the crisis (and it is a crisis for FM, which stands to alienate Microsoft and its network sites) by urging FM bloggers to more strictly disclose their affiliations with such campaigns. That outraged Mike Arrington all the more, who lashed out at everyone involved and suggested he wants new ad representation. Arrington questioned why anyone ought to disclose that content appearing inside an ad is sponsored content.

The disclosure discussion really was a red herring in the whole debate, but that doesn't make Arrington correct. The real question is whether it's alright for a journo-blogger like Mike Arrington to endorse a company or slogan by contributing statements directly to an online campaign and accepting payments for those statements. I'm no digital media ethicist and so wouldn't venture an absolute judgment on People-Ready-gate. But speaking only as a reporter for ClickZ, I'd be very uncomfortable writing copy for an advertiser as part of a campaign scheduled to appear on our site. Standards for bloggers may be totally different, but it seems likely to me the tech writers in FM's network share my concern about maintaining objectivity and the perception thereof on their sites.

Right or wrong from a blogger ethics point of view, the risk to advertisers is clear should audiences reject experimental conversational strategies. Things can get negative very fast. In the case of this Microsoft campaign, many bloggers and commenters appear to feel that what FM and Microsoft were engaging in was not innovative marketing, but an advertorial in disguise.

ClickZ Live New York What's New for 2015?
You spoke, we listened! ClickZ Live New York (Mar 30-Apr 1) is back with a brand new streamlined agenda. Don't miss the latest digital marketing tips, tricks and tools that will make you re-think your strategy and revolutionize your marketing campaigns. Super Saver Rates are available now. Register today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zachary Rodgers

Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects. 

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

ClickZ Today is our #1 newsletter.
Get a daily dose of digital marketing.

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

UPCOMING TRAINING

Featured White Papers

Google My Business Listings Demystified

Google My Business Listings Demystified
To help brands control how they appear online, Google has developed a new offering: Google My Business Locations. This whitepaper helps marketers understand how to use this powerful new tool.

5 Ways to Personalize Beyond the Subject Line

5 Ways to Personalize Beyond the Subject Line
82 percent of shoppers say they would buy more items from a brand if the emails they sent were more personalized. This white paper offer five tactics that will personalize your email beyond the subject line and drive real business growth.

WEBINARS

    Information currently unavailable

Jobs

    • Lead Generation Specialist
      Lead Generation Specialist (The Oxford Club) - BaltimoreThe Oxford Club is seeking a talented writer/marketer to join our growing email lead-generation...
    • Health Marketing Editor
      Health Marketing Editor (Agora Inc.) - BaltimoreCome flex your intellectual muscle as part of Agora, Inc’s (http://agora-inc.com/) legal team...
    • Technical Business Analyst
      Technical Business Analyst (OmniVista Health) - BaltimoreOmniVista Health is looking to add a Technical Business Analyst to our expanding team...