A Running List of Sponsored Conversations

Sponsored conversations are happening, yet we insist on it being done right and ethically, that means disclosure and being authentic. This post, which I’m updating frequently, will serve to show there is a long history of sponsorship, the many forms of sponsorship, and an ongoing list of these transactions.

I make lists to track what’s happening in my industry, in fact, you can see many of these famous lists on the ‘industry index‘ category. While some are taken aback by companies sponsoring conversations, I’m going to list out many brands and bloggers that are involved, this is clearly not going away.

Some of these examples get very gray, it’s hard to tell where the editorial line starts and stops, or would these bloggers have talked about a brand if they weren’t sponsored? Our solution is simple: they must meet the requirements of disclosure and authenticity we recommend.


Sponsorship in other Mediums
It’s important to see where sponsorship has come from, in order to see where it’s going. I added this section later as it gives more context.

  • Celebrities: Stars, musicians and actors often receive sponsorships, gifts, and often endorse products
  • Sports: Nascar slams more brands on a car, they know that TV airtime during aired events will imprint the brand on consumers. Athletes are often sponsored, one notable example is Tiger woods and Accenture.
  • Radio: Talk show radio host Paul Harvey was known for “Harvey also blended news with advertising, a line he said he crossed only for products he trusted.”
  • TV: Product placement without disclosure has become an mainstay in TV
  • Movies: Since 1927 product placement (Hersheys) has occurred in movies
  • Video Gamers: Popular video gamers have received sponsorship, even brands like Johnson and Johnson
  • Search: A few years ago, when ‘sponsored search results’ appeared in the editorially clean search results, it caused an uproar from the community. Now, it’s part of life.
  • Podcasts: Podcasts are often sponsored, or even allow a word from sponsors to appear in the show, radio does this, and even the popular For Immediate Release Podcast that often discuses ethics in social media

  • Many Forms of Sponsored Conversations
    There’s a wide range of how brands and bloggers meet in a transaction. Consider this section a work in progress, and I added after I published this post.

  • 1) Access : Blogger is sponsored, Example: A brand sponsors a blogger trip, or conference. Example: Wal-Mart sponsors bloggers to visit HQ, but does not pay them anything else.
  • 2) Incentive: Discounts are offered to bloggers or other incentives to get them to buy, Example: Chris Brogan’s trip to a NYC hotel
  • 3) Thank you: Brands sponsor events or blogger conferences, and the blogger thanks them in the editorial stream. Example: Mashable thanks it’s sponsors
  • 4) Product Demo: Bloggers are loaned products, or they are demod to them, Example: Nikon blogger program
  • 5) Advertorial: A blogger discloses that they are promoting a company or brand, and writes in the editorial stream about the brand or lifestyle. The difference is, that it impacts the editorial and generally is questioned as being authentic
  • 6) Paid Reviews: Bloggers are given products or money: Example: Sears, Kmart sponsored shopping spree, or Google hired bloggers to review widget products. Unlike 5) Advertorial, it may not impact the editorial and could be authentic. Disclosure is mandatory
  • 7) Junket: Bloggers are treated to a special dinner, event, trip or lounge at a conference, event, or other venue. Branding may range from light sponsorship, product demos, to PR pitching. Example: Blogger trips like what Israeli Foreign Ministry or blogger lounges like BlogHaus. Often transparent, but credibility could be questioned if product is involved.
  • 8] Payola : Bloggers are paid to blog, but are not mandated to disclose or be authentic, in fact, the FCC has rules on this, and Forrester is against this.

  • Running List of Sponsored Conversations
    This list, which will grow from community submissions and shows a variety of sponsorships: The gambit ranges from product giveaways, contests, shopping sprees, reviews, discussions, advertorials, to endorsements.

    By Blogs

  • Read Write Web: While against the premise of paying bloggers, has a blog post in their blog editorial stream written by a paid sponsor. It meets the requirement of disclosure and authenticity, they’re one example of doing it right.
  • Mashable: I want to point out that some of the other large tech blogs that have conferences, often do a ‘thank you’ post to their sponsors. While it’s clear this isn’t to trigger a discussion, the sponsored vendors are called out in the editorial stream, with marketing hyperbole intact.
  • Techcrunch: While this clearly is not an endorsement, vendors are mentioned in the editorial stream to thank them for sponsorship, which is separate from the advertising column, as you know, this site has incredible influence in SEO and traffic. This is pure in transparency and authenticity.  There’s been some discussions whether or not Techcrunch writers have been involved in sponsored conversations, it’s not clear to me if it’s true.
  • Blogher: Dozens and Dozens of brands from Bertolli, Sesame Steeet, Leapfrog, McCain Foods, Merci Chocolates, TNT, Bare Minerals, VTech and others offer giveaways to bloggers at this popular women’s blogger conference. Note: not all of the giveaways were products, but some were the usual conference schwag.
  • Gizmodo: Thanks it’s sponsors in the editorial stream, such as Nike, Microsoft, Lenovo, interesting there are no links, perhaps to avoid any ‘no follow’ issues with google
  • AdRants: the most popular ad blog is currently offering sponsored posts for $565
  • Chris Pirillo: One of the top geek bloggers is available for sponsored posts at $843
  • Chris Brogan: a well known social media marketer, is available for sponsored posts at $565
  • Julia Alison: a NY socialite, much like a celebrity is available for $517. Brands have been sponsoring celebrities for years, now it’s just online.
  • ZDNet: As listed below under HP, Dana Gardner’s analyst content is sponsored by HP with full disclosure.
  • Guy Kawasaki: borrows an Audi, and demonstrates the car features via images and video
  • By Twitter

  • Mashable: has created a way to insert sponsored tweets into a twitter widget, they’re monetizing twitter in a transparent way.
  • Magpie has been experimenting with inserting ads in the Twitter stream, while not truly ‘sponsorship’ it’s inserting it right into the conversation stream. See my experiment.
  • Sponsored Tweets: Izea (formerly pay per post) has launched Sponsored Tweets.  Kim Kardashian, Chris Pirillo, and Carrot Top are among those who will be paid to Tweet.
  • By Brands

  • Seagate: Robert Scoble’s Fast Company show is sponsored by Seagate, and he toured a factory in China, give away seagate products, and mentions them from time to time in his blog.
  • Symantec: Pays BlogHer bloggers to review products, and this example is disclosed and transparent
  • Panasonic: Sponsors Bloggers like Chris Brogan to attend CES on their dime, and a conversation spreads to many social sites.
  • Ford: Is allowing bloggers (update: actually just one) to drive their new car, the flex for one year
  • Disney: Worked with influencers and sponsored conversations for paid movie reviews that they’ve released.
  • WalMart: creates a section on their website for 11 mom (and Dad) bloggers. They are not paid, but their travel expenses were paid to visit HQ, and they are given products to review, and to give to their readers.
  • Sears: Gives away $500 gift cards to bloggers, who can also give another $500 to readers.
  • Kmart: Sponsors bloggers to visit its stores and shop with gift certificates, then share another gift card with their readers and has success. One blogger, Chris Brogan took a lot of heat for it.
  • Microsoft: This one was under scrutiny. This was an early example, but they sent one of their top “Ferrari” laptops to top bloggers. Some, like Scott Beale chose not to keep it.
  • Microsoft: This campaign was slammed for not being authentic. Hires Federated Media, a network of top blogs, who recite a slogan from a Microsoft campaign, this one was controversial and included many top bloggers, even a VC.
  • Nikon: Let’s blogger photographers borrow their DSLR cameras, but they have to return them or buy them later.
  • M&Ms: has a chocolate product giveaway to this blogger and her readers.
  • Hewlett Packard: Provides the Blogher community a printer, that resulted in 227 comments. Actually Angela from HP says the results were much greater.
  • Hewlett Packard Sponsors Zdnet Dana Gardner’s blog and podcast. Dana, who’s a trusted IT analyst is sponsored by HP and provides full disclosure.
  • General Motors: Sponsored “five moms, Aviva, Devra, Jill, Meagan and Sarah, will make their way across the nation from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, in a Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid”
  • JCPenny: Offers bloggers a $500 gift card for Blogher bloggers to share their shopping experience.
  • Mercedes: Let a mother who blogs use Mercedes GLK, and gift certificates were given to readers each day.
  • Quaker Oats (Pepsi) According to Ryan Stern in the comments, Quaker Oats had a contest for recipes and gave product to bloggers.
  • Dairy Queen: Encourages bloggers to publish for a gift certificate
  • VMware: According to John from VMware in the comments, VMware sponsors bloggers to attend their conference, and advocates receive gifts.
  • White Pages: Reached to David Berkowitz as a sponsored blogger as they invited him to Seatlle.
  • American Express: AMEX has Guy Kawasaki as a guest blogger on their OpenForum community site, it’s not clear if he’s paid, but his editorial is in line with all the rest of his content.
  • Intel: This chip giant wants to reach tech adopters and influencers, esp those that talk among each other, as a result they’ve sponsored projects for these communities at Digg (visualization tool that resulted in buzz) and a conversation and Slashdot (I don’t have a link, but was briefed by the team).
  • SAP: Tech giant sponsored interviews from Shel Israel, who was conducting interviews on the topic of social media. This was a perfect example of sponsorship as it was disclosed and transparent, and Shel’s editorial was never changed.
  • Epson: Sponsored bloggers to attend blogworldexpo a popular conference for new media folks, and the bloggers have chronicled the experience
  • Kohler: Kohler worked with Federated Media to create this H20 blog to discuss using sponsored bloggers from the FM network.
  • HP: Created a resource site called SMB Marketing Guide and featured a variety of prominent bloggers from the FM network.
  • Luvs (Proctor and Gamble): The MomSpeak is a sponsored blog where mommy bloggers come share their tips and tricks to help other moms, project by Federated Media
  • Google: Google Japan paid bloggers to review their widgets, and true to Google’s stance on sponsored posts, penalaized their own arm from a page rank 9 to a 5.
  • Nokia: Has a blogger relations program where 50 bloggers received their latest N95 phone.
  • Roger Smith Hotel (NYC): Offers a blogger special discount, encouraging bloggers to stay at the hotel –and even get upgrades.
  • Israeli Foreign Ministry: Sponsored the “Traveling Geeks” to tour Israel, who blogged, tweeted, and took pictures. It included high profile bloggers such as Cathy Brooks, Craig Newmark, Deborah Schultz, JD Lasica, Jeff Saperstein, Renee Blodgett, Robert Scoble, Sarah Lacy, Susan Mernit
  • Cheetos (Fritolay/PepsiCo): While looking more like an ad, this blog post on Mashable shows the Cheetos logo and encourages comments in the conversation. they also sponsored Boing Boing creators to produce some entertaining videos.
  • Intuit: Sponsors AppGap which provides a best practices and tips for the desired audience with paid bloggers (see comment #35)
  • SeaWorld: Bloggers were invited to try to blog about why they would want to go to Seaworld, in this blogging contest.
  • Lenovo: Lenovo’s head of Web Marketing has clear lines about where sponsored conversations start and stop suggesting that payola wrong, product giveaway ok. However Lenovo, provided free laptops and cameras to olympic bloggers to use to share their story, and created a sponsored site where their voices are heard. Appears to be transparent and authentic, this is a good example of a sponsored conversation.
  • General Mills:General Mills offers up to 900 bloggers product reviews and are not paid, through this very large program. AdWeek explores that while bloggers can write anything they want, the program seeks positive reviews.
  • Sprint, TNT, Powerbar, Body Glove, Showtime, Colgate, Coca Cola. Social Vibe is a vendor that allows sponsors to connect with users, who will promote a campaign or cause on the social vibe site and on their social networking profiles.
  • 1928 Jewelry: While not a large brand like the ones above, 1928 Jewelry sponsored a giveaway to bloggers and shares her results, see comment #1 below.

  • Special Case Study: Google: Google’s Matt Cutts will penalize blogs that are doing sponsored conversations he insists those that don’t use the ‘no follow’ tag will be penalized. Interestingly, Google sponsored Blogher in 2007, and Blogher did a sponsored post thanking them in their editorial stream, with marketese, and did not use ‘No Follow’. Will Google penalize Blogher, who they paid for sponsorship? Where does the line start and stop? Update: Google Japan has paid bloggers to review their products –and was penalized by their own company. It’s clear that bloggers that care about page rank need to use ‘no follow’.


    Resources

  • The Blog Council has a disclosure Toolkit
  • Word of Mouth Marketing Ethics Code of Conduct (The “WOMMA Code”)
  • Sean, the author of the report that triggered this discussion, shares additional insight, and compares ‘in stream’ vs ‘out stream’ of editorial
  • Disclosure Policy: Generate your own disclosure policy
  • There will be plenty of other examples to come, if you know of large brands or popular blogs that are doing this, please leave a comment with a URL.

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