Social media has value because it provides unique perspectives about diverse topics. Much social media content is genuinely individualistic and honest: its creators have no commercial or other agenda apart from the desire to share their opinions and experiences.
Audiences have benefited from this recent increase in the availability of honest media because honesty is fundamentally lacking from commercial media. Unfortunately, the honest individuality of social media is being undermined by crude commercial intervention that threatens to destroy its difference and diversity.
Bloggers are including advertising in their sites, are accepting free meals, goods and services, are publishing sponsored content and are becoming generic freelance writers, who write about whatever they are commissioned to write about, rather than what they love or are experts in. Their sites are losing their uniqueness and are becoming more like generic commercial media sites.
I dislike advertising on blogs and as a publisher I simply refuse to accept it. I think that advertising makes blogs look ugly because the widgets that insert ads don’t match the shape and size of their pages. I refuse to allow my site to look like that.
As an audience member, I question the autonomy of blogs that feature ads, and give their opinions less credit. Fundamentally, I don’t trust that they contain genuine, honest individual opinions. I read them for unique content, and if they undermine their uniqueness they become redundant.
When I see photos in a blog that contain the brand name of a camera in a watermark, I immediately assume that the blogger has sold out. They’re not using their preferred tools, or what they can afford; they’re using something provided to them by a sponsor. They’re no longer independent.
When I see fashion bloggers reviewing people movers or chocolate I consider them to have stopped being bloggers devoted to their subject. They’ve become freelance writers, albeit ones paid significantly less than the already poor rates for freelance writing.
When blogs sign up to be exclusively represented by an advertising agency, they relinquish their individuality. They also expose themselves to pressure to move beyond delivering advertising to write and publish sponsored posts. They’ve become another passive vehicle for commercially syndicated content.
When the advertising agency in question does business with questionable ethics, inspiring rants (warning, terrible site design and extreme Singlish) against it, I further doubt the judgement of the bloggers who allow their sites to be exploited. There should be more analysis of the technology and business model used by such agencies.
When food bloggers are commissioned by such an agency to review a commonly available product, I stop reading them. When they publish a series of posts that appear at the same time, with the same inane gushing writing and the same closeup photos (perhaps courtesy of those sponsored cameras), I want to vomit on them.
Formerly individual blogs that I once read regularly are starting to look and sound like the national daily and local weekly newspapers, but their mimicry of corporate media is not smart. While media corporations make lots of money, educated informed audiences distrust the quality and accuracy of much of the information they publish.
The bland inane restaurant reviews featured in the daily newspapers, for example, offer far less insight than the reviews written by food bloggers, particularly when readers can compare the opinions expressed in different blog reviews.
The commercialisation of formerly unique individual voices damages their appeal and undermines perceptions of their authenticity and individuality. Commercialised blogs that mimic the worst aspects of corporate media, particularly those reporting on cultural topics like food and fashion, are not worth reading.
I’ve been slowly writing this post for weeks, and ironically a newspaper reported yesterday that the advertising agency I have discussed here is claiming responsibility for encouraging the development of blogging as a full time commercial practice.
These people seem to have no understanding of the connection between independence, authenticity and trust. The advertorial and infommercial content they encourage bloggers to create is an abomination.
While some high profile blogs are published by experienced freelance journalists, who presumably know the value of their work, many bloggers seem to be commercially and technologically naive and are therefore easy to manipulate. They are being exploited for the commercial gain of advertising agencies and their corporate clients, but the consequence may be fundamental damage to the reputations of the bloggers involved.