So I signed up for PayPerPost

After all the hoopla about PayPerPost, I wanted to form my own opinion. I opened an account, scanned their offers from advertisers and picked one more or less at random. It was from a site called WeddingStrategies. They offered me $10 for writing a blog post about them with at least 300 words. Their instructions included “title needs to include keyword wedding or weddings, PR3 please, no business blogs, no mention of PayPerPost.” That last bit certainly was revealing. I then went to Technorati and searched for WeddingStrategies and found that several bloggers had written about them in the last couple of days. None of them disclosed that they got paid to write the post, which is obviously unethical. Interestingly, the posts sound somewhat artificial, more like an infomercial than a blog post.

PayPerPost is actually not a completely horrible idea. If a blogger I respect recommends a book, and they make money if I click through and buy that book on Amazon, I’m fine with that. PayPerPost takes that idea and pushes it way over the line, turning bloggers into spammers in the process. That’s bad news, but I’d be surprised if it ends up having a big impact on the blogosphere, because without clear disclosure rules, the model is so obviously flawed that I’d be shocked if any reputable bloggers or advertisers embraced it.

Published by

Toni Schneider

Partner at True Ventures. Team lead at Automattic. Advisor at Atipica, Bandcamp, Handshake, Hatch Baby, Madefire, Renovo Motors, and Tend.ai.

32 thoughts on “So I signed up for PayPerPost”

  1. I do PayPerPost on my fitness blog and I always disclose that I was paid for the link (most advertisers don't require you to hide your affiliation).

    I agree that the paid posts end up sounding infomercially. It's not an idea situation for me, but I only make about 20 cents a day from Adsense, so it can be appealing to get $10 to write a post. I'm hoping my blog will grow and someday I'll be making enough from regular (outside the post) advertising that I won't be tempted with stuff like this. For now, it's easier to do this than get an extra part time job. 😛

  2. That's sneaky. It's fine if you write a post and declare that the post is sponsored but otherwise it's not a good way of building trust with your readership.

  3. Toni,

    I'm confused. You start by saying you joined PPP because you wanted to form your own opinion. You then proceeded to pick an opp at random. That is a highly atypical use of the platform. I researched bloggers, advertisers and audiences for 3+ months before investing in PPP and found that most participants search the opps for one fitting their blog, experience, and audience. My experience is that bloggers are always looking for new stuff to write about.

    Had you done that, one of two things would have happened:

    1) You wouldn't have found an idea that fit your knowledge/audience and may have chosen to check back another day; or

    2) You would have found an idea that fit your knowledge/audience and would have blogged in your own voice and disclosure policy. The result of would be you'd get paid for doing what you already enjoy doing — you just found a new database of ideas to pull from.

    Help me understand your concern with that process?

    I'd also be interested to know your disclosure policy. I see no link on your blog for one so audiences (existing or new) have no idea what to expect from you. For example, I see that you work for Automattic/WordPress, a company with a competing model to monetize bloggers — I have no idea if it's your policy to mention in-line such competing interests. I'm working on my policy right now and would love to see what you come up with. Once complete, I'd recommend posting a link where audiences can always find it. Sound reasonable?

    In fact, that would be a great recommendation for all WordPress users, don't you think? Can you make that happen?

  4. VC Dan,

    I disclose all my business associations on my about page: https://toni.wordpress.com/about/. That's been there from day one.

    My concern with the PPP process is not a lack of fit between the blogger's and advertiser's interests. It's the lack of disclosure.

    Your defense of PPP seems to be that in the ideal case, where a blogger was going to write about a product or service anyway because it's a good fit for their blog, it's OK for them to get paid? If that is PPP's goal, I'm fine with it. So they should design their system to only allow that ideal case. Have PPP require each paid post to be accompanied by a statement that says "I'm getting paid by PPP for writing this, but I would recommend this service even if I wasn't getting paid". And block/remove any blogs who write about stuff just for the money and without disclosure, because those are just spam blogs IMO.

  5. Toni,

    Now I'm really confused. In one breath you say that bloggers must disclose conflicts with a per-post statement. In another breath you say that listing affiliations on your About page is sufficient disclosure of your competitive interests.

    That very clearly highights that one policy won't handle all situations. However, documenting and linking your disclosure policy (not just your affiliations, but what conflicts you will accept and exactly how you will disclose different classes of conflict) discloses to your audience what your policy is. A list of affiliations isn't a policy, it's just a list. Does that mean you won't disclose in-line when you blog about partners or competitors? I sure hope not, but have no idea.

    As for considering Posties finding interesting ideas at PPP to blog about only the 'ideal' case, my investment diligence indicated it is the typical case. You know as well as I that in a large, diverse population, discerning who is doing things "just for money" and who just wants to earn something doing what they already love, is an almost impossible task. However, PPP is trying to do just that by instituting a rating system similar to eBay's buyer/seller feedback. This is exactly how you encourage quality and discourage abuse in large population, market systems.

    Don't get me wrong, it sounds like you and I aren't very far apart. In fact, I'm encouraging you to adopt a disclosure policy to support your ethical stance. Because you work for Automattic/WordPress you also have the opportunity to champion a disclosure policy idea throughout the WordPress network — wouldn't that go a long way toward the blogosphere you and I cherish?

  6. Sure, if someone blogs about a competitor, they should disclose it in the post. I certainly try to do that. Most bloggers do. It's part of the transparency and honesty that makes the blogosphere great.

    PPP undermines that by not requiring or even encouraging disclosure for the cases that need it the most – people getting paid to endorse a product.

    Let's not conflate the disclosure issues of PPP with the blogosphere as a whole. PPP has a glaring disclosure problem. The blogosphere doesn't. Which is not to say that a more universal disclosure policy is a bad idea, it just does not seem as a burning an issue for the blogosphere as it does for PPP.

  7. Wow, I had not seen those. How interesting. Guess what… PayPerPost will pay you $10 for embedding a PayPerPost video testimonial in your blog.

  8. This won’t get solved by throwing grenades at each other. It could, however, by working together on a simple, flexible framework like disclosure policies.

    Nifty about face there, Dan. PPP is based on the concept that people don't immediately know it's advertising – it's abusing the trust built up between a blogger and his or her readers to pimp product for all it's worth (and the blogger gets to pocket some cash on the side).

    Advertisers will happily use any avenue to push product – if it can be done in a sneaky, hidden way then all the better.

    PPP will never be even remotely "accepted" until it's clear such practices are open and (as much as advertising can ever really be) honest.

  9. brendan,

    I'm not sure where you get the about-face comment — I've always advocated models that recognize the competing interests of blogger free expression and blogger authenticity. That's why I try to educate critics who don't want bloggers to own their own voice/blog/audience and I try to guide bloggers about disclosure policies (including Toni here).

    For a debate centered around ethics it still amazes me how many half-truths get thrown around.

    You say: "PPP is based on the concept that people don't immediately know it's advertising — it's abusing the trust built up between a blogger and his or her readers"

    The truth is: PPP is based on the concept that bloggers own their blogs and their relationship with their readers better than any 3rd party could. They have to make the right calls on honesty and disclosure, with advice from us/others and PPP's rating system to encourage quality and discourage abuse. It's also based on the concept that bloggers look for new writing ideas every single day, and the PPP platform offers a rich, diverse cache of ideas that also happen to cover the cost of their time/effort/hosting.

    I researched the platform for 3+ months BEFORE I put my money where my research was. I started with a number of the misconceptions I'm hearing across the blogosphere. My research included speaking with many bloggers, advertisers and audiences. I spent time/effort to understand the typical user and the outliers. I also spent time understanding management's commitment to do good. This is 100X the time/effort spent by drive-by analysts polluting the blogosphere with wrong information.

    To your comment of "never even being remotely accepted", I'd share that PayPerPost is already accepted by mainsteram bloggers and doing great things for thousands of honest, ethical, hardworking people across the world. It provides a viable revenue model to a CGM industry that isn't sustainable without one. It also encourages discipline/quality by bloggers and brings new voices/experiences/knowledge to this medium.

    So long as the platform continues to empower the masses and dilute the earning/influence power of the elites, it will face resistance from the elites. I understand that, but the future belongs to the masses… 😉

  10. Dan,

    You say "[PPP bloggers] have to make the right calls on honesty and disclosure". Does this mean that PPP will not enforce a disclosure policy, and will instead leave it up to their bloggers to voluntarily disclose their financial incentives behind a post?

  11.  I think a reasonable to start would be to put something like "sponsored post" at the end or at the beginning of your PPP post.

    I don't find any  issue with featuring a product without disclosing that you get paid for it. When you see a ad placement in a movie, do you know it is an ad? Does the movie tell you that they were paid to feature it? Or when you put an affiliate link in your site so that you can get commissions, do you necessarily say "hey guys I am getting commission on this banner/link; I thought you may need to know that before clicking".

    Common Toni, why don't you just do what you feel is right for you and let anyone do whatever they want! I like the idea of payperpost. I think they dare think different and try something new. And I always encourage people to try different things. 

    I surely would not like to see people lying about products because they get paid to do so. I would actually prefer the kind of PPP opportunities where they let you the option to write your opinion of the product…

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    To help you get the most out of your mac…  

  12. VC Dan, consider this scenario… You buy an issue of Newsweek magazine. Somewhere in there you read a wonderful, gushing review of some product. You go and buy it, but it's garbage. You go back to the review, and do that research thing you're talking about– only to discover the author doesn't even work for Newsweek! It was an ad, cleverly disguised as an article…

    That is precisely what PPP is doing. It is unethical and wrong. You make several logical fallacies in attempting to throw any positive light on these hucksters.

    "competing interests of blogger free expression and blogger authenticity"– what competition? Freely expressing yourself should always be authentic. There's a BS detector in the blogosphere, and it is very sensitive.

    "PPP is based on the concept that bloggers own their blogs and their relationship with their readers better than any 3rd party could" — well, yes and no. Ratings are a step in the right direction, but your argument here also stands for pedophiles. Trolling around Myspace will give you incredible insight into the mind of any random 14-year old girl/boy but that doesn't mean you should IM them, let alone try to, ya know, "push" your "product" on them.

    Look, this is very simple. Your disclosures are great, and Arrington is trying to maneuver some cred to the blogosphere (which essentially gives it "real cred" in the media space). But PPP isn't trying to be clever, or viral, or innovative. They are being sneaky, end of story.

    You don't reveal you're just being paid to blog about something, you're just lying. They know they can't force disclosure, because no one will read those blogs! Look at Myspace, AIM Pages, etc… whenever you find media trying too hard (a page for the nano? come ON!), consumers call bullshit. And that is NOT what you want for your company. Sorry, but this couldn't be clearer. If you call my house, and initiate a conversation, we get to talking, and 30 min. into our convo you start trying to sell me something? No, that is bait-and-switch. Clear case.

    Here, just read this and see what you think:
    http://www.calacanis.com/2006/10/08/more-on-the-p

  13. To expand on what Victor said, often you find that pages have "THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT" emblazoned across the top of the page to stop you from thinking it was written by a staff writer or whatever.

    That is all is needed for the blogs. "This is a sponsored post" or something like that, clearly visible at the very beginning.

  14. @Victor & eddmun: I like your suggestions for how & when to disclose. The place we are disconnecting is whether those arguments should be focused on PPP or the bloggers who choose a path different than you or I. Bloggers own their blogs and need to hear your arguments, but then they have to make a decision for themselves and the audience they know best. You may not be their target market and there's nothing wrong with that.

    Your comparisons to crimes are flamboyant, but inappropriate.

    Note, there is new data in the discussion you may like. Check out my latest post at the just launched http://blog.DisclosurePolicy.org/ and I welcome continuing this discussion at the forums of http://www.DisclosurePolicy.org/. In fact, there are some topics and games (DP HUNT) you might find interesting over there.

    There's also a Disclosure Policy generator that can help everyone get one for themselves before preaching to others…I hope to see you guys/gals there…

  15. Dan,

    DisclosurePolicy.org looks like a step in the right direction. A unified, clearly worded way to disclose all relevant interests seems valuable. However, I don't think it let's PPP off the hook unless they require their users to have such a policy and to link to it from all PPP posts. Making it voluntary is not an option. Does the San Francisco Chronicle make it optional for their writers to disclose financial interests in companies they cover? Of course not.

  16. Thanks Toni. The company is running all-out with DP.org, advertiser interest and blogger interest. We tried to help move the discussion forward and want more voices than our own involved. The topic of transparency is much larger than PPP so it will take multiple entities embracing a flexible framework.

    Let's start with whether bloggers/audiences embrace Disclosure Policies before we start demanding things. If done correctly, the mere absence of a Disclosure Policy should communicate reader-beware to audiences. I would share that PayPerPost also announced they will pay people to adopt Disclosure Policies. I'd love to see other blogging platforms make a commitment that significant — any ideas?

    I'd note that TC's article on the topic is puzzling. As we've discussed here, transparency starts with telling your audience what to expect. When Mike adopts his own Disclosure Policy then I'll start considering his rants are about transparency instead of just controversy, traffic and protecting his advertisers from adopting better ROI platforms like PayPerPost.

  17. I love posts like this. They rock! Why? Well because there's all this noise about the purity of blogs and citizen journalism, then so called A-Listers go and write unfactual crap devoid of any serious research, devoid of views of both sides of the argument, and bandy around terms like "unethical" when there is no official code of ethics on blogging etc etc.

    FYI, disclosurepolicy.org pretty much fixes the disclosure issue. You should take a look – you could do with a disclosure policy of you own.

    Anyway, keep up the blogging. The more factless FUD you print, the faster we move towards the realization that blogging is a pass-time – like masturbation.

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