This week, litigants Google and Oracle responded to a court order to reveal the names of bloggers that had been paid to post for them. The technology giants are in dispute over Java and Android patents and copyright. According to the disclosure order “The Court is concerned that the parties and/or counsel herein may have retained or paid print or internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in this case.”

Most journalists are bound by press codes requiring disclosure of any paid witnesses.  For example, the UK’s Press Complaints Commission includes the following;

“Any payment or offer of payment made to a person later cited to give evidence in proceedings must be disclosed to the prosecution and defence. The witness must be advised of this requirement.”

But bloggers are not regulated and despite calls for a Bloggers’ Code  in 2006 as yet have no body or organization to advise on best practice.

This brings us back to the ethical debate raging on Wikipedia about paid for entries posted by PR firms. Wikipedia prides itself on the impartiality and credibility of the information posted. This is compromised by paid for posts. See the earlier post on Wikipedia for the Electronics, Engineering and Technology Industry.

Review sites and blogs, which should contain earned media, are full of sponsored and paid for content as companies attempt to tip the scales in their favor. Black Hat SEO  practicioners employed content farms to post multiple, keyword and link stuffed blog entries to boost search engine ranking. This resulted in a host of unreadable posts of little value to surfers. Panda and Penguin, the latest updates to Google’s search algorithm have targeted this kind of paid for content and the content mills‘ days are numbered.

Is it wrong for technology firms to pay for posts?

Sponsoring a popular, legitimate engineering or electronics blog is an excellent way to boost your profile as recommendation from trusted individuals is one of the most powerful ways to promote tech products.  The issue is honesty.  Advertisers and journalists are very clear on the subject of advertorials and sponsorship deals.

“A journalist shall not lend himself/herself to the distortion or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other considerations.” NUJ

“Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such.”

“Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications; for example, by heading them ‘advertisement feature’.” ASA

When blogging really began to take off, big technology companies tried to exploit their popularity and influence with fakeblogs. Sony’s flog (fake blog), “All I want is a PSP for Christmas”, was famously outed as a marketing ploy.  Sony apologized and promised to “stick to making cool products and … to give you nothing but the facts on the PSP.”

If a talented engineering or technology blogger posts in your favour, that kind of earned media is priceless.  Sell a great product or service and get it in front of bloggers of influence. Share photos or videos of your technology or activities across social media with bloggers you rate and admire and listen to their comments. Think of blog posts as valued constructive criticism that you can engage with and act on, not just a mouthpiece. If you have to provide payment or incentives, the value of that content falls.  Thanks to Google’s algorithm, search engine ranking may plummet or potential customers may spot the fakery and turn against the product.

Google and Oracle’s list of paid bloggers included academics, experts in the fields of intellectual property, internet privacy and software engineers. Amongst them was Florian Mueller, an expert on IP and owner of the blog. Mueller’s credibility as an impartial expert in patents and copyright law has been damaged by the revelation that he was in Oracle’s pay.

Pay for quality content that will engage your clients and stakeholders but declare it. Trust and transparency is key.