Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Integrity in the online universe

Happy intercalary everyone! (Apparently that's the official name of Leap Day. Who knew?) Long time no post. I don't have any excuses: haven't been especially busy, or even especially uninspired. Just seriously lazy. I have been called a slow gentle animal by some: don't know about the gentle, but the slow is definitely correct. I didn't feel like writing, and even read less blogs than usual. I did keep on following my personal favorites, though. There are some blogs I follow religiously: I never skip their posts and always look forward to updates. I think that gives me the right to consider myself a fanatic blog reader: I might not spend hours and hours reading what's out there, but I'm a very avid follower of a few carefully selected persona grata.

                                  Like these remarkable ladies.

The reason I keep reading these blogs is because a) I simply like them and b) I trust them. I trust their judgement; I trust they are highly intelligent people; I trust they are sincere. There are some blogs out there I like - the style, the visuals, sometimes the glamour - but have a hard time trusting. The reason? I feel like they're commercialising just a little too brashly.

Over the past years, pr departments have realised blogs have enormous marketing opportunity and acted accordingly. Bloggers took notice, too: IFB for instance responded with the IFB Fair Compensation Manifesto. Power to the people! Big bad brands should not be making money from bloggers' networks and expertise without giving something back. Right? Right. I don't think anyone would disagree. It's only fair bloggers should be paid for the added value they provide to brands.

However. Is that really what blogs should do? Provide added value to brands? Function as a cunning marketing tool? Everyone is free to disagree, but to me, something's gone awry. I read blogs because they are written by independent, freethinking people with a unique point of view. I don't read them to be bombarded with affiliate programs and commercials. I don't mind advertising in sidebars that much. They're usually subtle and non-obtrusive. I wish I could say I didn't mind plain old commercials disguised as a blog post, but I do. No matter how smart you write them, they're annoying and disappointing. They're still pretty innocent, though. At least you know what they're about. What I do mind is the sneaky kind of content that makes me wonder who exactly provided the subject.

Take for instance event reports. Tricky shizzle, this. I can't count how many times I saw blogs hyping pictures of hip and happenin' soirées, merrily posing with blogger friends and downing macaroons by the kg. I love a party as much as the next person, but to be honest, I'd think twice before I would go. These parties are courting you to write about them. It's free advertising, basically. I'm not one to turn down fizzy pink drinks and fancy patisserie - but honestly, I would feel like I'm being played. It's all good fun, but in the end, someone is just using you to attract attention.

Also, the the ubiquitous C/O-items. Short for "courtesy of", this means that a certain piece of clothing was a donation from the company producing it. I don't think there's a soul in the world who would object to getting things for free. I'd love to get free clothes on a regular basis, believe me. But these companies aren't handing out five loaves of bread and two fish. This isn't about philantropy - it's not even necessarily about them getting their name out there. It's about companies using a blogger's authenticity to brand themselves in a certain way.

Necklace: Médecine Douce (Available at Le Bon Marché or / Top: American Vintage. Courtesy of my credit card.

By using blogs as a marketing tool, brands are not only gaining notoriety, they're sponging off the blogs' integrity and authenticity. And you know what? I don't even care that much about it. I truly don't. As long as you're conscious of how the brand is using you, and what you might gain from that. But it should be a matter of careful consideration. Because when you're taking money or other compensation from companies, you aren't just selling ad space. You're selling integrity. Your integrity. (By this I don't mean you'll lose your personal integrity. Just that you're hiring it out. That probably sounded a little whorish, didn't it? Oops.) Blogging is such a personal occupation that I find the mixing up of marketing and blogging difficult to digest. Where do you draw the line between representing yourself and representing others? Ultimately, the question boils down to this: are you blogging as a person - or as a highly personalised brand?

I realise I'm probably not voicing a popular concern, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!