Forrester’s Take On Sponsored Conversations

Forrester Research is out with a new brief this morning by analysts Sean Corcoran, Jeremiah Owyang and Josh Bernoff that says that sponsored conversations on blogs – akin to what how Chris Brogan partnered with KMart – are going to become more commonplace. Further, they recommend the tactic provided that there are clear disclosures all around.

Sponsored posts are nothing new. Although the tactic always raises a fair amount of controversy. Daring Fireball, one of the most popular Mac blogs, regularly runs sponsored posts inside its feed. Techmeme has them on the site too. However, where these are different is that they act more like advertorials. Where it gets prickly is when bloggers themselves write about their personal experience with a product (usually balanced) in exchanged for compensation.

Forrester makes five recommendations in the brief: mandate disclosure, ensure freedom of authenticity, partner with relevant blogs, don’t talk and walk away. All good advice. Further, as you can see from the chart below they sit sponsored conversations somewhere between advertising and PR in the matrix.

Sponsored conversation

Source: Forrester Research, Inc.

The report misses something, however. This is nothing new. Magazines have run advertorials for years. And radio stations run promotions where the DJ gets involved. What is new is that on many of these sites the editor and publisher are the same individual. There are no hard church/state boundaries as there are with other media.

The way to get around this is to write and submit your own content as a sponsored post. Have the blogger run the copy but with an advertorial label. This has worked in magazines for years.

Further, I would suggest working with an organization that represents bloggers and has experience running such programs – such as Federated Media. In addition, sponsored conversations work best when you integrate tactics across the spectrum that Forrester has here. Sometimes, earning media can lead to additional opportunities to get to know the personalities behind a blog and then additional opps. down the road.

However, on the whole, I agree that we’re going to see more of this in the future. I am hopeful that everyone, publishers and sponsors, will bring their ethical A-game.

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