I knew the moment that I published a video challenging some in the Latino blogosphere to step up its game and be consistent in how we share and produce content when it comes to portrayals of Latinos on television, that I would catch some flak. I knew that my intentions and integrity would be questioned, and that some would see me as a divider and not as a uniter. I seriously thought this all out and the consequences it would bring, but in the end, I felt that I had to say something in public with the hope that we can all have a real dialogue about this.
I still stand by the fact that we do our community a disservice and mislead readers when we as bloggers participate in sponsored campaigns that speak to the “new, fresh” original programming for US Latinos when in fact we are just getting the same old, same old. (In this case, a cop show from Colombia, which leads into a show about a Colombian drug dealer. Five times a week. In primetime.) I also felt that we miss the point when we do solicited reviews that arise from a sponsored campaign and then all the reviews being published about MUNDO FOX’S “Corazones blindados” are highly positive. Who would have thought that every blog I have read from this sponsored campaign has been positive? I have yet to see one negative review. (If there is one, please post a link down here and let me know.)
What is interesting is that now I am getting criticisms for cutting down my colleagues and questioning their ethics. I have already been told that I don’t have a clue because one blog in question has a clear disclosure policy and all their disclaimers are at the end of a post. I get told about FTC guidelines, not doing my research, and I also get called out for tearing the community down. I have also gotten a few private messages basically telling me that I was irresponsible and divisive. However, I am encouraged by the fact that I am getting more responses from people in private and some in public who have said that this issue should have been brought up. They key to all this is simple: agencies and bloggers can do all the sponsored campaigns they like, but please don’t rope along the community using a sponsored campaign that proudly proclaims that FINALLY something different is here on TV when in fact, it is just more of the same.
Yet, instead of having a real discussion about stereotypes in Latino media, I am now being called unprofessional for not telling the truth about the blogs and disclosure. I am now told that I messed up and that the sponsored posts are not compensated and that I missed the whole point about what a sponsored blog is.
Here is what is wrong about that specific criticism (and I am still waiting to hear about the bigger point being made about Latino stereotypes, which is the main point I made in the video): I still stand by the fact that many influential blogs in the Latino space are not being transparent enough about their disclosures. I also understand that people need to make a living by blogging. I am just suggesting that the disclosures need to go beyond a policy one someone’s page that quite frankly, no one reads anyway when they are reading a post.
Transparency starts with the blogger and the agency that promotes that blogger, and in the end, whenever I am in doubt, I alway ask myself: What would Chris Brogan do? Now, Chris is the first person to tell you that sponsored blogs and getting paid for your posts are good things. And he offers a great link for all bloggers to create their own disclosure policy (by the way, I don’t use a general disclosure policy on this personal blog because when I do, I try to disclose it up front on a post-by-post basis. The same goes for LatinoRebels.com)
However, because Chris is Chris and he always goes out his way to raise the bar, he is extremely clear when his posts are sponsored. For example, look at what he does in this case:
From this one example from Chris, what do we see?
- A clear “Sponsored Post” leading the blog title.
- A very strong and visible disclaimer that is in a larger font and clear. We know immediately, before we even begin to read the post, that is a post that a brand sponsored for Chris. He also says that his opinions are his own, 100%. In addition, the content of the post is his, original, and he is honest about the review. He also says that the brand suggested he write about certain features, but in the end, Chris just writes his own opinion and lets his review speak for himself.
- He goes beyond the FTC guidelines and doesn’t hide from the fact that he is doing a sponsored post.
What Chris does here is set a very simple and honest standard that all bloggers and agencies should aspire to. Instead of vague unclear statements at the end of a post (how many people read disclaimers at the end of a post anyway?), be up front and clear. Don’t assume that people will go click on another tab on your site and take the time to read your 300-word disclaimer policy. And also if you say you are part of a sponsored campaign, explain that before you get into writing your review, and be ready to answer the questions as to why most of the posts in the sponsored campaign are very similar in intent and scope. Learning about the fact after reading a sponsored post you didn’t know was sponsored to begin with only leads to disappointment for your readers and raises ethical issues that may or may not be accurate in your mind, but they still raise questions. Then explaining via comments and messages after the fact only begs the question: why weren’t you up front with it at the post level at the very beginning of the post and follow an example like the one Chris did?
Other questions I think that bloggers should consider regarding sponsored posts:
- Is this something I really want to promote to my readers? If so, how do I find the right balance between writing for or about a brand and not sacrificing the relationship I have with my readers?
- What is the intent of the brand or agency? Is their goal just to get the word out to take advantage of what you have worked so hard to build, or are they really sincere in promoting you as well? This relationship is a two-way street, and brands are no longer bigger or better than the blogosphere. They are equals, and will they treat you as such? The most successful campaigns I have been involved with have always allowed the blogger to be independent from what the brand would like you to write about, and yet these same brands have also promoted the blog posts on their own networks and pages. That type of arrangement becomes a true two-way relationship.
- Do you want to monetize your blog and is working with a brand the best way to go? Have you thought of other ideas, like creating your own products (like t-shirts, books, etc.) or starting your own commerce site of your favorite things where you can become an affiliate and earn a commission? Why do you think you need brands? Seriously ask yourself that question, and be honest with your answer. If you want to write for brands on your personal blog and get compensated for it, then it leads to 100% transparency every time you write about a brand, even when you tweet or share your links to social networks.
- Why is the benefit to you of establishing a sponsored relationship? Do you need brands to help your blog get more readers or do you want to make a living from blogging? If you do, ask yourself, “What would Chris Brogan do?” That is always a great place to start, because Chris is all about complete transparency.
So I hope this at least gets a real discussion going and allows for more opinions and thoughts to be shared. As for me, I can say the following without hesitation: I have no issue with sponsored posts or campaigns if they are done authentically and with the right intentions. For me, promoting a new Spanish-language channel whose primetime weekly lineup is all about cops, criminals, and drug lords and saying that it is programming worth watching for US Latinos is wrong. Influential blogs need to know that many people are watching and reading them, and this is still a very small and connected community. I know many others feel the same way as I do, and if my mistake was sharing my opinions about what I find to be a misleading practice and not good for the overall representation of the US Latino market, then I will make that same mistake again.
I really hope that we begin to discuss what I feel is a big issue in the Latino blogosphere about sponsored campaigns. As leaders who have been there from the very beginning, promoting a brand that has done little (so far) to advance the portrayal of US Latinos in mainstream media just doesn’t cut it for me. That is not being divisive. It’s just expressing my opinion and wishing that we as a community are more united in our demands for more quality content from mainstream networks.