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Well, Here’s A Nice Hypothetical On Trust Capital, As It Happens . . .

Well, Here’s A Nice Hypothetical On Trust Capital, As It Happens . . .

So, we’ve been talking about trust capital in the mommyblogosphere, and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve got something come up that is relevant to this space to throw at you guys as a hypothetical. One of the things that this part of the blog has become useful for is as a resource for people who are looking to find out information about blogging conferences. As it happens, I’ve only been to two blogging conferences myself, but I get a bunch of searches on blogging conferences all of the time, and I also get emails from people asking me if I’ve been to XYZ conference and if it’s good and is it a good expenditure of money, etc. all of the time. I’m not really sure how this happened, but there you have it. Usually I tell people that I’ve only been to two conferences and I let them know what I know about those two, and regarding the others I might tell them what “the word” is on them, if I know anything, but that’s it, because, you know, what else can I do?

So anyway, earlier this week, the CEO of a blogging conference contacted me regarding attending an upcoming conference “as their guest” to do a review of the conference. They had noticed that I wrote about the M3 Summit (though I did not attend it, I just noted that it was happening) and wanted to get my take on the upcoming conference, and they were specific that they wanted my honest take on this conference. They are willing to pay for my conference pass and my airfare, but I’d have to pay for my hotel and food, incidentals. This is a conference that is pretty big in many niches, though not necessarily in the mommyblogging niche. I would not have gone to it on my own because the pass was prohibitively expensive, but having a free pass makes it more attractive.

The question is: should I go? Does this mess with my trust capital to do this? On the one hand, going and evaluating the conference for the readers of this blog fills a definite need, based on the searches and the emails I get. On the other, I’m effectively being compensated to do it, so it would be different from the usual conference evaluations I’ve done in the past. On the (third) hand, I would have to chip in some of my own money to do it, too, so it wouldn’t be a fully compensated thing, so maybe that would give people some more confidence in my ability to do a legitimate review?

Thoughts?

Comments (27)

  1. Sep 16, 2010

    See, this is an interesting one. My gut thoughts are:
    1. Your regular readers know you’re not going to give a positive review just because it’s been sponsored. You might be nicer about how you phrase disappointment, but you won’t be a cheerleader because they’re sponsoring you.
    2. I think people are ALWAYS looking for more information on these conferences. It’s just so hard to know if it’s worth it, both financially and timewise. So I think you might get more people who ignore the sponsored portion of this just because it’s actually information they need.
    3. This feels very different from other paid gigs for some reason. Because they’re asking you to review the conference (an experience) maybe? Because it’s only partially sponsored? Because it’s not big in the mommyblog world? Or not a massmarketed product? I don’t know exactly, but to me it doesn’t feel like some other sponsorships.

    I say go for it, if only because I’m really interested in what it is!

  2. Sep 16, 2010

    I say go for it. I think you’ve proven yourself to be honest thus far, and your readers shouldn’t have reason to believe a review of this conference would be any different, despite the fact you’re being partially compensated. When I read your post, and you say that they were adament that you be honest, I believe you’ll give your honest & fair opinion. That’s what you do. I’m not a regular-regular reader of yours, but I do think you have a solid reputation for being brutally honest (and I don’t mean that in a negative way), even though it may be unpopular. So yeah. Go.

  3. OMG Anna I don’t think there’s a soul who reads you regularly that honestly thinks you would post a glowing review of a conference / product / brand / etc. that was, in reality, uber-sucky just because you were compensated (partially or wholly). You are the epitomy of the ANTI-sellout blogger. Seriously.

    Also, you have a background in this area — it’s not like they’re sending you to a poodle breeding conference and want you to review it in exchange for comping you.

    Please go and let us know what you thought. And have a great time.

  4. Sep 16, 2010

    I love hearing about conferences, even ones I wouldn’t attend. I’m glad you’ll be compensated for the review.

  5. Elona
    Sep 16, 2010

    I know that blog readers might have somewhat different expectations than readers of traditional print media, but isn’t this what event reviewers do all the time? The publishing company gets complimentary passes to all sorts of events and then they send their writers out to write about it. You’ll notice when you read most reviews they lean toward the positive, but usually present whatever negatives exist in a way that tends not to be overly harsh. I realize that’s a generalization, and some reviews can be quite scathing, but this is just something I’ve noticed.

    With that in mind, I think that this sort of thing is great. What you get with a professional writer (professional bloggers included) is an expert opinion. The writer becomes an expert in their field by the experiences afforded them through that career. The average conference-goer is not an expert in conferences; it’s sort of like an Amazon review – you can’t exactly trust the individual reviews, you take them on the whole. Well, you look to expert reviews for a different type of perspective than the typical person can give. I think it’s understood that many of these opportunities are offered to the writer as part of their job.

    That’s my 100 cents.

  6. Sep 16, 2010

    At the small publications (daily small-town newspaper, weekly business newspaper, free alternative weekly and free monthly parenting magazine) where I’ve worked as a journalist, if reporters–or the company–had to pay for the tickets, books, etc., almost nothing would get reviewed. (I mention the types of publications because maybe things work differently at a large metro daily like the LA Times–I wouldn’t know.) Being comped tickets permits reporters to cover and/or review concerts, conferences, etc., all the time. And I’ve never seen a concert review published with a disclosure that the reporter didn’t pay for the tickets because a) it’s such a convention in journalism and b) because it’s not considered relevant. A reporter or critic working at a reputable publication is assumed to be unbiased and ethical unless proven otherwise. (Reporters who behave unethically, repeatedly, usually end up losing their positions.)

    So I say that under the circumstances you’re being given an opportunity to cover a conference that you wouldn’t go to at all without receiving (some) expenses. Your readers can and will judge whether you feel beholden to those who are paying (part of) your way. But if you go, your accepting the cost of the conference wouldn’t be any different from what perhaps other bloggers and maybe some reporters are also doing to be there.

  7. Sep 16, 2010

    Yes, what Elona said, also. So, yes, if you can afford to cover the other expenses yourself, and the “opportunity cost” you’ve written about, of being away from your blog, you should go.

  8. Sep 16, 2010

    Yes, I think the difference has to do with what people are saying about an “expert” review versus the usual mommyblogger review that gets bad press (e.g. of dishwashing liquid, or whatever). This is actually something I have a relevant, specialized opinion to give on, so yes, probably best that I let people know that they gave me a free pass and airfare, but still not a reason not to do it.

  9. Sep 16, 2010

    Thanks, Tracy. It’s pretty true that I wouldn’t care about writing a bad review if I thought it deserved one.

  10. Sep 16, 2010

    This is true, but I think I just have been thinking so much lately about just the effect of having to say “this was compensated” or whatever in your post that it’s making me paranoid. I really hate the whole disclosure concept, I really do. I think it’s really a horrible thing, not because I want to try to rip people off or anything, just because I think it sets up this distrustful feeling between the reader and the writer that should never enter into anything.

  11. Sep 16, 2010

    Thanks, Susan.

  12. Sep 16, 2010

    You’re absolutely right, but I’ve become so accustomed to the concept of reviews in this particular space that I didn’t think of it that way at first. I was thinking of the typical mommyblogger review, where they talk about something like dishwashing liquid or whatever, that doesn’t need to be reviewed at all. And I was thinking that would turn people off.

    But you’re right, this is more comparable to a movie critic or something like that.

  13. Sep 16, 2010

    This is a great point. It’s still a consideration. It’s a much cheaper prospect for me to go, but not free. I’ll have some time away from my blog and my family, but on the other hand there’s some opportunity for me as well that I wouldn’t get otherwise. It’s probably a good idea for me to go, when you look at opportunity cost versus reward. But it’s not a totally clear-cut decision.

  14. I get exactly what you’re saying and I totally agree.

    A disclosure statement is just putting into words what I had already been assuming all along. No one has any more nor any less of my trust because they went to the trouble of appending a disclosure statement to a blog post. Trust is earned based on a history of displayed honesty and integrity.

    I’m leaving tomorrow for a sponsored trip with 9 other area bloggers and their spouses and children. We were all afforded some pretty generous comps for the trip. What did the sponsors ask for in return? Absolutely nothing. Oh, wait, they did ask we that use a special hashtag IF we tweeted about the trip.

    Will I write a post about my experience? For sure. Will I mention in my disclosure that these companies provided their products and services with no requirement for, nor guarantee of, some kind of reciprocation? Count on it. My hope is that I have already built the kind of trust capital that says my integrity cannot be bought (or comped away).

  15. Sep 16, 2010

    Exactly. When you’re reviewing something that you’re well-qualified to review, that needs reviewing…no problem. It’s like CNET–they get those gadgets for free, but it’s not a problem, because they’re gadget experts, and they review them. It’s a totally different thing that what we’ve been talking about.

    Even in the persnickety genealogy world nobody squawks when someone gets, say, free genealogy software…because only a genealogist would be qualified to evaluate that software. In fact, it’s a pain for the blogger, because the dollar value of the software doesn’t even begin to match the number of hours you need invest to evaluate it. You’re really doing the software vendor a favor, even if you get it for free. This is the same thing, I think.

  16. Sep 16, 2010

    You should absolutely go. This is a seamless fit for what you do and would provide some valuable content for your readers.

  17. Sep 17, 2010

    I look at reviewing as being different from product placement. Reviewers receive free stuff all the time, and it’s not just in return for a positive review. Movie screenings, books, gadgets, all that stuff. It’s a lot different than a blogger who randomly starts talking about how she couldn’t live without a particular brand of dish soap.

    Only thing I care about, as a reader, is it being a well-written, honest review (which I know you will do). I get irritated when I read posts that amount to “Ford flew me out to LA for a Mustang test drive event. The car is really fun and I would buy one if I had the money.” If it has details, pro and con, I couldn’t care less how you got there.

  18. Sep 17, 2010

    GOoooooooooo.

  19. Cheryl
    Sep 17, 2010

    I think it “feels” different because everyone’s conference experience is different. There are things you could write that would be “bad” about the conference in your opinion that would make it inviting to others. Some oversimplified examples: the session content sucked, in part because everyone was chatting in the halls instead of attending sessions. If you went for the sessions, that’s be a bad review; if you think networking is the main reason to invest in a conference it’s a plus. If there are lots of concurrent sessions, some people think that increases the chance that one will be relevant; others regret that they have to make a choice between two or three things that sound interesting at the same time.

    People want dishwashing soap to clean dishes and diapers to hold pee; they want varying things out of conferences. If you wrote out-and-out “bad” things like that the food sucked or the hotel staff was rude, you are not the only attendee they will hear that from.

    So though I am highly unlikely to attend the conference, I say do it.

  20. Tyler
    Sep 17, 2010

    I would say that it is OK since they are not actually paying you to do this. The only thing the conference people are doing is allowing you to attend for little cost to you. If you hated the conference, there would be no reason to give a positive review since you would not want to return.

  21. Sep 17, 2010

    Agreed. Go. This feels very different and I think the movie/concert examples are an excellent example of why. This isn’t an extra that you are tacking on because it’s paid for. This is what you do, or at least part of what you do, and it may pave the way into a new direction.

    Does anyone remember the Pampers trip of a year or so ago, where many parent bloggers, some of whom no longer had children in diapers, were flown to the factory, given tours, and participated in a focus group? And all came back singing the praises of Pampers in such a weird way that it seemed they had all joined a diaper cult? All because they’d gotten a free trip?

    Yeah. This is not that.

  22. Sep 17, 2010

    OK, everybody, I’m going, I’m going! For everyone who is dying to know what it is, it’s Blog World Expo, which is next month in Las Vegas. The passes usually cost $1200, which is why I would not have gone otherwise. You can check out the website below, and maybe vote on what sessions I should attend?

    http://2010.blogworldexpo.com/

  23. Sep 17, 2010

    Why not take the deal to go, give them a private, professional, unbiased report on the conference based on your experience in your niche but stop short of issuing a “it was worth it/wasn’t worth it” opinion on the main ABDPBT site if you choose to discuss it here? That basically turns you into a specialised business consultant and doesn’t really do much to impact your trust capital with your readers on your main “writing” page-basically this is another type of service you’re selling that has nothing to do with the marketing elements on your blog.

    I’m sure they have plenty of people running spreadsheet analyses, but a really well-written “qualitative” report from the educated user perspective might really be what they’re looking for (rather than having you market their conference for them).

    As you get more of these gigs, you might even consider charging a fee to do these types of reports.

    Or is that not what they’re looking for from you?

  24. Sep 17, 2010

    Actually, he wasn’t specific on whether he wanted my opinion just in the abstract or whether he wanted it published on my blog, I will have to ask about that. I am guessing that this has something to do with the fact that I deal with the mommyblogging niche, though, because Blog World Expo is a big conference but it is underrepresented in the mommyblogging arena. I’m guessing he wants to know how to get more mommybloggers there and/or wants to promote it with that group because there are, of course, a ton of sponsors who want in on the mommies. So I can ask him about that angle.

    That’s a good idea re giving them a user experience perspective. I do think there’s a value to giving a review to the readers as well, juxtaposed with other conferences I’ve gone to and paid for myself. It will have to carry with it the disclosure that I got the pass for free, of course, but I’m not sure I would be giving a “thumbs up/thumbs down” rating or anything anyway. So, I’ll just have to think about it.

  25. Sep 18, 2010

    good. glad you’re going. i’ve never attended a conference before, but i may have if i had read a blog (or knew of a blog) that did conference review posts.

    good on ya.

  26. Before I started reading the comments I was thinking, “I bet it’s BlogWorld.” Congrats and I’m glad you’re going. I’ve been wondering about this conference. Ironically, i was just talking to someone tonight about it from the perspective that I’d like to see how it differs from BlogHer, Blissdom, etc. in terms of the mommy and parenting blogosphere. Here’s what I’d like to know:

    Would I get anything out of it? Would I feel it’s a more professional conference? How would the sponsors interact with the attendees? What’s it like to attend a conference that’s not almost 100% women? Is it easy to network at an event so large? With only one ‘mommy blogger’ session, would other attendees take me seriously?

    Very glad you’re going and looking forward to your report.

  27. Sep 22, 2010

    These are great questions. I will definitely keep them in mind as I attend the conference and include the answers in my report. Thanks, Melanie!

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