Sponsored conversations on Radio 4

I was invited to contribute to a feature on Radio 4's Click On show about Sponsored Conversations (aka paid blogging). It can be heard here for the next six days at the time of writing (about 10 mins 20 seconds in).

The conversation was interesting as far as it went but, let's be honest, the detailed mechanics of paid-for blogging aren't a specific area of expertise for me. There were other questions on the topic guide that we discussed before the recording that I wish I had been asked. Particularly the issue of why paid-for blogging is so emotive and controversial. This is something that is close to my heart because it relates to some of the reasons why I find working in digital so rewarding.

So, Phil, why do you think this area of sponsored conversation is so controversial?

Two reasons. One broadly relating to the general idea of what the internet is for. The second relating more specifically to the "fragile ecology" of social media.

A cynical view of advertisers (and the majority of people that advise them) is that they cynically view any medium or communication channel as having been created with the sole purpose of delivering an audience that can be bought. That simply isn't true of the internet. It's a fabulous interactive communal resource that allows human beings to achieve a variety of goals - few of which have anything to do with the world of marketing.

I've met a lot of people in digital agencies who, having been involved with the internet since its inception, are very much in the "helping people to achieve their goals" camp rather than the "marketing" camp. It is entirely unsurprising therefore that the idea of advertisers buying a blogger's audience raises the hackles for a large proportion of the digital community.

Looking more specifically at social media, perhaps the biggest implication of the growth of dialogue and peer to peer communication has been the devolution of influence away from the organisation to the individual. And, what's more, this devolution has not led to anarchy. In fact quite the opposite. These networks and communities are driven by a generosity of spirit, and are self-regulated by good manners. Social media exponents can be rightly proud of what has been achieved.

Again, in this context, it is only natural that some (many) should resist the notion of the advertisers wading back in to "pure" spaces where their influence has thus far been diminished.

The worry, clearly, is that advertisers will view social media in much the same way that palm oil producers view the rainforest; a resource to be harvested with not much concern for the sustainability of the whole operation.


At Blonde we talk a lot about "elegant reconciliation". How can we elegantly reconcile the goals of human beings with the objectives of our clients. By and large this entails a new definition of what "advertising" means in digital spaces to avoid some of the pifalls described above. Thanks to crustmania from whom I "borrowed" the image. They kindly made it available under the terms of a creative commons licence.