I wrote a fun post entitled "Consider the Source" before. But this time I want to talk about a more serious topic, which is becoming more important in the blogging world. I probably should have entitled this piece "Consider the Motive" and it would have worked, but I like to go with my first instinct for a title.
Every now and again, I am approached by someone who wants to talk about a "great new product" or a "great new service" Usually, when I pull back the covers and investigate a little (because I investigate everything), it will turn out to be a false person endorsing Syrotab or some other scam.
Even if it is a legitimate product or service; e-mail or posts of this nature, -which are essentially solicitations- leave me feeling a bit skeevy. I always wonder at the people who will try to drum up free advertising for their product over the blogosphere. Especially if they are mining the Autism or disability community to do it.
I got an e-mail yesterday today from someone; -we'll call her "Tiffany"- who "thought this new Autism website would be of interest to you and your readers" and then included a very professional press release about it.
A press release. Noooo thankyouverymuch. OSM does not advertise. So I ignored the e-mail.
Tiffany does not like to be ignored, apparently.
This morning, I get a e-mail from her asking me if I was going to write a post about the "great new website". I told her OSM does not advertise. I thought that was the end of it. But nooo. Tiffany is tenacious "We are not hoping for an advertisement. I just know that you blog about Autism, and this new service may be of interest to your readers".
Um. OK. What is that, then if it is not an advertisement? Apart from the 'getting paid' part, of course? Oh wait... It's an endorsement (but still without the 'getting paid' piece). Silly me! It could also be called a mention, a plug or just plain old PR. It is basically a way to get the fledgling (wannabe) brandname out there to a targeted audience.
Well, as Tiffany the Tenacious wasn't leaving me alone; I got curious. Usually when I say no, people go away. But she kept coming back. I decided to check out the "great new Autism Website", thinking that maybe they were an new, eager non-profit agency running on a tight budget and that Tiffany was perhaps a zealous volunteer or an intern. The site is slick and professional. No telltale 501(c)(3) notice anywhere. They are a for-profit organization. And they want your credit card information. The "great new service" that Tiffany was so gung-ho about is not provided for free, or even on a sliding scale for the needy. It will cost the average Joe (SickMother) $100 per month. And yet here they are: contacting this Sick Mother in the hope that she will give them free advertising, or maybe spend $100 per month of her disability check on their (untested, unstudied, unproven) "great new service".
And Tiffany is not a volunteer. She works for a New York City Public Relations agency.
Let me spell it out: This for-profit "Autism" agency is paying a New York PR agency to drum up free endorsements from Autism bloggers. And that is not the end of it. The data of which bloggers take the bait, and how they 'perform' will be then saved, analyzed, measured and matrixed; and maybe the list of 'high-performing' blogs/bloggers will be re-used and/or sold to other for-profit firms, who wish to break into the Autism vertical. Because let's face it guys: As I myself have pointed out, Autism is a growing market.
I know I am cynical, but this is how it works, people.
I don't know how many other bloggers have been contact by "Tiffany" and her ilk, but I am sending a warning out there to anyone who has been contacted about a "great new Autism website" to consider the source. And the motive. You may choose to give them a plug if you think the product looks good, (and I don't blame anyone who does), but I personally have a hard time with PR people being paid to trawl the Internet, looking for bloggers to exploit.
For all bloggers: Here is a one-minute guide on how to spot a professional who may be looking to exploit you:
- Including a press release is a dead giveaway
- So is follow-up: "I was just wondering if..." or my favorite: "I just wanted to touch base..."
- If the company/site that they are trying to sell is an US company, check their site to see if it says anywhere that is is a 501(c)(3) corporation, which signifies a not-for-profit. Most NFP corporations state so clearly.
- Check the domain name on the e-mail address of the sender (the part after the @). Go to whateveritis.com and research *that* company. You will know pretty quickly if that company is a marketing or PR agency. If it is, ...well, proceed at your own discretion (but don't say I didn't warn you!).
So there you are, Tiffany. You got me to write a post in the end. It may not be exactly what you wanted, but all advertising is good advertising, right?
Or maybe; -as King Midas found out, you should be careful what you wish for.
Oh! and put me on your "do not call" list.