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October 24, 2011

  As of late I'm hearing in Hispanic communications circles much ado about whether or not marketers should pay Latino bloggers for posting brand-related content, product reviews, etc. While this topic has been fully addressed in mainstream circles, the issues take on greater complexities in the Latino blogosphere. For the benefit of those of you who are more on the advertising side, I'll provide an overview of the general debate around guaranteed content vs. earned content and how it plays out in the new social media context, and then I'll share my views of how these issues take on a complex twist in the growing Latino social media sphere. Traditional advertising and marketing strategies 'guarantee' their creative messages reach intended audiences by outwardly paying for its placement.  Traditional PR outreach can only 'guarantee' that brand messages are presented to journalists and media outlets so they may be interested in pursuing a full editorial story on the subject, product or initiative. If the PR efforts succeed in generating third-party media coverage, this coverage is considered “earned media.” Now comes social media, in particular the blog space, which is propelling a convergence of these strategies and creating an “arroz con mango” (mango rice!) for brands and their agencies as they strive to define what is guaranteed or earned independent editorial at all? The blogger as an “influencer” is rising to consumer relevance, and therefore marketing relevance. When defining a blogger in its simplest terms, it refers to someone who creates and invests in their OWN website. The blogger engages an audience who is either intrigued enough with the content, or just plain attracted by the author and her/his opinions and posts. Marketers and communicators have realized that blogs present an opportunity to match that blogger, or author, and their 'influential voice' with products, services or initiatives that they can discuss or present to their audience. So why not pitch these bloggers to cover a story without payment? You can and bloggers may choose to write a post for their readers because the subject resonated with them. But given that the blogger has funded the creation of their blog and built up their audience independently, then being paid to represent a particular brand or initiative seems fair. These are not major independent media outlets. Blogs are self-funded websites with an editorial slant toward what the author presents to its readers. As I said, the subject has been openly discussed in general market circles. In a recent post - Five Reasons Why Bloggers Should Get Paid - Clever Girls Collective co-founder, Stefania Pomponi Butler (@CityMama) describes the evolution of blogs, bloggers and now the current payment options for brands and agencies to engage bloggers and their audiences. The general sentiment among bloggers is that their influence, blog space, readers and time creating posts, updates and engagement with their followers, and by extension engagement with a brand  presented to their readers- has value. Bloggers question why they should be required to develop promotional content for a brand for free? Why guarantee potential product/service sales for a brand and not be compensated in some fashion? It is important to distinguish between independent product reviews (unpaid editorial) vs. direct campaigns- i.e. a brand ambassador. Don't marketers pay a spokesperson fees for representing a brand? Then, why not carefully selected bloggers? The added layer of complexity I see is that Hispanic publishers and media outlets have historically received a disproportionately smaller share of marketing dollars. Will this inequality continue into the Latino social media realm? If we, a collective group of Hispanic marketing professionals (be it PR, advertising, branding, etc.) don't see the value in supporting the development of the Latino blogosphere gaining value- then who will? Our community drove the trend for support of dedicated Hispanic marketing, communications budgets and agencies via professional organizations like the HPRA, AHHA and others since way before I entered the space in the mid 90s. Here we have a similar opportunity to help one of our professional communities grow and prosper. Perhaps a key factor that influences my perspective is that I see most bloggers as aspiring entrepreneurs. Bloggers have invested much time in the development of their brand, website, audience, and influence. Unless the blog is just a fun hobby (in which case this discussion doesn't apply anyway), they deserve fair compensation. However, strict guidelines for full disclosure must be adhered to. The most crucial and simplest way around the issue of payment is ETHICS. If a blogger is working with a brand they must disclose they are doing so. The FTC Guidelines Governing Endorsements, Testimonials  should be applied to bloggers precisely as they are for the PR, advertising and marketing industries. The Latino blogging community is gaining strength. Judging solely by the growing number of dedicated Latina/o bloggers, blogger networks, as well as non-profit groups like LATISM (Latinos in Social Media), I know the 'value' can only increase. “Pagar o no pagar?” I say… let's pay. Saludos, Cristy Cristy Clavijo-Kish is CEO & Partner of Hispanicize - a leading platform for Latino social media trends and content, as well as digital engagement services. For full disclosure, Latina Mom Bloggers is a division of Hispanicize which focuses on creative paid blogger campaigns. Cristy is a content contributor for several online platforms regarding Hispanic and multicultural marketing, communications and social media trends and issues. She has spent more than 15 years in the PR, marketing and media industries. Cristy is invited to speak at conferences nationwide and this October was featured at the Public Relations Society of America International Conference in Orlando to discuss Latino social media trends. She is a founding partner of Hispanic PR Wire, LatinClips and Hispanic Digital Network- media properties that were acquired by PR Newswire in 2008. You can follow Cristy on Twitter via @latinomarketing and contributing on @hispanicize, #hispz, #latinamoms #belatino and the Being Latino Online Magazine.

Comments

Hi Adam - thanks for an insightful set of questions and comments. I wanted to share my perspective on the issue. As PR practitioners, we are all learning how to navigate this subject, and there is something that just doesn't feel right about paying bloggers for editorial content. Bloggers can be creative and come up with marketing strategies, partnerships and advertising programs (like traditional media outlets do) without compromising their content or credibility in favor of money. Credible bloggers who build their brand and their following will surely have opportunities to become ambassadors or brand spokespeople for companies, and we support this approach, especially when it is clearly stated upfront so consumers are not misled. But fundamentally, our task as PR practitioners is to build relationships with bloggers and disseminate our client's information to them with the hopes that they will share it with their followers and create conversation about our various initiatives. When pitching we do not ask bloggers to develop promotional content - we ask them to consider the information and share it with their readers/followers if they feel it's worthy - this is the same approach we use with print and broadcast media. Granted there are special occasions when our clients will develop funded, promotional programs or sponsorships with bloggers, but that is the exception, not the norm. Our mission is to support bloggers and help them create honest and real conversations that are engaging, passionate and that are not based on dollars, but on interest, passion and creativity on the subject. We believe that the purpose and creation of a blog is for a blogger to connect with their followers, share their passion about a subject and post information that they believe in or have an opinion about - including products or brands they admire (or don't admire). It's also about the issues; with so many important issues in the Latino community, there is a great opportunity to use their influence for positive change. We have had wonderful experiences with bloggers that have raved about our events, products and programs. We have engaged in numerous twitter parties; some bloggers have reviewed our client's products, others haven't. We have developed great relationships with bloggers who have entrusted us for content without any compensation. Latino consumers - like all consumers - turn to blogs for information, advice and ideas. Is it fair to deliver information that is generated through a business arrangement and not a true recommendation or review? As a colleague of mine pointed out, much of the debate lies on the integrity of the blogger/s when money is at the center of every blogger engagement. We all want to support the growth of bloggers, there is no question about it and at the end of the day good content that is genuine, organic and authentic is what will set the good bloggers apart versus everyone else. Gracias.

Hi Adam- I'm glad you chimed in as you have quite the 'influential' voice in this space - however that gets defined as per your near final paragraph! It's all going to come down to the initiative and the brand request of the blogger. This is a strong discussion with many points of view and many angles to the story. There are initiatives such as this one that require no payment because of their very nature: http://latinamombloggers.com/blog-carnival-for-spina-bifida-—-raise-funds-awareness-for-the-cause/. But there are others where it's a more 'representative' relationship and that's where the WOMMA (Word of Mouth Association) guidelines really come into play. It's not a "pay for play" when the post is clearly being labeled as supported by a brand. Influence is being measured by site traffic in many forms, but also by the engagement that a blogger's voice can lend to the program. Let's schedule a Webinar to discuss.

The importance of the Hispanic blogger is certainly established, but I'm looking forward to comments from the industry on why paying Hispanic bloggers ... or not ... is something marketers should consider. OK, in the total-market universe there are bloggers that get paid. Therefore, a Hispanic blogger deserves the same level of respect, right? I'm not so sure any blogger should get paid to write fairly and independently about a product or service. Let's say I am a Latino male who starts a blog about running. I then build a local, then regional, and then national following and become "influential." The company Brooks then reaches out to me and pitches a great new line of runners' apparel. They either pay me or send me product, and then I write about it. Is this ethical? I bet it happens all the time, except perhaps at a major newspaper. But am I a columnist? A reviewer for a magazine? Or am I a *blogger*? This "pay for play" tells me that a blogger is not a columnist or a journalist, but another advertising-based digital solution for reaching a brand. Is this good? Does this harm the integrity of the blogger? Does the paycheck cloud my judgment of Brooks? Will I write fairly about their footwear or their apparel, or simply give it a gushing review because they "took care of me"? Bloggers are important. They have the power to drive interest in product or good among a highly driven group of consumers that can further spread the word about a brand. If the total-market blogger is getting paid, then there's no issue -- Hispanic bloggers should be paid. In fact, they should be paid MORE because of the "influence" factor and passionate loyalty seen among Hispanic consumers, right? But why pay a blogger, simply because they are "influencers" - the buzz word of the early 2010s. What exactly is "influential"? What is the critical mass a blogger must achieve to become "influential." Is this 250 people visiting a blog in a month? A week? There, of course, are meaningful answers that can prove bloggers matter. These answers should easily answer my questions and those of marketers that want to achieve greater ROI among Hispanic consumers. Just be ready to answer them in the best, most succinct way.

Great blog...a topic that definitely needs discussion. I think all the points above are good. But I think that the reason bloggers are asking to be paid is simple...it's how they get the bulk of their revenue. The business model of a blogger is pretty simple. There is little, if any, ad revenue (though some certainly do have some ad revenue... most don't). So if they are going to develop a blog where they generate a following, it's going to take an investment of their time, no? Many bloggers out there are trying to turn this into a business, even if part-time. So I ask, where would the revenue come from if not from getting paid? It's not like they have a sales team out selling ad space like traditional media. As long as the blogger discloses if they are getting paid and by whom, I don't see an issue. I agree with Roxana that one of reasons a blogger creates the blog is to deliver a different perspective and to connect with their followers...many of these bloggers have great passion about what the cover in their blog... brand, issues, community, etc. At the same time, these bloggers have expenses (like any business / media outlet). They have to generate revenue to cover their expenses. And realistically, they might actually want to make some money! That said, I don’t think bloggers should get paid for every story/project. There are stories bloggers should cover because it speaks to their purpose and mission and/or it speaks to the direct interests of their following. There has to be a balance. At the same time, I think those of us in PR need to respect that balance. There will be stories a blogger covers without expecting to get paid…and there will be others for which they will. And we all know which stories fall into each category. The blogger industry is young and still trying to find its way...both in the mainstream and Hispanic markets. From my point of view, whether or not you decide to pay a blogger will depend on what the blog can deliver. Part of our job is to understand this industry and educate our clients. Like all media relationships, there needs to be understanding between both parties. We need to understand how each outlet works (traditional or new) so that we know how to work with them. And while we don’t like to admit it or talk about it, there are traditional media outlets n the Hispanic space that make it clear that their editorial coverage is related to a company’s ad buy with that outlet. Many of us thought that went away, but the slowed economy brought it back. And there are companies that think it is worth the ad buy to get the editorial coverage and others that don’t and decide to forego the editorial coverage. I see a parallel here.

Given that AHAA's main objective is to further the success of best marketing practices, we agree with Cristy's assessment that Hispanic bloggers are valued assets in the marketing mix, and paying for guaranteed branded placement is a valid strategy. Organic earned brand placements are important - such as when a blogger legitimately loves a brand or offering and chooses to blog about it from a personal perspective - but paid blog posts are just as critical, particularly as online promotions are becoming more sophisticated, requiring time investment and due diligence on the part of the blogger. As long as transparency and full disclosure remains paramount, it is our duty as Hispanic marketers to ensure the success and proliferation of the Latino blogosphere because it is a force to be reckoned with, and corporate America is taking notice. After all, when one Hispanic marketing vehicle is successful, it is a win for the entire industry.

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