More and more bloggers seem to be trying to figure out a way to get paid for reviews that are being facilitated by PR agencies and departments.  While she's not specifically advocating getting paid for reviews, here's a recent post from popular Canadian blogger, Kim Vallee that inspired me to explore the topic of compensating bloggers:


I think that bloggers who write about products, stores and restaurants should take notes. With all the brands pitching us stuff that suit their agenda, it comes a time when we have to say “this is enough”. Otherwise, how we can expect to make a living from blogging. I think beyond the banner ads as a monetizing technique.

 

Take for example, the sales alerts and store events. I receive many emails every week from retailers about these topic alone. But announcing a sale or another promotional event is a form of advertisement that the retailer should pay for. Why not have a classified section or published a (clearly marked) sponsored post once a week announcing the sales?


And another from Michelle at EverythingMom (Update 05/17: EverythingMom has changed its approach based on a variety of discussions, including those in the comments below):

I read the debates around the blogosphere about paid reviews. Some said paid reviews compromised integrity and others said they did not want to read paid reviews because they did not believe them. Some bloggers have stopped doing reviews all together because it is too much work.

 

The general consensus, it seems, is that paid reviews are a big no-no. Yet here we are, going completely against the grain. Sure there are sites out there that offer paid reviews. But generally, when moms jump into the conversation, they say with gumption - no. No paid reviews for me.

I took each position in, weighing it’s merits, seeing how EverythingMom might fit in to this arena. We were already playing in it full out with our very own Reviews section. And we stood by the same position — no paid reviews. To this day, Carrie Anne has not been compensated (outside of product) for reviews. But I am out to change that.


Erica Ehm of YummyMummyClub left this comment to Michelle's post:


I am in total agreement with you. “Mom Reviews” are a huge part of spreading the brand though word of mouth. Brands need to pay writers for their time. These “mom bloggers” are usually highly educated, thoughtful women with earned influence and a way with words. They absolutely should be paid for that expertise. The only caveat is that is should be transparent - ie posted somewhere that writer was compensated.

 

On my site, like on this one, we work with amazing women. I want them to enjoy some financial benefit for their hard work.

Kudos to you Michelle for putting so much thought into this. I’m right beside you on this!


They are all in agreement that as bloggers get popular and build a following through their hard work and passion, they tend to find themselves in demand by PR folk trying to get them to review products, attend events and share their experiences with their readers. That's not a shocker to anyone in the business.

 

The general drift: since a PR firm is getting paid to make the pitch (in many instances), that perhaps some of that money should flow to the blogger for their time and effort.

Pay-for-post has been discussed in PR circles a lot. I've seen formal pay-for-post programs run by service providers like Izea and I've seen ad-hoc pay for play by PR agencies. It's not entirely black and white, but at its best it feels a little like buying someone's influence and at its worst it feels like a shakedown.

I don't think Kim or Michelle or Erica are wrong in asking these questions and pondering how to get a slice of the marketing pie. It's a worthwhile discussion to have in the social media community that is creating new standards and best practices on the fly. We have to keep in mind that this isn't journalism, advertising, or PR. It's everything mixed into a new media stew and we're still figuring out what tastes right.

It probably won't shock you when I tell you what feels right to me differs from Kim, Michelle and Erica. Now, I don't begrudge anyone wanting to get paid, but my credibility compass swings towards not ever paying bloggers to post something on a client's behalf. Even with full disclosure, it feels like it would land on readers as a paid post, sullied by the exchange of money and neither credible or trustworthy. It seems like an advertorial and a shortcut to coverage over the longer term of building editorial relationships with online publishers that are mutually beneficial.

You can argue that product demos, products to keep, products to giveaway to readers are the same as cash. You'd be right, but I don't think it lands on readers the same way. We've given hundreds of dollars worth of products to bloggers, but we've never given cash. We have worked on a few projects with MomCentral, who reward their community of bloggers with nominal non-cash incentives ie gift cards and gift packs, that are disclosed. I'm still struggling with whether that constitutes pay-per-post or if it's yet another ingredient in the social media stew.

Over the years several community papers and radio stations pulled the same sort of stuff: "we'll write/talk about your client if you buy an ad." That crosses a journalistic line in my books and I suppose I hold bloggers to the same sort of credibility standard as I do journalists: you either have a desire to inform your readers, or you have a desire to inform readers about things you get paid to write about.

These fine women aren't the first or last bloggers to bring this topic up. But I do wonder if it is the start of a change in mindset on a broader scale. One thing is certain: both PR people and bloggers need to start understanding how each other fits into the social media universe. We really are on the same side.

UPDATE: Eden Spodek, a blogger at Bargainista long before she became a social media consultant at High Road, has written a post from her unique perspective: http://bit.ly/cuiZST