The conversation about conflict of interest for bloggers (and other social media types) never really dies down, and flares up constantly in ways large and small.
Sometimes it’s something as major as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission going after blogger freebies. Sometimes it’s just a drive-by accusation that a blog post is “link bait”, and not a useful or genuine contribution to the conversation.
The common thread is this: What responsibility we have to our audiences, when are our own interests in conflict with theirs, and what do we do when that happens?
Transparency is one answer. Disclose your interest, and all – hopefully – will be forgiven. (Jeannine Schafer drew some great disclosure notifications on LouisGray.com.)
And a little reader due-diligence doesn’t hurt, either. Knowing that a blogger is a political activist, or a real estate agent, or a (ahem) social media strategist means you can assess what you’re reading with some knowledge of their agenda. (Even the most well-intentioned among us writes with part of our mind attuned to the potential impact on things we value – whether it’s a social cause, our social standing, or a business bottom line.)
Still, I like to suspend my skepticism once in a while. Because one of the things that makes social media so valuable is the chance to connect with genuine human beings, expressing themselves in ways that aren’t the result of careful calculations of strategic interests, sales trajectories, keyword analysis or free samples of probiotic yogurt drinks.
And digging for that conflict of interest, while it may protect me from being taken for a ride, also means approaching social interactions with a degree of suspicion… which is a shaky start to a new relationship.
Yes, maybe a blogger’s angling for trinkets or traffic. But maybe they’re expressing a deeply-held passion. And maybe it’s a little of both. Somewhere, there has to be a balance between the benefit of the doubt and a healthy skepticism.