Monetize Influence and Lessen It

There is a movement about how to monetize individual blogger and online personality influence. Influencers considering monetization of their online trust should also weigh how such strategies can lessen trust within a community, and hurt search rank.

This old debate goes back to paid blogging and affiliate marketing. As in those past cases, every influencer today needs to weigh how monetization efforts tax their good will.

Influence online is often a result of becoming an integral part of a community and providing good information. When you add affiliate links, sponsorship, consultancies, clients, advertisements, products and other forms of monetization to the mix, a transition occurs. In the paid, earned, and owned model of media, you are moving from earned (natural word of mouth) to owned or paid media. Both of those types of media are less trustworthy to communities.

Part of building trust is putting your customer ahead of profits and operating honestly. It’s no coincidence that one of the biggest causes of trust deterioration in the financial sector is conflict of interest and scandals.

Performance-Clusters

No one wants to begrudge monetization. Creating and building a significant online presence takes a strong and sustained consistent effort over months and years. Peer trust requires consistency. Why shouldn’t one benefit from it?

Certainly, done in a strategic way, such as books on a topical area, paid speaking gigs and the like, business strategies can actually enhance a strategy. But others add a factor of distrust.

When I read a consultant’s blog about xxx professional service area that the author is promoting a business. And I take that into context. So do most readers.

People take these motives into consideration when they read my blog posts and books on marketing. I’ve been told so by more discerning customers.

That’s why I am very careful about how many asks I make of readers, the content I share, the lack of paid advertisements here, etc. For example, I almost never take pitched blog ideas, and don’t offer affiliate links. The trade off isn’t worth it, in my opinion, especially considering that I consult, sell books, and raise money for causes here.

The suggestion that one should monetize influence may not be constructed correctly. Rather, a personality should weigh whether that monetization strategy is worth the negative impact.

What do you think?

23 Replies to “Monetize Influence and Lessen It”

  1. I think the influence argument is not just about trust and credibility, although that certainly plays into it. I have found in my own little corner of the world that people who deign themselves influential also carry with them an air of entitlement. “I shared your post, therefore you should probably pay $300 for my webinar.”

    As far as bloggers in particular, I think (although I’ve been saying this for about a year now and it hasn’t happened yet) that eventually companies are going to increasingly ignore bloggers who blog about blogging. I think there’s a general understanding now that content should be good, you can or cannot respond to comments, etc etc. What’s in it for businesses, though? How can a plumber make use of a blog, really? How can a marketing firm help other companies reach *their* customers through blogs? These things are part of an evolution that I really feel must take place. Influence will be about who can help their clients or companies grow, beyond their own individual selves.

    1. I have to agree with you. The how to be social/a great blogger built has its place, but not as a consistent platform for the average marketing blogger. There’s little value in the 3000th me, too post.

      As to the sense of entitlement, often I feel like online bad attitudes are almost a function of an observation like this, “I was uncool in high school, but now that I am popular I am going to make you pay (monetarily and emotionally).” Some of it is business inexperience, but some of it goes beyond that.

      1. Rather than start my own thread, I’ll just piggyback this one. First, I’ll start with the easy one – yes, we’ve seen the air of entitlement amongst A-lister influencers as defined both by scoring algorithms and some of their own “earned” media.

        I do think that people will eventually get tired of reading bloggers who blog about blogging, but those are doing that right now may stand to benefit for 1-2 years as others join the party late. Kinda like the stock market. It’s the “last ones in” that may pay a premium to learn/get trained…only to find that the run-up is gone, and the market is dried up (or plummeting).

        I understand the argument that folks work to establish their influence and thought leadership, and they SHOULD be compensated somehow. However, the more that compensation changes hands, then the more compromised their judgment MUST become. They can’t bite the hand that feeds them.

        Perhaps consumers will have to pay attention to an influencer curve. Imagine…

        – Opinionated person
        – Articulate person providing occasional nuggets of good information
        – True thought leader
        – Influencer…BAM

        They focus on the 2nd and 3rd points where the individuals can influence decisions as peer consumers. Once the individual’s credibility is compromised by compensation received as an influencer…then find the next round of folks operating in those 2nd and 3rd points.

        1. Well said points here. I do think that the 2nd and 3rd tiers are harder to find these days thanks to the attention game.

  2. An interesting conundrum. I can see both sides of the coin here – the impetus to capitalize on brands who want you to promote their products (essentially another form of advertising, and one of the cheapest for them!) and the desire to remain pure and incorruptible. I alternate between, “I’m not selling out!” and “Dude, I gotta eat.”

    I think that believable influence comes from years of building trust and remaining true to your own core values. Even in a case where you’re promoting something (and being paid for it) people can have confidence in your decision to promote that product because of who you have been all along. So I do think that being honest AND taking a buck to pimp out your influence can go hand in hand :)

    Obviously there is a fine line you have to draw. You have to be believable and trustworthy FIRST. You have to have complete integrity – ie: no promoting bottled water if you’re a die-hard environmentalist. You have to be transparent about it. The last thing you want is someone “finding out” you got paid to tout something. And you have to provide value above all.

    For a lot of people who jump on the influencer bandwagon and start promoting products haphazardly to make money, I don’t think they have much credibility to begin with so aren’t gaining or losing anything.

    There’s also the danger of it becoming so widespread that blogs turn into nothing more the advertising arm of one brand or another and the community as a whole loses credibility. I hope that doesn’t happen but I suppose even if it does, the “real” influencers, the ones who have an actual community, will rise above.

    1. Well, you know something, I think you nailed it when you said, “You have to be believable and trustworthy FIRST.” If monetization kills that, then why bother?

  3. Influence is a subjective, unmeasurable construct. I have never bought into the social paradigm that creates influencers out of smoke and mirrors. Those types of influencers have not only become a dime a dozen but their value diminishes daily as others rise up to take their place. Real influence comes from years of effort, true, demonstrable results and reputation that is built over time and reinforced by various sources. At the end of the day, a shill is a shiill, no matter what you can them and who buys their book. Look at the social sphere; there are numerous examples that can easily be found. Real work, real trust, real results. That is sustainable. The rest? Poof!

    1. Longevity is a tell. Are they still in the same business they were before blogging and for extended periods of time after? This means a sustainable business with real work is in place. A good year on the Internet is nice. A good decade in business is tangible.

      I have always felt the most credible voices were the ones doing actual work. Great point.

  4. Great post Geoff, I’ve had a good few requests to do tool reviews on my site but I don’t really want to. It’s a trade off, a bit of money for the reviews rather a potential larger pot selling our own products. I’m also reluctant to have advertisements also! Ian

    1. Thanks, Ian. We all have to weigh impact, and it sounds like you are making your decision quite well!

  5. Excellent post, Geoff. I have been thinking about this subject too as I don’t receive compensation for my writing and I don’t really have a desire to trade my appearance of non-bias in exchange for a few dollars. Other bloggers have told me I should do affiliate marketing or place ads on my site, but to me the value is in building my reputation as someone who knows what I’m talking about with regard to tech.

    I get a lot of pitched ideas in my inbox daily and I do write about the ones that I think will most interest my readers. The ones that are the most interesting to me are the smartphone reviews and the tech where I can interview a top executive of the company about his or her products or services.

    I agree with Carol Lynn, a person has to eat, but if you have to live off of what you make blogging, chances are you’ll be pretty skinny. Lots of people seem to get into blogging for the money only to find that there isn’t “gold in them there hills”…

    1. I agree. The blog is a part of the credibility mix and not the hard engine of cash. To look at it as a transactional vehicle is a scary proposition, IMO. Some have done it, most have failed!

  6. I think we agree on the main point. Social Capital and Money are not the same thing..

    I think the survey and rhetoric from Edelman just paper over this with corpospeak. No matter how you talk about it, they aren’t the same and can’t be equated. You need social capital to get things done.

    I’ve grown to dislike terms like “monetize” or anything that purports to buy and sell influence, BUT I think it’s obvious that we all need to earn a living, like having money and consider it important in today’s society. There are many who work hard to pretend they don’t care, which is often a sign that they would sell out easily if you hit the right button :)

    I find it fascinating to watch how hard companies try to buy influence, not realizing the many ways that social capital can get more done and is worth more once if you don’t measure it in dollars.

    1. Yeah, I agree on the make a living thing. I mean, I monetize my stuff, too, so I’m not above, just transparent. We all have to eat.

      As to companies, they will always look for the fastest, cheapest way to do something, and care little about dynamics until they are forced to. This is the way of things!

      1. I’d like to have a banner n my profile pic that says “I’m I. This for a better life and happy to take your money” disclaimer

        Not at all practical and glad I don’t have to fit that in every tweet, but the sentiment is there :)

  7. I don’t quite see the math for monetization on anything except value. Exchanging money for value is fair. “Influence” in itself does not always lead to added value. When it does, there should be no integrity concerns. So I agree, weigh whether monetization has a negative impact on you, but also weigh whether monetization has a positive impact on your partners. If it’s not a win-win it won’t last and trust will be eroded.

    1. Yeah, I do think long-term business needs have to be though out. Well said. Without the foresight to sustain your business, there can be little to gain.

  8. This is an interesting conversation. Like some of the other posters I can see both sides, and I’m sure many people feel that once a person starts to monetize they are going to lose their integrity.

    For me, I don’t think that way. I can’t imagine a situation where I would endorse something I didn’t love. I can imagine accepting a huge check, if it were offered from GEICO, Amazon or Penske, because these are all brands I truly admire.

    Furthermore, if Marjorie, Gini, Danny, Erika, or any of the other bloggers I read frequently started shouting from the rooftops that Brand X was awesome, it wouldn’t diminish my opinions about their influence. I would simply believe them because they are more than just bloggers, they are social media friends.

    There is a line of credibility that when crossed, at least for me, is good enough that I’ll listen to any pitch that might be made. I may not buy, but I will listen.

    I’m sure there are just as many people, possibly more, who don’t believe there is a line of trust. They assume that EVERYONE who makes a pitch is doing so, dishonestly, greedily, and with an eye towards the dark side.

    So, it begs the question, does it matter if one loses their influence of those who only see corruption?

    I don’t know. I don’t have influence…but if I did…I use it to get folks to buy my books and to take 15 minutes to get a quote from GEICO and possibly save 15% on their auto insurance.

    1. See, that’s funny because I have the opposite reaction when I read some of the bloggers talk about brands. I become somewhat skeptical. It does go to show you that whenever you talk brand too much people do come to question you a bit, but brands without personalities or advocates really suffer. In the end, it’s the proverbial line of credibility you mentioned!

  9. an interesting debate. There is an inherent appeal of income from one’s efforts, and paying the bills … but the paradox you point out is absolutely accurate. So perhaps the challenge is figuring out which activities capture the value created by blogging and thought leadership, or lead to increasing that value without tarnishing trust.

  10. love this post, Geoff. I agree with you. On my homepage it says “you won’t ever find ads on my site. “ever” may be a strong word, but I believe so strongly in what I do – and ads don’t fit in with my vision. the long-term approach, and the trust that can only get built over time is what’s more important. thanks for encouraging this conversation!

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