My friend, Chris Brogan, has gotten some missiles lobbed his way because of a sponsored post he did recently over at his Dad-o-Matic blog regarding K-mart. Apparently, some people took offense at this, while others seemed to think it was fine (here, here, here, here, and here, to name a few)
Some people did not seem to think Chris was transparent enough, or that he was being purchased by Kmart, or somehow being less than honest, while some others felt this was a great word of mouth marketing campaign.
I have to say that personally, it put Kmart back on my radar screen as a destination to stop rather than always heading to the Walmart/Target alternatives, having given up on them some time ago, mostly because the stores in Delaware have been dim, kind of dirty and depressing, and haven’t had much beyond the dime-store quality merchandise I have come to expect from them. And by having a friend say that this place was surprisingly good and well stocked makes me reconsider Kmart as an option, rather than as a last resort shopping destination. I look at this as Chris doing the ground work for me, a field report, and it saves me time checking it out myself in advance.
I think this is exactly the sort of impact KMart and Izea were trying to create- a “Give KMart a Chance” rather than “Let me bribe some folks and hope for a positive result.” I also do have to chime in here and say that I think Chris did a great job at doing what they set out to do in a very transparent and full disclosure way- getting people to reconsider Kmart as an option for them. Chris used the money to buy some stuff for the family, and stuff for Toys for Tots, while other Bloggers were much more self-focused, and that’s okay as well- I have no problem with any of that. I think the only part that was vaguely disturbing was the wish-list aspect of what people would spend the $500 on in the comments, and how much of it seemed like a version of “And I want a fire engine, and a new pony and a …” just like any kid’s Santa wish list- not particularly about others, but much more self-centered, in a rather high-end way as well. Not a lot of requests for necessities, but for gadgets and bells and whistles- saying both that KMart has far more of that than I expect of them, and that in these times, we would spend a windfall on our wildest dreams, not on practicalities.
Some of the subsequent blog posts questioned Chris’s ethics and trust. I have a couple of problems with this, besides simply hating to see anyone attack a friend. Here they are:
1. It’s pretty easy to criticize, but it’s less easy to give someone a helping hand.
Everyone would like constructive critique- that’s how we get better- but very few people understand how to deliver it in such a way that it doesn’t harm you or your relationship with another person. “I don’t like that” or “He’s selling out” or “Maybe he just wanted the stuff” are toss away lines and don’t deliver any information back- they are content-free speech. Let’s put some analysis into your opinions- support them and stand behind them.
(Oh, and the super-secret tool to effectively critique anyone is to use the critique sandwich- tell someone a few things you like about what they are doing well, mention what you think isn’t going so hot, offer a few solutions you can even brain storm or discuss with the other person, and close on a positive note. People don’t deal with chili-peppers up their backsides very well, and if you couch it well, you get to maintain your pleasant relationship even if you said, at the heart of it, you suck. Moreover, when you are offering solutions as well as critique, you are directing the critique at the problem, not the person, meaning everyone feels like it’s a discussion, not a personal attack, so they can hear what you have to say without getting immediately defensive.)
2. In a competitive space, we all would like a piece of the action, or Avoid the Green-Eyed Monster.
Chris has worked incredibly hard over the past three years I have known him- so hard, that even when I do get a chance to see him, it’s like getting only a taste of a great dessert, and really wanting more- it tends to be brief and enjoyable, but never quite enough. I think it’s amazing to see how he’s grown and how many people listen when he speaks- and he does it in a way that makes the whole “social media meets business” world bigger for everyone who aspires to make a living at being a social media nerd.
That said, having the contacts and gigs Chris gets regularly aren’t the opportunities that come knocking daily on my door or of many of my friends in this space. But that’s not Chris’s fault, that’s mine, and yours and anyone else who hasn’t made a point of being in the right place at the right time, or connecting well to others, and allowing them to open previously welded-shut doors for us. You can’t hate on Chris until you hate on yourself and realize while you may feel you are as smart as Chris, but clearly, you have not been as strategic.
So this means I am incredibly proud of what Chris has accomplished. I do occasionally envy his opportunities or what he’s accomplished, but that’s just motivation to me to try harder and do more myself- it has nothing to do with Chris at all, really. I use him as an example of what can be done, and then I set my own goals and path, and work on executing every day. So I say to you- if you think someone else has an opportunity you’d like to have, figure out a pathway towards your goal and make it happen. You can ask others for advice, or even to open up doors for you, but understand that you will rise and fall on your own merits, and it takes a lot of practice and experience to get as good as Chris is, even on his off days.
3. If blogging and creating new channels of communication is going to be a business or job rather than a hobby, we need to support each other, not tear each other down. Bloggers get a bad reputation because people read the hate, the slamming of others, and rarely hear anything positive and constructive. Bloggers also seem to forget a) that there’s someone else on the receiving end of that rant ; b) many other people are listening as well, and you should always be able to stand behind whatever you say 100%; c) People and the internet have long memories, so if you ever want to do business with someone you are slamming, understand that they will probably have seen your stuff and will remember it, even if it’s only through a Google search to check you out before offering you a hand or to do business. Slamming people can be the equivalent of peeing in the pool- it makes all bloggers look like petulant children, and if you are going to hate on something, do it so it’s reasonable and constructive.
(For example, I recently slammed Norton for the anuual antivirus fee and the length of time it took to get the problem resolved. I do look at their protection as a bit like a yearly shake-down to keep my PC from exploding, but that’s only made worse when the purchase and installation process is equally painful and like having your kneecaps broken. I would not be surprised if Norton does not come to me looking for Social Media advice, and I am willing to take that risk. However, if they asked me how to make their service better, I would be more than happy to help, because if I feel this way, how many others feel similarly? In the end, it should all be about improving the product, business or service.)
I thought Bill Cammack had an interesting take on this, talking about how much money does it take for someone to borrow your own personal brand. I’ve wrestled with this this year with advertizement inserts on the LD Podcast in pre-roll. I made a respectable amount of money from the short term deal, and it was from Johnson and Johnson, throught the Mommycast & Friends channel, and it’s a brand I would stand behind because I have and continue to use their products. Likewise, my husband, an OB-GYN, has contacts at Johnson and Johnson for the samples they give away to new mothers at the hospital. We have spoken about the “baby soap guy” at home, and that they have data that their products are as safe, or safer than water in a baby’s eyes (not as drying), so I have no negative impressions of J & J from any possible source. I asked my community about the ad insert, and 95% of people said they didn’t care about the ad and it didn’t bother them. That was important to me, but it also raised the question of what would I promote and what wouldn’t I?
I think there are other brands of products I already use and love that I would be happy to shill for, because I love them anyway- Audible and Audible Kids for example- we are huge fans and have been using the service for almost 5 years now. I would talk about Amazon.com, because I spend tons of money there, and I like the ability to collect books I talk about and recommend in the affiliate store,. I have earned a total of about $15 from the affiliate store, so it isn’t about money- it’s about the convenience of creating a personal library/bookstore for my community. I have talked to authors and about books I love for no money, and I have spoken extensively about the Livescribe Pulse Pen, because it has been wonderful for me, and I had a great conversation and interview with their educational advoisor for the podcast, about how and why this gadget was useful, especially for kids with learning issues in the classroom. The Livescribe people have not paid me one dime, but I have sent out coupons to friends for 10% off and free shipping, and let people play with it when I have had it at conferences, because I think it’s amazing, not because there is any quid pro quo involved.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I am willing to talk about products, books, stores and things I love not because it’s quid pro quo, but because I can say something useful and of value to others. And I am willing to talk about things I love when I am being paid as well, but I think all of us in new media probably won’t take ads for stuff we don’t stand behind or don’t think fit with our community, because that doesn’t help the brand, and doesn’t help us with our audience. Why should I take money from someone and then be hateful about it? That’s like biting the hand that feeds you. And besides, constructive critisism, as said earlier, is much more useful than a simple “you suck” which does nothing to give anyone a reason why something is worth your attention or not.
I heartily believe that as much as possible, unless something is truly a dreadful experience, you try to be nice, respectful and honest. You say what is good and what may not be, and I think I felt Chris’s post on KMart was honest and balanced in that regard.
But mostly, I think the social media tribe has to learn how to be honest, transparent and respectful when it comes to each other, and understand that sometimes, our objections are more about wishing we had the chance to be one of those “influentials” who were getting the chances and opportunities to be a star, and less about the other person “selling out”.