Marketing to Moms: Yahoo! Should brands pay their advocates?

This was supposed to be a quick post about my upcoming trip to Yahoo. In a few hours, I'll be on a plane to San Francisco, headed to a blogger summit at Yahoo's HQ. I look forward to the speakers, a tour of the Yahoo campus (free espresso drinks!) and a chance to hang out with several of my best blog friends. And prior to our kickoff cocktail party I get to have lunch with an old friend from my dolphin training days.

Shockingly, the only notepad I'm bringing to the event is a decidedly old skool one, but I'm sure I eke out a few tweets with the help of my friends. Follow along at #ymotherboard.


At the recent SVMoms brand/blogger meet-up we had a long discussion about paying bloggers for their services as brand ambassadors. It was an interesting discussion, but no firm conclusions were drawn, largely because the value exchange varies for individual bloggers.

I believe that each blogger needs to decide for herself what constitutes fair and appropriate compensation. A rural stay-at-home mom and a big city mama with a high-powered job will likely have a different definition of value. Heck, the blogger across town and I might have different definitions, different terms that define a fair value exchange between blogger and brand.

But Jessica Gottlieb has always been clear on her belief that brands get what they pay for, so they should pay well. She recently posted her reaction to an article in Forbes by Jeremiah Owyang, a social media thought leader. He wrote about creating a customer advocacy program.

While she agreed with most of his points, Jessica took issue with the fact that Jeremiah advised brands to give advocates a platform, but recommended that such advocates not be paid. In fact, he referenced "an unpaid army of customer advocates."

If you follow the links in her post regarding what happened with Walmart's 11 Moms or "free employees" after a Walmart worker was trampled to death in 2008, you may ultimately wind up back at my blog. Reading the comments on this post.

Go read them. The ones where the actual Walmart Moms chimed in, clearly without direction from Walmart.

Were they commenting as brand fans or employees? Contractors? Some entirely different kind of organism, because after all, they were not paid?

Also, it's clear they had not received media or crisis response skills training, something many (most?) brands overlook.

In the word-of-mouth community, paying brand ambassadors is considered unethical, but in the momblogger community it seems that sponsored opportunities such as blog posts, event hosting, and sometimes mere event participation are becoming more common, largely because the bloggers demand it.

Are we putting on our collective big girl panties and demanding our worth or damaging our collective reputation and community?

I tend to see the world not in black and white, but in many shades of gray, so my answer is "Yes."

Yes, collectively we are creating opportunities, jobs, even careers, in a space that was barely a blip on the PR/marketing radar just a few years ago. Leading brands are no longer marketing to moms, but marketing with moms. The smart ones aren't just selling to us, they are talking to us, listening to us. This is fantastic!

On the other hand, some say our community is suffering because too many bloggers now seem to focus on earning money, we're no longer as radical or authentic.

And I know they don't dare comment here, but I've had conversations with PR folks who are turned off by the diva-like demands of some bloggers or are simply overwhelmed by the number of bloggers writing in to request free review samples (some of these bloggers are every bit as sloppy and lazy as the spammy PR flacks we love to hate).

So, hooray for pay! But at the same time, keep in mind that money changes everything.

Back in 2006, after a very specific event (which maybe I'll write about when my kids are back in camp) I foresaw a time when bloggers might be doing little more than telling each other about their clients latest product. Sometimes I feel like we're getting dangerously close to that moment.

What are your thoughts about bloggers and pay? Since I tend to see shades of gray, I hope you'll share an example or two of when you think a blogger absolutely should (or shouldn't) get paid.
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