The recent increase in conversations about the pros and cons of blogolaAKA the “grey area” practice of bloggers getting paid by sponsors to write blog posts about those sponsors — highlights the issue at the heart of social media: trust.

Blogs exploded in popularity due to ease of use, but it was the growth of an audience that led each blogger to feel that his or her blog was valid.  Yet the mere existence of an audience is enough for some people to believe that audience is aching to be marketed to.  This has inspired bloggers around the world to consider using their newfound clout to suggest how their audiences should spend their dollars — preferably at a profit to the bloggers themselves.

Which is fine, as long as those suggestions are independent opinions.  No one is advocating that bloggers starve.

But when a sponsor pays a blogger to positively review that sponsor’s products and services AND when that blogger fails to mention that they’re being paid to do so, that author risks losing their credibility. No one likes being misled, even over something as simple as which dish soap or bubble gum their favorite blogger claims to use daily.  What bloggers lack in credentials, they make up for in the implied trust of their readership; actions that erode that trust will drain all credibility from that blogger’s reputation over time — and acquiring a reputation in the blogosphere is a hard-won goal that’s worth protecting.

Marketers: Bloggers — and their audiences — are valuable resources who deserve to be respected, not manipulated.  You wouldn’t expect a mainstream magazine or TV news outlet to run your commercial as a news story, so don’t provide bloggers with an opportunity to sabotage their (and your) reputations.

Bloggers: respect your audiences (and yourselves) enough to be forthright about your sponsorships. Your audience wants you to succeed; they just don’t appreciate being lied to in the process.