Parcelling Out Attention: Handling Requests for Product Placements on your Blog

As any blog grows, so do the demands on its writer’s time. An increased audience means increased attention, both positive and negative. Requests to look at this new product or write about that new company begin to come in just about the time when you’ve gotten into a groove writing, when your audience is becoming familiar with you and you them. In other words, at the point when you most clearly see that your audience really doesn’t want another product pitch.

Being a part of the Web20Workgroup has been a boon to Bokardo, and presumably, to the rest of its members. It meant an immediate increase in readership. And it meant a closer relationship with other bloggers who are firing off some of the best blog posts out there. The recent additions of Robert Scoble, Steve Rubel, and Stowe Boyd demonstrate that the Workgroup is attracting some of the most-read bloggers on the Web.

As any blog grows, so do the demands on its writer’s time. An increased audience means increased attention, both positive and negative. Requests to look at this new product or write about that new company begin to come in just about the time when you’ve gotten into a groove writing, when your audience is becoming familiar with you and you them. In other words, at the point when you most clearly see that your audience really doesn’t want another product pitch.

Being a part of the Web20Workgroup has been a boon to Bokardo, and presumably, to the rest of its members. It meant an immediate increase in readership. And it meant a closer relationship with other bloggers who are firing off some of the best blog posts out there. The recent additions of Robert Scoble, Steve Rubel, and Stowe Boyd demonstrate that the Workgroup is attracting some of the most-read bloggers on the Web.

But all is not oats and honey in the land of Eden. As readership has risen, so have the demands on the attention of everyone in the group. Instead of walking up to the chalkboard of the blogosphere everyday and not being able to see who’s in class, we begin to see who sits in the front row, and who has their hand raised, straining for our attention. It would be impractical if not rude to ignore their questions, as we would have them answer ours when we sit down at their desks and they’re the ones with chalk in their hands.

With Readership Comes Responsibility

This is a common occurrence on any growing blog, not just Bokardo or the ones in the Workgroup. With readership comes responsibility, because, whether you like it or not, people are listening. In other words, if you have an audience, you are the media. And what’s the responsibility, you ask? Honesty. I believe this goes way beyond blogs. If you have someone listening to you, you should be honest with them.

And it’s not just folks like Scoble, who has openly accepted the challenge of the speaking on behalf of his company, who have this responsibility. It’s people like Tim Bray, who has had his blog much longer than he’s been at Sun, and despite his disclaimer of personal opinion, is serving as a powerful media arm of the company. For every post containing a pretty picture, Tim has a post that attracts attention to Sun. I wonder how many people email him to look at this or check out that.

The Request for Attention

The request for attention comes in several forms. Sometimes it’s a new company who simply wants you to check out their product, which seems reasonable because they need eyeballs. If they can get either constructive feedback or a mention on a blog then they’ll have definitely invested wisely with their time in emailing. But for every honest developer who says “I am interested in your feedback”, we have another developer who says “Check out this great app. You’ll love it!”. And guess which developer has never actually read your blog to find out what you’re writing about? That’s right. The first few words of every email is a dead giveaway.

By the way, the catalyst for all of this was when I started noticing that other Workgroup members were posting about the same companies that I had been recently asked to post about. It’s pretty obvious when someone has been doing their publicity rounds at the Workgroup. When someone goes on about admiring your work, and then equally admiring everyone else’s, all about the time that they’re releasing their latest product, the distinction kind of loses it’s luster. The problem, of course, is dishonesty.

If, on the other hand, a developer comes to you and says that they really like your post on X, and their software somehow has to do with X, and that they recognize that you care about X and stuff that relates to it, then it makes all the sense in the world that they contacted you. But if they’re simply blanketing a form email over the group, forget about it.

What the Workgroup Had to Say

So, recently I went to the Workgroup and asked for their advice. How do they parcel out their attention? I asked what they had as strategies for dealing with these requests, while admitting that most people who contact me about mentioning their site get a mention of some sort. I’ll weave their request into a post about something else, or find a way to mention them as an example of something. Rarely will I give them a whole post to themselves. No, that “honor” is saved for services that I find useful on my own. Like Memeorandum, JoeReger.com, and Housingmaps.

And I don’t think that I’m being prissy here. I’m protecting what I need to protect. It’s my writing they’re trying to be part of. And my audience. And my Honesty. On the Web, that’s all I’ve got.

The answers were varied. Steven Cohen, proprietor of LibraryStuff.net, said that he responds kindly to a request by saying that he won’t write about a tool unless he has reviewed it fully. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch (who presumably would get more than anybody because he’s become a clearinghouse for new companies and products) suggested that he skims the requests for the good ones. John Furrier of Podtech echoed my initial thoughts: that your links are your “honor”, and therefore should be part of the trust that you build up with readers. Susan Mernit uses an efficient approach: she saves them and posts about several at once. Solutionwatch’s Brian Benzinger’s rule of thumb is simple: good content = link to it. Programmableweb’s John Musser agrees. Jeff Clavier of Software Only says that he’ll entertain early/exclusive betas only. Scoble says he simply can’t keep up. And nobody bothers Dave Winer about it. Finally, the always-flammable Richard MacManus pointed out that this is often referred to as “link whoring”, although he wouldn’t characterize it that way and feels a bit guilty when he can’t accomodate everybody.

Well, if you put it that way…

Still, I’m Glad To Be Asked

Regardless, nearly everyone I’ve talked to, despite having different strategies for reducing the increased load on their attention, really does enjoy the increased requests for it. For one thing, they’re often alerted to new services and products before everyone else, which can make their otherwise echo-chamber blog into a premium first-notifier one. They(we) also get to enjoy the early beta testing that geeks like us live for, to try out something before the rest of humanity knows it exists. Also, it’s simply more of the conversation that we’re interested in anyway. So even though I complain a little about those folks who email without ever reading my stuff, it’s not usually that bad. It’s better, because many of these folks are sometimes too busy making software to come up for air and talk about it, and really do want bloggers to kick the tires.

In the end, the increased demand on a blogger’s attention signals something positive: that companies are turning to the blogosphere for feedback and attention. This means that the conversation is migrating there. To the People!

Gone are the days of screaming a press release into the void of the mainstream media. Come are the days of talking politely with fellow human beings.

Published: December 23rd, 2005

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