If you take one look over at TechMeme today, you’ll see that there’s yet another ruckus in the blogosphere, this time over whether or not it is appropriate for a company to give away sample products to bloggers. The rhetoric of the Blog Mob, predictably, has launched itself to near hysterical proportions with accusations of "bribery," cries of "scandal," and lamentations about a PR agency’s "ethics." Still others choose to ridicule those bloggers who received the gifts since none appear to have exhibited moral shock and outrage and returned or destroyed the gifts.
It’s all hogwash. Companies have been handing out free samples for ages. Obviously in this case, they are more expensive free samples, but hey, that’s what the companies involved are selling.
A considerable portion of the argument seems to hinge on the notion of much of the Blog Mob that bloggers are journalists. That’s absurd. While we all may have problems with the mainstream media, they’re a whole different animal. The same standards that apply to traditional journalists do not and should not apply to bloggers.
I wonder, for instance, how many in today’s Blog Mob reached out to the companies involved to solicit a response before posting a vicious attack? Or the PR agency? Can any of the Blog Mob substantiate their claims as to WHY the free samples were handed out? Do they have an internal memo or email that describes the intent or are they just guessing?
The answer to all of these questions is likely no. And that’s fine. Blogs are a conversation, they aren’t journalism. The standards are different.
Now, that said, the bloggers involved SHOULD disclose the free sample if they choose to write about it. It’s not a journalism thing, it’s simply the right thing to do. But to allege that accepting the free sample — or giving it — is a bribe or ethically wrong is ridiculous.
Is it unethical for a perfume company to distribute free samples in magazines? What about the sample soap that comes in the Sunday newspaper insert? Or the free boxes of detergent or other products that companies may mail to consumers? Or the free food samples provided at grocery stores? Is it unethical for a web site to give away a few months of service for free?
All of these activities are designed to build the customer base and generate positive buzz for a company. And I doubt the Blog Mob would object to them. But for some reason it’s all different when bloggers are involved.
It’s ironic that many in the Blog Mob are strident in their calls for companies to engage more in the blogosphere, but their aggressive attacks on legitimate outreach efforts no doubt scare off many companies from participating. By all means provide feedback on the methods companies are using to engage the blogopshere, but let’s dial back the rhetoric and make it constructive criticism rather than vitriolic, personal attacks.
Today is only the latest example of Blog Mob justice gone astray. A civil conversation will do more to improve the discourse in the blogosphere and enhance the level of engagement between companies and consumers.