PR 2.0 Blogging – Should Bloggers Accept Gifts?

BlogI posted an article on Twitter the other day about bloggers accepting gifts and how there was controversy over the topic.  The article in PR Week focused on how paid blogger coverage received mixed reviews.  This question has been weighing on my mind so I decided to ask a few PR professionals their opinions on the subject.  I found out, as I spoke with these communications people, it’s a split decision as to whether bloggers receiving gifts should be and accepted practice.  Just to preface the opinions written on this page, the folks commenting are not aware of any formal Code of Ethics in the blogosphere that includes the practice of gift giving to bloggers.

I asked four members of my firm the following question:  In the past, traditional journalists are not supposed to receive gifts in exchange for endorsements or coverage.  However, how do you feel about bloggers who accept gifts (perhaps a gift card to shop in a store or a product to use and keep) to then discuss their experience or thoughts about the brand?  Is this an acceptable practice?

Jacqueline, PR Manager:  If the information on behalf of the product or service being blogged about is relevant and valuable to the community, then I believe the blogger is deserving of a “gift”.  Additionally, having intimate knowledge of a product or service ultimately adds value and credibility to the post, which is why I would assume most bloggers accept such gifts.  However, the blogger giving the endorsement, whether good or bad, cannot solicit for payment or gifts of any kind.

Greg, Sr. Communications Manager: I think it is an acceptable practice – even a recommended practice. Unlike traditional media, blogs – by their very nature – include opinions and personal thoughts. Influencing the opinions of blog authors is the whole point in this case. Accepting gifts has already spilled over into traditional media. Travel journalists, for example, have been accepting free trips for years to cover various destinations for their readers. I think blog readers understand that the reporting practices of major media are different than those of an independent blogger and so they have different expectations of a blogger writing underneath The New York Times or Wall Street Journal masthead than of a blogger writing on his/her own platform.

Steven, Sr. PR Manager:  I would expect that a gift of any kind would color someone’s thinking, whether you are a traditional journalist or a blogger.  You’re really not getting an unbiased, objective opinion when a gift is involved.

Jason, CEO:  In my opinion, gift or no gift, many media outlets are biased.  Fox, MSNBC…should I name more?  At least when you read the New York Post and there is a favorable review about American Idol, the write-up will disclose that American Idol is owned by the same company as the New York Post.  It’s important to have disclosure of this information.

There you have it four varying opinions, although you can see that the majority of the group believes that the practice is acceptable.  Here’s my take on bloggers receiving gifts.  The blogosphere is not supposed to be unbiased and it’s not the place to look for detachment in reporting.  The “guidelines” are different.  We all know that when a blogger creates a post, there is a certain level of passion and personal opinion.  Bloggers are not newspaper journalists following the AP Stylebook rules.

With respect to receiving gifts for endorsements or opinions, the practice of receiving a gift should not be abused or expected.  I’ve been to many press conferences where a media representative walks out with a gift for being there, not so he writes a more favorable story; but just as a “thank you” for taking the time to attend. However, if the blogger is asking for a particular gift, well that’s something completely different.  Lastly, as long as you let your community know the specific details behind the information that you are posting (i.e. this is a sponsored post, similar to how Chris Brogan handled his $500.00 gift card from K-Mart), then it’s acceptable.

Now, I don’t think a well established media outlet that has strict practices about detachment in reporting and reporting the unbiased facts should start receiving gifts for passionate/favorable reviews.  I guess that’s where I draw the line.  What do you think about bloggers receiving gifts?