Tuesday, October 6, 2009

All That is Wrong With Social Media: House Party

I guess it goes without saying that by writing this post I'm probably killing my chances of being given the privilege of ever hosting a House Party. But I just can't hold my tongue so here goes.

Last week a friend posted a link to a video on Facebook, asking whether we all thought it was a joke or what. The video was of a Windows 7 "launch party"--and surely had to be an SNL skit or a joke or something. I responded that it wasn't a joke, it was the PR masterpiece known as the House Party. Because everyone knows that nothing makes people want to buy a product more than an "authentic" endorsement by "real people"--forget that phony paid advertising model. No, studies have proven that there is no endorsement so powerful as that of that most influential group of people currently on the planet: moms. People trust them. People base buying decisions on their recommendations. So the key to selling your product is getting a "real" mom to tell the world how great it is.

Sorry--do I sound snarky? Seriously, though, how can you not be at least a little snarky about the whole sponsored post thing? I read blogs that are entertaining, funny, informative, well-written. You know--authentic? So I can't help but find posts like this one distasteful: a PR agency Jessica Smith of Fleishman-Hillard's Sacramento office (for specifics on Jessica and the views expressed in her blog, please refer to the sidebar of her blog) coaching bloggers on how to attract bling what she wants to see on their "about me" pages (See Update for details about strikethroughs). Is this what blogging has come to? Press kits telling big brands why they should pick us to pimp their stuff?

Here's the thing: how much actual money are bloggers making out of this equation, versus how much PR agencies and brands are making? Take House Party, for instance. You want to host a Hunt's tomato party? First you have to spend 10 minutes filling out a detailed survey to see if you're worthy. If you happen to have the right number and mix of followers and blog readers, you get a few packs of tomato seeds, some cans of tomato paste, some recipes and maybe an apron. In exchange you have to host a party at your house and video, photograph, blog, and/or in some other way broadcast this party generously "sponsored" by Hunt's. They get "authentic" word-of-mouth advertising to their target audience for the cost of a few party favors--oh, plus the thousands of dollars the middlemen in this equation made. Everyone wins...except for the party host.

The thing is--don't brands and PR agencies see what a joke this whole thing is becoming? House parties are just a glaring example of the wrongness of the abomination that is PR mixing with bloggers, trying to make the whole thing look authentic. Here's the thing: there is nothing authentic about a blogger doing infomercials. We all know they got the stuff for free, are being coached on what to say, and it's just not interesting or fun for anyone but the person receiving the free product--and the PR people or other middlemen making actual money connecting brands and bloggers.

If by some miracle I do get picked to host a House Party--because you know I applied for every single one just to see what would happen--you can bet it will be the one and only one I ever get picked to do because I'll be doing it as one big drinking game or other not-what-the-sponsor-intended variation. Hey--at least it would be fun to watch--isn't that what brands should want?


I received an email from Jessica Smith, via Facebook, expressing her distaste for the way I represented her post. Rather than leaving a comment here, as is customary, you know, on blogs, she felt it necessary to email me and threaten to "escalate...to the leadership at Social Media Today and formally ask for a correction" the fact that I attributed her post to a PR agency when, in fact, the sidebar of her blog states "JessicaKnows.com is published by Jessica Smith of Fleishman-Hillard's Sacramento office." So please let the record show that I stand corrected and will let Social Media Today know, myself, of my attribution error, lest she have to take it upon herself to "escalate things." Let the record also show that she also thought my "reference to (her) post and the context around it (was) completely inappropriate."

Duly noted.

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