I enjoyed an interesting conversation with Chris at NWEN Pub Night this past Thursday, wherein he told me about a company called Tremor, a spinoff of Procter & Gamble, which claims to have "cracked the code and leverage the power of word-of-mouth advocacy, to move sales, attitude and brand equity for our clients." The basic idea is to enlist the services of a collection of 200,000+ influential teens, lableled "connectors" (from Malcolm Gladwell's book, "The Tipping Point"), to spread the word about new products and services. The teens are offered early access to these products and services, but I wonder what other promotional considerations are included in the package, and whether accepting any additional compensation would affect the influence of such teens within their peer groups, were such arrangements to be made known. This reminds me of some recent press reports about political advocacy by journalists for pay, ethical questions raised about drug studies paid for by pharmaceutical companies, and, closer to home, the Amazon Associates program.
If a journalist or researcher is purporting to be unbiased in their reporting, and yet receiving pay from a sponsoring organization, the reports may fall under a cloud of suspicion ... if the sponsorship becomes known. Journalistic and scientific ethics call for an objectivity that may be violated by the existence of such relationships. In the case of political journalism, elections may be swayed by such bias; in the case of medical research, the health of groups of future drug users may be at risk. The risks would likely be lower for bias in advocacy by teens within their peer groups, but I wonder what standards of accountability they would hold each other to, were the "relationships" between the connectors and Tremor (and its clients) made known.
I sometimes blog about books that I've read, and I usually include links to them on Amazon.com. I initially did not include my Amazon Associates ID (gumption-20) in any such references, for concerns over journalistic integrity (not that I consider myself a professional journalist). Recently, I started including the reference ID in the links. I rationalized this because if I go to the trouble of coming up with the link to the book in the first place, it's not much more work to insert the reference to my ID. I'm not being compensated directly by any of the authors or their publishers, and the small amount of income I might get if anyone actually clicks through and buys a book will help me buy more books (which I might then write about on my blog). But I do wonder whether or how such promotional considerations affect the reading and intepretation of what I post here ... that is, assuming anyone actually reads anything I post (and, if not, then it's all moot anyhow).