What Price Integrity?

As an interesting follow on to the previous session on blog monetization, I attended a panel on maintaining integrity on blogs when you do advertising or promotions on your site, featuring Danny Brown, Gini Dietrich and Eden Spodek. A lot of this is about transparency and disclosure; one audience member said that she writes paid reviews on her blog but that although you can buy her review, you can’t buy her opinion: there’s a fine line here. This is particularly an issue for lifestyle bloggers, since they often receive offers of free product in exchange for a review; this might be seen as being less of a “payment” than cash, although it still constitutes payment.

When I write a product review here, I am never compensated for that, although arguably it can impact my relationship with the vendor and can lead to other things, including paid engagements and conference trips. That’s quite different from being paid to blog about something, which I don’t do; I’ve had offers of payment from vendors to blog about them, and they don’t really understand when I tell them that I just don’t do that. Of course, you might say that when I’m at a vendor’s conference where they paid my travel expenses and I’m blogging about it, that’s paid blogging, but if you’ve ever spent much time at these conferences, you know that’s not much of a perq after a while. In fact, I’m giving up potential paid time in order to spend my time unpaid at the conference, so it ends up costing me in order to stay up to date on the products and customer experiences.

By the way, my “no compensation for blogging” doesn’t go for book reviews: it is almost 100% guaranteed that if I write a book review, the author or publisher sent me a free copy (either paper or electronic) since I just don’t buy a lot of books. I currently have a backlog of books to be read and reviewed since that’s not my main focus, so this isn’t such a great deal for either party.

The key advice of the panel is that if you do accept free product or some other payment in exchange for a product review, make sure that you remain authentic with your review, and disclose your relationship with the product vendor. In some countries, such as the US and the UK, this is now required; in places where it isn’t, it’s just good practice.

I was going to stay on for a session on webinars but the speaker seems to be a no-show, so this may be it for me and PodCamp Toronto 2011. Glad that I stopped by for the afternoon, definitely some worthwhile material and some food for thought on monetization and integrity.

Blog Monetization

The next session that I attended was Andrea Tomkins talking about how to make money through advertising on your blog. She started with ways that blogs can pay off without direct monetization, such as driving other sorts of business (just as this blog often drives first contacts for my consulting business) and leveraging free trips to conferences, but her main focus was on how she sells ads on her blog.

She believes that selling your own ad space results in higher quality advertising by allowing you to select the advertisers who you want on your site and control many of the design aspects. Plus, you get to keep all the cash. She believes in charging a flat monthly rate rather than by impressions or clicks, and to set the rates, she looked at the rates for local newspapers; however, newspapers are very broad-based whereas blog audiences are much more narrowly focused, meaning that the people reading your blog come from a specific demographic that certain advertisers would really like to have access to. Andrea’s blog is a “parenting lifestyle” blog – a.k.a. “mommyblogger” – and she has 1,300-1,400 daily views, many of whom are local to her Ottawa area.

She started out charging $50/month/ad, and bumped it for new clients as well as an annual increase until she reached a sweet spot in the pricing (which she didn’t disclose). She doesn’t sell anything less than a 3-month term, and some advertisers have signed up for a 12-month spot. Her first advertiser, who is still with her, is a local candy store that she and her family frequented weekly – she felt that if she loved it so much, then her readers would probably enjoy it as well. She approached the store directly to solicit the ad, although now many of her new advertisers come to her when they see her blog and how it might reach their potential audience.

She controls the overall ad design: the ad space is a 140×140 image with a link to their website, with the images being updated as often as the advertisers wish. New ads are added to the bottom of the list, so advertisers are incented to maintain their relationship with her in order to maintain their placement on the site.

She also writes a welcome post for each advertiser; she writes this as her authentic opinion, and doesn’t just publish some PR from the advertiser since she doesn’t want to alienate her readers. Each advertiser has the opportunity to host a giveaway or contest for each 3-month term, although she doesn’t want to turn her blog into a giveaway blog because that doesn’t match her blogging style. She also uses her social network to promote her advertisers in various ways, whether through personal recommendations, on her Facebook page or Twitter; because she only takes advertisers that she believes in, she can really give a personal recommendation for any of them.

Before you call a potential advertiser, she recommends understanding your traffic, figuring out an ad design and placement, and coming up with a rate sheet. Don’t inflate your traffic numbers: you’ll be found out and look like an idiot, and most advertisers are more interested in quality engagement than raw numbers anyway. Everyone pays the same rate on Andrea’s blog; she doesn’t charge more for “above the fold” ads or use a placement randomizer, so sometimes has some new advertisers (who are added to the bottom) complain about placement.

A rate sheet should be presented as a professionally-prepared piece of collateral coordinated with your business cards, blog style and other marketing pieces. It needs to include something about you, the deal you’re offering, your blog, your audience and traffic, and optionally some testimonials from other advertisers.

Handling your own ads does create work. You need to handle contacts regarding ads (she doesn’t publish her rates), invoice and accept payments, track which ads need to run when, set up contracts, and provide some reporting to the advertisers. Obviously, there has to be a better way to manage this without resorting to giving away some big percentage to an ad network. She also writes personal notes to advertisers about when their ad might have been noticed in something that Andrea did (like a TV appearance) or when she is speaking and hence might have their ads be more noticed. She does not publish ads in her feed, but publishes partial feeds so readers are driven to her site to read the full posts, and therefore see the ads. She has started sending out a newsletter and may be selling advertising separately for that.

This started a lot of ideas in my head about advertising. I used to have Google ads in my sidebar, which pretty much just paid my hosting fees, but I took them out when it started to feel a bit…petty. As long as I get a good part of my revenue from end-customer organizations to help them with their BPM implementations, it would be difficult to accept ads here and maintain the appearance of independence. Although I do work for vendors as an analyst and keep those parts of my business completely separate, with appropriate disclosure to clients, it is just as important to have the public appearance of impartiality as well as actually be impartial. An ongoing dilemma.

Psychology of Websites and Social Media Campaigns

I arrived at PodCamp Toronto after the lunch break today; “PodCamp” is a bit of a misnomer since this unconference now covers all sorts of social media.

My first session of the day with Brian Cugelman on the psychology of websites was a bit of a disappointment: too much of a lecture and not enough of a discussion, although there was a huge crowd in the room so a real discussion would have been difficult. He did have one good slide that compared persuasive websites with persuasive people:

  • They’re reputable
  • They’re likable with personality
  • They demonstrate expertise
  • They appear trustworthy
  • You understand them easily
  • What they say is engaging and relevant
  • They respect your time

He went through some motivational psychology research findings and discussed how this translates to websites, specifically looking at the parts of websites that correspond to the motivational triggers and analyzing some sites for how they display those triggers. Unfortunately, most of this research doesn’t seem to extend to social media sites, so although it works fairly well for standard websites, it breaks down when applied to things such as Facebook pages that are not specifically about making a sale or triggering an action. It will be interesting to see how this research extends in the future to understand the value of “mindshare” as separate from a direct link to sales or actions.


There are few things that will get me out of bed early on a wintry Saturday morning. ChangeCamp is one of them: an unconference dedicated to re-imaging (Canadian) government and citizenship in the age of participation. My friend Mark, who is passionate about government, change and unconferences, is one of the ringleaders here, but there’s an amazing group of people who made all this come together in less than a month. I’ll be doing some wiki gardening, Twittering and live blogging about ChangeCamp today.

Why do we need an unconference about government? Because the usual methods of providing input to government aren’t, in general, working; unconferences shake things up and tend to get the communications lines unclogged. TransitCamp was a start to this, getting citizens involved in generating ideas for public transit and resulting in the ongoing Metronauts community, but also engaging with the TTC and causing some real change. HoHoTO showed how quickly people can come together to become something that’s bigger than themselves, raising over $25k for the Daily Bread Food Bank at a 600-person holiday party that went from inception to reality in 13 days.

And here we are today, pretty near a full house at the MaRS Centre to address the long tail of government.

There’s a couple of modifications to the usual open space format of unconferences: we’re being organized into groups up front to exchange some ideas and define problems, and there’s an opportunity for people who have a specific idea that they want to dive into and start developing something in ChangeLab.


Most of the unconference "camp" type events that I attend are technology-related, but today I’m attending TransitCamp in Toronto, originally conceived by a few of my TorCamp friends and now happening in other cities as well as becoming a vital part of the greater Toronto area transit planning process. What started out a year ago as an informal collection of people interested in transit has evolved into a much more mainstream channel for sharing the conversation about transit amongst the providers, consumers and any other interested parties.

One of the general managers of Metrolinx said a few words in the opening session; it’s great that they’re participating directly although this isn’t their event. This is the first in a series of events that will happen around the greater Toronto area, since transit is not just about downtown, but also about how all the regional transportation options tie together.

If you’re attending TransitCamp or want to follow along with the sessions, they’re all on the wiki (or will be, once all the notes are entered).

If you’re interested in transit in Toronto, join the community at the Metronauts site.

You can follow a collection of the conversations on the Onaswarm Metronauts swarm, or through Twitter on the #metronauts or #transitcamp hashtags.

Even public service organizations can ‘camp

Normally I would just provide a link to this in my daily Links post, but this is such a great example of how Open Space technology (e.g., BarCamp, MashupCamp) can be used for more than just holding geeky tech unconferences: last year, three people from the TorCamp community organized TransitCamp to provide a place for the Toronto Transit Commission (North America’s third largest, serving 2.4 million riders each day) and the local community to come together and generate new ideas about how to really make the TTC “the better way”. Today, the story of TransitCamp, “Sick Gloria Transit”, hit the Harvard Business Review as one of their breakthrough ideas for 2008. The article is written by Mark Kuznicki, Jay Goldman and Eli Singer; Mark’s post also contains a number of reference links, including a page of links on the TransitCamp site covering both unconferences and TransitCamp itself.

I’ve attended several unconferences, although I missed TransitCamp last year, and I’ve been promoting the idea of the unconference as a format for business and technology conferences in the BPM space, but it’s a hard sell. One group of conference organizers that I approached with this had many reasons why it wouldn’t work, even though they have never attended an unconference, and most didn’t know what it was before the subject was broached. One response: “hopelessly techie.” I disagree: the unconference format has been used for many non-technical gatherings since Open Space Technology was first defined in 1986; it’s just that the tech community made it popular in the past few years. To quote the Wikipedia article, it “has been used in over 100 countries and in diverse settings, industries, cultures and situations – for program and product design, knowledge exchange, interdisciplinary thinking, conflict resolution and conferences.”

TransitCamp is a great example of how unconferences can be used with a primarily non-technical group of participants to generate ideas for a definitely low-tech endeavour: improving our local transit.

DemoCamp 15 in Toronto

We’re having our 15th DemoCamp in Toronto on October 29th, where anyone with something to demo can sign up to show their stuff in 5 minutes. There will also be some Ignite-style presentations (a 5 minute presentation with 20 slides x 15 seconds per slide where the presenter does not have control over the slide show). DemoCamp is always a great time: you see some interesting stuff, and meet a lot of creative people.

If you want to demo or present, submit your information here

If you want to attend, sign up here. It’s free, but space is limited.

If you want to sponsor the event (maximum $200/sponsor), contact David Crow.

These have always been evening events in the past, but this one starts at 3pm, the demos kick off at 4pm, 5:30pm for the presentations, then we adjourn to the pub around 7pm.

Why Facebook beats LinkedIn

I’ve been a big LinkedIn fan in the two years or so that I’ve been using it, but there’s a couple of things that really bother me about it. First, until recently, you couldn’t remove someone from your list of contacts, you had to email LinkedIn customer support to make it happen. It happened pretty quickly, but I wonder how many contacts were left languishing on lists because most people are too busy/lazy to email and have them taken off. The second thing is the completely opaque process that you have to go through to start a LinkedIn group. Members of the Toronto BarCamp community, also known as TorCamp, have very active online lives, and many of them are on my LinkedIn contact list. I thought that a LinkedIn TorCamp group would be a great idea, and when someone told me that they had tried and were turned down, I figured that I could do better, and I applied on the LinkedIn site to start a (free) TorCamp group (I point out the free part because I suspect that the paid groups might be given much better service). A long wait ensued, then I received an email telling me that some information was missing, and that I should reapply. I did, and now (months later), still nothing. I’ve given up on LinkedIn groups; they’re just too damned hard, and social networking should make it easy to connect, not hard.

Facebook, on the other hand, is being seen as a replacement for LinkedIn by many, and although I’ve primarily been using LinkedIn for professional/business contacts and Facebook for personal contacts, there’s been quite a bit of crossover with business contacts finding me and inviting me to be their Facebook friend.

Ever since Facebook opened up its platform a few weeks back for developers to create add-on applications, it looks like it might sweep the popularity contest, especially if LinkedIn stays with the walled garden/not-so-social network philosophy. In Toronto, which held the record for the biggest number of Facebook users until London overtook it last week, we’re even having a Facebook Camp.

Enter a survey on technology business in Toronto, win an iPod

There’s a new survey for technology-related businesses in the Toronto area available from now through September 7th; fill it out and you’ll be entered in a draw for a 30GB iPod. If you’re involved in the Toronto BarCamp community, use “TorCamp” as your survey code.

Update: More from Mark Kuznicki on the importance of the survey:

In a first for an unincorporated-unmember-unorganization, Toronto’s Barcamp community is partnering with the big guns – the Board of Trade, MaRS, ITAC and others – to gather a profile of the needs and opportunities facing Toronto’s technology community.

We are at the table trying to communicate on behalf of the thousands of small/micro-businesses who tend not to be members of these larger established member-based organizations.  It is important to communicate to the policymakers that it is the small/micro businesses that drive innovation and business development in this town!