DI$CLO$URE

dollar signA couple of months ago I was – along with other bloggers and “industry influencers” – invited by a large tech company to attend a free workshop showcasing their new tablet and software. They were happy to “donate” to me (and by extension I assume others) a tablet worth over $1000 in return for my blogging about how I used it in my work.

I declined.

I’ve been receiving these types of offers since people started reading my blog. Many start-ups recognise that bloggers/tweeters who – in return for swag* – blog/tweet enthusiastically about said start-up serve as an extremely effective PR team as they have the added advantage of appearing organic. (Seriously… go back and read that link – Educators… look who is the parent company!)

I decided from the outset to avoid such relationships with companies (it’s on my contact page, but some still ignore it). I figured if the four people reading my blog were reading it because they valued my opinion, the least I could do was make sure that opinion was as objective as possible. It’s also for this reason that I don’t take ‘referral’ fees from other speakers/consultants which is also a common practice. If I recommend someone to you it’s because I think highly of their work.

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that bloggers/tweeters shouldn’t engage with companies in the manner I’ve suggested above (although many educators and most state education departments do say that), rather I’m saying that disclosure is a must. In fact it’s  not just me saying it. Last week I asked Twitter what it thought…

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As expected the majority of respondents believed that disclosure was important but I was surprised that nearly 20% of respondents were not aware that this happened.

The fact that nearly 20% of tweeps who responded were unaware of this happening suggests a couple of things to me.

  1. Perhaps it doesn’t happen. Perhaps every blogger who is approached by a company turns them down, and I’m merely assuming the worst.
  2. Perhaps it does happen, but bloggers aren’t disclosing. Because I reckon if every blogger was disclosing then surely these 20% would have – at some point – seen such a disclosure.

And I’d really love to know the reasons behind the 4% voting that bloggers “need not disclose.” If you were one of them, please comment below – I’m interested in your POV.

I don’t know if bloggers and tweeters consider themselves broadcasters, but just as commercial broadcasters disclose their arrangements and relationships, (granted – some needed some encouragement) maybe budding edu-stars should do the same as it might go a long way to maintaining/enhancing their credibility as their stars continue to rise & shine.

[SIDENOTE]

When I used #aussieED in the original poll, I used it believing the hashtag identified teachers online who had an interest in Australian education, who as they were browsing, might stumble across the poll and have their say. However, as Brett’s tweet suggests, #aussieED is more of an entity than I’d realised, and as such I wish to stress I was not singling out the entity that is #aussieED or its founders/moderators.

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*Swag* – Used here to describe anything that includes, but not limited to: high value products, low-cost/discounted products, travel, accommodation, a platform at a conference, sponsorship of events etc.

 

11 thoughts on “DI$CLO$URE

  1. Brad Reply

    Hi Dan

    A great and very important blog post on disclosure. I think it is very important to disclose that you were given a product if you as an educator are blogging about your use of it and its virtues – I would have thought that goes without saying from an ethical standpoint and the 4% who think disclosure is not needed concerns me.

    Keep up the great, and ethical, work.

    Ps. I’ve started learning minecraft as a teacher…

    • DanH Post authorReply

      Hey Brad, thanks for the comment… yep I haven’t actually had any feedback either here or on Twitter as to why bloggers *shouldn’t* disclose… interesting.
      As for Minecraft… enjoy! I look forward to hearing what you get up to with it!
      Thanks again for reading & commenting.
      Dan

  2. Steve Box (@wholeboxndice) Reply

    Thanks for the post Dan, one worth considering. I definitely believe that disclosure allows for clarity of intent and greater ethos in the space. To be honest though, I probably (perhaps cynically) assume that anytime someone is spruiking a product (via blog or tweet etc) that there is either an existing or a desired commercial relationship. This is especially where my ‘spidey-senses’ appear when a tweet uses @product or a hyperlink. Maybe my professional experience in PR has me overly cynical, I don’t know.

    One of the most interesting parts of your post for me is your noting of the #hashtag as an entity. On many occasions we see an existing commercial entity create a hashtag reference for their entity’s presence on social media/blogspace. Seeing it exist in reverse, where a hashtag is created as the entity and with a conscious effort to build the brand and perhaps have ‘ownership’ of the hashtag is something I hadn’t seen much of before. I wonder then if a similar disclosure us needed, especially when the engagement of people with such a hashtag could be considered bringing them to the market to be used for commercial benefit. I’m not naive enough to think that this doesn’t happen all the time, but the premise or intent of the interaction, if there is any sense of ingenuity would likely cause consternation amongst edutwitter for whom an open and honest engagement in things that they see as fundamentally important to the learning of students is their driver.

    We can see how much fuel there is for current discussion around privatisation, commodification and corporate engagement in education and whether explicit, government supported, or more of a ‘trojan horse’ approach using educators, I can see that such discussions will be high on people’s radar for some time.

    How to navigate it? I think your disclosure insistence or suggestion is the surest way to allow for people to feel like they can interact in an informed and transparent manner and not see an adoption of an overly cynical or overtly critical stance that jeopardises the authenticity of twitter/blogger engagement.

    • DanH Post authorReply

      Hi Steve, Thanks for taking the time to read… and then leave such a thoughtful response. TBH, it’s the incessant tweets/RTs that get my ‘spidey senses’ tingling…

      As for the whole hashtag debate, I see it as a deliberate attempt to build an identity or brand, which might not necessarily be understood by those using the tag… ie: If I share something to the hashtag am I automatically a part of a PLN? What I am aware of is event organisors/companies offering platforms/resources in return for ‘access’ to the network or PLN. Much in the way (but not on the same scale) that Facebook offers users to companies…

      Maybe this isn’t the issue I believe it to be, maybe it is? In any event, those facilitating such spaces need to be upfront with those entering into them… imho.

      Cheers again for the comment Steve, appreciate it.
      Dan

    • DanH Post authorReply

      Also raises the question that if #aussieEd *isn’t* the tag to chat about Australian education… then what is? Perhaps you start one? 🙂

  3. gregmiller68 Reply

    Who are the “shock blogs” of tomorrow? They may want to talk with radio announcers Laws and Jones re: ‘Cash for Comment’ and the concept of disclosure.

    • DanH Post authorReply

      Hey Greg, I don’t see too many ‘Shock blogs’ – everyone is so nice 😉 But yes, understanding your responsibilities as a broadcaster is important methinks.
      Thanks for reading…
      Dan

  4. Dr Deborah M. Netolicky Reply

    My view, Dan, as someone who hasn’t been offered a lot in the way of *swag*, is that ethical educators and bloggers should disclose when they have received something from a company (t-shirt, laptop, flights) and are subsequently commenting on, promoting, sharing or reviewing it. Transparency is not only ethical; it’s also respectful to your readership and to those with whom you connect.

    I always wonder when people’s Twitter bios say ‘tweets not endorsements’; surely sharing or retweeting is an endorsement?

    Deb

    • DanH Post authorReply

      Hey Deb,
      Thanks for the comment. Yes – respect for readership… an excellent point.
      However, RT not endorsement… I can get that…
      Sometimes I might re-tweet someone else I fundamentally disagree with about a topic, not as an endorsement, but rather as a way to stimulate convo or highlight the absurdity of it. I *think* that might be how the disclaimer is used.
      Obvs, re-tweeting an ad for a product/company may be less nuanced…
      Cheers again!
      Dan

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  6. dskmag Reply

    Dude, we need more people willing to kick ass, that kiss ass – and Twitter is awash with people who have never had an original thought or worse, associate with people like you to build their own agency. One way to do that is to get a brand involved. To those Muppets I say – show me empirical evidence you are not doing harm? and if you can’t – show me evidence that it’s doing good – and don’t duck behind opinion BS. (unpopular blogger and tweeter @type217)

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