A Conversation With Pay Per Post

Walking around the Ad Tech New York exhibit hall on Monday, I noticed that PayPerPost had a booth set up.  Tuesday during the day, I had some time in between sessions and meetings, so I headed over to their booth to see if someone would talk to me on the record.  I identified myself to the person manning the booth and told her I'd like to get an on-the-record chat about how PayPerPost works for my blog.  She agreed, so I asked her a series of questions. I asked for and received permission to record the conversation on a little digital recorder I bought at Radio Shack that morning.  Here's a link to an MP3 of the file. I'm printing a transcript of the conversation below (with most of the umms, ahhs and y'knows removed).

Really, I wanted to know how PayPerPost was served up to marketers, so I got the elevator pitch and some answers to a few of my questions.  I still think the company's practices are harmful to the blogosphere, but listen to the audio or read the transcript to make up your own mind.

One quick note: I asked some of the questions that I thought a typical agency person or advertiser might ask about their model.  To an extent, I knew most of the answers before they came out of the rep's mouth.  But I did want to hear how they serve this thing up in the context of a trade show where there are thousands of potential advertisers and agency partners milling about.  So forgive me if the questions are rudimentary.

Me: All right.  So, like I mentioned, I'm Tom Hespos.  Sometimes I'm a marketing blogger, sometimes I'm a business journalist and I run an agency as well.  I wanted to see if I could get -uhm- well, your name first...

PPP: Okay, I'm Britt Gustafson.  I'm a communications specialist for Pay Per Post.

Me: Okay.  And I wanted to get the sort of like the brief elevator pitch on what it is that you guys do, because anything that has anything to do with monetizing the blogosphere is obviously something that we want to know about, so, uh...

PPP: Well, basically, what Pay Per Post is is the world's first consumer generated advertising network, so what we do is we connect the advertisers with consumers who are eager to develop online content about a product or service of interest to them, in exchange for payment or other considerations.  So, the advertisement that a blogger creates is living on their own personal blog.  It's viewed by other people just surfing the net, indexed for SEO and syndicated via RSS.

Me: Okay, so this is like an incentive program then for I guess mainstream advertisers to get into the blogosphere?

PPP: Yeah, absolutely.  We have all different types of advertisers that maybe could be somebody doing packaging, it could be a kid's clothing line or some type of new technology, you know, could be a vacuum or something of some sort.  So it's very broad, the type of advertisers that we have.  We also have publishers as well.  And basically, what they do is they create opportunities online and our network of bloggers log in to their own login, user name, password, and they see the latest opportunities to blog about.  So they take the opportunity, they write about it on their blog, basically following the guidelines of the advertiser.  But ultimately it's in their own words.  It's their own thoughts, their own feelings.  Could be positive, could be negative, could be neutral.  Once they've created that advertisement, they link back to Pay Per Post.  We have an internal review process where we review it and make sure that it's up to par as far as what the advertiser wants.  And once that's done, we pay them through PayPal and take a percentage.

Me: Okay. Who would be some of the advertisers or marketers who would participate in something like this with you guys?

PPP: We've been in business for four months, so we're gaining a lot more advertisers.  Right now, two of the largest ones are PGA Golf and we have SpeedTV, are the ones that are larger.

Me: Well you know, we all hear about how the blogosphere is organized into heirarchies.  Are there any sort of A-List or B-List players that are working with you guys on the blogging side?

PPP:  Well, right now, it's kind of open to everybody across the board.  As we grow, eventually, you know that's something tha we're interested in, we're thinking about definitely.  But right now, we offer opportunities for everybody.  So, you know, it's open. Me: So, you mentioned before about the advertisers...if they sort of put their position up...in terms of oppportunities to write about it then.  What if a blogger writes something that's negative when the advertiser wants positive?

PPP: Well that's something that we monitor.  So basically, when a blogger takes an opportunity, they send us back a link from their site saying, "Okay.  This is what I wrote about."  And then we have reviewers who take that original opportunity from the advertiser and measure it up against what was written on the blog.  So we make sure that everything's right in it, it's not [inaudible]...We have rights, then we reject it because maybe you didn't put the right URL, or maybe you didn't put the right keywords in.  We don't monitor as far as what they say.  We make sure the criteria is as per what the advertiser wants.  And once that's approved, then we only pay them through PayPal 30 days out. Me: Thirty days out...Okay.  So...let's just make this up for a hypothetical advertiser.  If I'm a Procter & Gamble or something, and I want somebody to write something about my shampoo and I want them to talk about three product attributes, let's say.  Do the bloggers get paid if they don't comply with those three things that P&G wants them to write about?

PPP:  Well, it basically...I hear what you're saying.  A lot of people do that, but then you're kind of blocking the blogger from expressing a lot more about the product sometimes, but...if that's a key element that you need to say this, this and that and that's something that we do with you and make sure that you're not missing out on that, because that's a key element that they want out there to create a buzz about - that it's a new product, you know, extra shine or thickness or what have you...That that's something that, definitely, that they need to have somehow incorporated...

Me: ...in order to get paid?

PPP: Exactly. Me: Okay.  I've heard a little bit about the notion of transparency in the blogosphere.  How do you think, from your perspective, this affects transparency in the blogosphere?  Is this full disclosure?

PPP: At this point, we just recently launched disclosurepolicy.org.  That's a site where...all...  We're trying to have bloggers adopt that on their own site saying "yes" and disclosing the fact they're being paid for blogging.  So this is something that the bloggers are doing, and they have no problem doing it because, you know, it's sort of like, they're worried about other things other than Pay Per Post.  They're writing about their own personal vibes and thoughts and feelings about everything.  So that's something that they're not having a problem really at all balancing it out that way.

Me: Okay.  How about just in terms of general blogger credibility?  I hear Jeff Jarvis and other folks like that talking all the time about 'We really have to watch out for things that erode blogger credibility.'  Is this something that you think is going to, long term, be good for the blogosphere?  Bad for the blogosphere?  In terms of the credibility.  I mean, I can imagine that somebody would find somebody in the Pay Per Post program and say, "Well, hey, this person's being paid, so maybe it's not necessarily their own opinion.  Maybe it's the opinion of the advertiser."  How do you guys deal with that?

PPP: My personal thought on it...either you're blogging or you're not, and if you are blogging...like, I have a blog and I never used it...for Pay Per Post, but I think bloggers that are very active, the ones that I've gone through and read...It's a part of them.  So I think it's their own individual way to express themselves, so I don't know if...I don't think that's going to change.  And that's something we ask our bloggers not to do more than three posts a day, that they do separate it with their own personal entries.  We want to keep realness alive with their blogs.  These people are more than happy to.  Like I've gone to a lot of our bloggers' websites and I'm like, "I can't even see the ad."  They're talking about this, that and what have you, you know, so...  They're very active.

Me: In terms of the campaigns that you guys have run for advertisers, is there like a concrete example or something you could talk about specific to one of the campaigns you've already run.

PPP: A good example was Speed TV, actually.  They deal with NASCAR and all that.  Racing.  They were having a hard time...uhm, not a hard time, but we thought of this opportunity to create four different types of opportunities to increase their rankings.  So that's what we did.  One was probably one of the TV shows.  I don't know specifically what four opportunities were created.  All I know is that we created four different opportunities.  They were ranking like 130 and all of a sudden within a week they were ranked number five...

Me: So you're talking about search engine results then...right?

PPP: Exactly. Me: So because blogs enjoy favorable treatment from the search engines organically, this is something that an advertiser would be interested in for that reason?

PPP: Oh, yeah, absolutely.  You're creating...an opportunity to attract people who know something about your product or business or service.  And they're writing about it and then linking it back to your site but they already have a little network of all their friends.  So everybody's going to be reading that as well so there's [inaudible] in SEO for their sites.

Me: Anything else you want to add?

PPP: No, ultimately...we've been around for a couple months.  It's been quite interesting.  We've been able to get a lot of great advertisers, a lot of great interest in what we're doing and ultimately we're just trying to prove it and make it work for everybody.  So far it's been working out really well.