Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hypothetical vs Ethical

This post has nothing to do with insurance, or health care, or risk management. It does have to do with the burgeoning power of the blogosphere [ed: now cut that out!], and where lines can and/or should be drawn.
By way of example: early on in the life of this blog, I was invited by the Oxford University Press to review a new book on health care and health insurance. OUP very kindly sent me a copy of the book (unsigned) to expedite that endeavor. A little later, Blue Cross of Minnesota sent me a nice little package consisting of a pretty brochure and some kind of granola-type bar thingie (as you can see, I'm not exactly a health-food afficionado). Neither the publisher nor the carrier asked me to write glowing reviews; in fact, I was less than kind to Dr Q (but always polite!). Still later, I had the opportunity (along with several other bloggers) to interview a United States Senator.
So what's my point?
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the newest blog phenom: "blogola." Simply put, it's companies sending nifty free stuff to bloggers (including airline tickets, IPods and other assorted goodies) in order to build "buzz" about a particular service or product. And it appears that this is having its intended effect: "I hope you like it," wrote Ms. Marie in an email to CBS to flag her "Old Christine" posting. "If there's anything you'd like me to add, just tell me and I will." She signed the note, "XOXO."
To be sure, not everyone involved "rolls over," but it seems to me that there may come a time where that conflict of interest may become important, maybe even unseemly. Whenever there's a quid-pro-quo, explicit or tacit, then there's the danger of an insurmountable conflict, which erodes the blogger's credibility and influence. And really, isn't that what we're selling: we write posts in the hope that we will sway our readers toward a certain conclusion or opinion. We have no super powers, only words. But words mean things and, if we choose to "sell out," what have we really accomplished?
Realistically, it's not terribly likely that Bob, Bill, Mike or I will ever be offered any items of real value [ed: oh really? Ask Bill about that new Porsche]. But both Bob and I have been interviewed by various trade journals, and Mike's had an interesting media experience recently (I'll let him tell you about it when the time is right), all because of IB. So we're relatively insulated from the problem. Still, it does give one pause: how would we handle real blogola?
Just some food for thought.
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