Her email led me to ponder the differences between hype, opinion and journalism, especially in blogs. I’m concerned, because some 84 percent of Americans say online customer evaluations influence their purchases, according to an Opinion Research Corp. survey. That means if you recommend a product on your blog, people are likely to believe you. So here are seven definitions to keep in mind when writing about a product or place:
- Advertorial. A form of print advertising in newspapers and magazines. It looks just like the publication’s regular editorial copy, leading readers to believe believe the publication endorses the product or location. Ethical magazines label them as Advertorial or as Special Advertising Sections. On the web, advertorial is harder to distinguish, because it is usually not labeled.
- Junket. A trip offered to writers, all expenses paid, in the hope that a story will result.
- Promotion. What advertisers, marketers and public relations (pr) people do to get media attention for themselves or their clients. Writers, on the other hand, know how to sift through promotion and find information interesting to their readers (or a publication’s readers), and the reasons why come through in the piece. Writers are not promoters.
- Puff piece. Promotional writing about a person, product or company that offers only positive comments. Also called “hype” and “free p.r.,” it is duller to read than a balanced review.
- Review. A balanced opinion of a product, service, or place. Reviews are mostly positive, but still address weaknesses or cons. An all-positive review is actually a puff piece.
- Sponsored posts/content. Where companies pay writers to promote their products. Writers might do so in their own blogs, or by creating a blog for the client, or by writing comments on other blogs, on Twitter or on Facebook. While their comments look like personal opinions, they are a form of promotion and often not labeled as such. These writers could be in trouble over ethics and disclosure issues, but Gawker says the trend will only increase. Sponsored writing on websites is the online equivalent of advertorial, and often not labeled as such.
- Opinion piece. An informed essay capitalizing on a piece of news and expanding on it, based on the writer’s opinion. In print, the writer’s biases are sometimes covered in the bio, thus exposing their agendas. On the web, again, it’s harder to tell.
Have I left anything out? If you’ve written sponsored posts and positive reviews, think I’m being too extreme, or think this is all semantics and you can write whatever you like, I’d like to hear from you. Let’s discuss.