Date: December 10, 2004 8:15:07 PM EST
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Blogging for Bucks : The Marqui Affair
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Flog on a blog: The next ad frontier
Weblogs a new way to reach consumers
By KEITH McARTHUR
UPDATED AT 8:11 PM EST Tuesday, Dec 7, 2004
On her personal blog -- "The Life & Times of Sooz" -- Susan Kaup writes
regularly about her friends, her Internet radio station and Boston's
indie rock scene.
She also writes about Marqui Inc., a small Vancouver content management
company that is paying a select group of 17 bloggers $800 (U.S.) a
month to write about the company on their weblogs.
"It became clear to us that as a small company, we had to find new,
creative ways to get to market," says Stephen King, Marqui's chief
Marqui produces Web-based text editing software for clients including
the BC Ferry Authority and the David Suzuki Foundation. As the company
expands into the United States, it hopes to win new business by
expanding its on-line presence -- especially through blogs.
Marqui's efforts have spurred a vigorous debate about ethics in the
rapidly accelerating corner of the Internet known as the "blogosphere."
Web purists say the blogosphere is one of the last spaces on the
Internet that's still largely free from corporate influence -- but not
"My guess is that a lot of brands will trip all over themselves as they
learn about blogs," says Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer for
Cincinnati-based Intelliseek Inc., which tracks companies' Internet
"You've got a lot of senior managers that will say 'let's go influence
the bloggers' without really knowing the consequences of this very,
very opinionated group."
Mr. Blackshaw says he doesn't recommend paying people to blog, because
consumers will see through the effort.
Mr. King says Marqui knows it has to be fully transparent to be taken
seriously. The company has published the terms of its contract with
bloggers on its website. Marqui promises to pay even if bloggers say
bad things about the company and its services.
"I think this is extremely risky," Mr. King says. "In a traditional
marketing sense, what you try to do is control your message. And what
we're saying is that the world's changed and a company with integrity
has to go out there and let the world discuss its products."
Bloggers can earn an extra $200 a month if they generate business leads
for Marqui. The firm plans to pay out as much as $180,000 a year to its
roster of bloggers, which will roll over every three months.
The company, formerly Maestro CMS, might not be able to control what
its bloggers say, but efforts to boost its presence in the blogosphere
are working. According to Intelliseek's blogpulse.com, references to
Marqui on blogs have increased tenfold over the past month -- partly
because of the ethical debate over blogging for pay.
So far, the most common method of establishing a corporate profile in
the blogosphere is to get employees to write about their company, or
for a CEO to blog. Big-name corporate bloggers include Sun Microsystems
CEO Jonathan Schwartz and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
Craig Flannagan, marketing manager in Canada for the Microsoft
Developer Network, says he uses his blog, which is hosted on a
Microsoft site, as a marketing tool to keep in touch with customers.
Blogs are a great communications tool because they're raw and
unfiltered, he says, without intervention from copywriters or lawyers.
But those same attributes mean that bloggers have to be careful not to
post anything that would hurt the employer, Mr. Flannagan says.
Many of Marqui's bloggers say they're participating in what appears to
be a new and exciting experiment. As Ms. Kaup jokes on her blog: "Stay
tuned to see if I turn into a brainwashed Marqui monkey!"
Jason Calacanis, co-founder of New York-based Weblogs Inc., is among
those most concerned about the pay-to-blog model. He says the
separation of advertising and content works well in traditional media
and should be maintained on blogs. He says that although many of
Marqui's bloggers are going out of their way to distinguish the
sponsored section from the rest of their blogs, it leaves readers
"Every time they write anything remotely related to that category of
software, a certain percentage of people are going to remember that
they were on the payroll of that other software company. And it's going
to taint everything they do," says Mr. Calacanis, whose company
publishes several commercial blogs, which are supported through
A group of former McGill University students have started another
company to match bloggers with potential advertisers.
Umair Haque, co-founder of London-based Blogversations, says thousands
of people have signed up for its service, with slightly more
advertisers than bloggers. Sponsored discussions are scheduled to begin
Mr. Haque says his bloggers will be paid to write about topics
recommended by sponsors, but won't have to toe the company line. He
says he's aiming to help marketers cut through the clutter of
"We think it's more interesting for people to read what bloggers have
to say about a given discussion topic, without any of the restrictions
of traditional advertising media."
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