Jeremiah Owyang Inserts Foot In Mouth (Again) Over IZEA Sponsored Posts

Rarely do I go after individual people on this blog. There have been a few occasions, but I prefer to talk about issues and not people. However, when the errors of a person are so egregiously over the top, I have a need to say something. This was the case over the weekend with Forrester research analyst, Jeremiah Owyang, who decided that he would depart from the typical role of an analyst, where neutrality and objectivity are key in providing unbiased advice, and instead insert himself into a conversation as a subject matter expert on a topic he really knows nothing about.

The topic is paid posting. As you are aware, I am going to be participating in a sponsored post campaign for Sears with Izea shortly. Izea recently did a similar campaign with K-Mart and a number of bloggers, including Chris Brogan participated in that effort. For longevity, here is Chris’ post, posted on his “Daddyblogger” blog.

Jeremiah picked up on this development and decided it needed to be a big issue, asking questions (in his typical braindead question asking style) about the campaign, and insinuating that Chris is not authentic in his post. This is not his role as a research analyst.

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This caused a massive stir on Twitter. My instinctive response, and judging by the response I’d say most people agree, is that Chris is one of the most transparent people on the web today. He exudes leadership qualities, and is highly respected among fans and peers alike. He has a tremendous reputation.

Jeremiah apparently has since had phone conversations with Izea CEO Ted Murphy and Chris Brogan, who serves on the Board of Advisors to “get the facts” about Izea and the campaign and this evening, he has written his own response to the response (lost yet?).

With all the background in place, let me offer my own opinion – less about Izea, and more about Jeremiah. Jeremiah is, as a representative of Forrester Research and in his function as a research analyst, expected to be a thought follower, not a thought leader. That is, his role is not to editorialize, or offer public opinion in such a way that exerts his influence outside of his Forrester client base. His role, in fact, is to analyze data, trends and the consensus of thought leaders in industry (online and offline, but largely online) and distill the data to a bottom line that is relevant to his clients.

Therefore, as someone who is not a part of the paid placements campaigns that Izea is running, his research should be more globally around paid placement/sponsored posts in general and not specifically about Izea. If he found flaws in the business, his advice to his clients might be to not consider using such vehicles. It should never have been about Chris Brogan.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh with Jeremiah. I am sure he’ll tell me if I am, and that’s fine. However, I have no patience for the riot incitement when it comes to one of the most ethical and upstanding men on the internet, and a friend. In this case, Jeremiah had no place asserting himself in a conversation that he had no information on. If you’re not part of the problem, and you’re not part of the solution, then you stay out.

If it’s a question of market research, as it should be for a Forrester Research Analyst, then the proper approach would have been private conversations with both Ted Murphy and Chris Brogan before stirring things up publicly.

If it’s a question of Izea reputation, then as a market analyst, the conversations and advice to Forrester clients should have been held within the confidentiality that I presume is expected between a client and a service provider with the above suggested advisement from those involved (Ted and Chris).

What should never have happened was the allowance of character assassination of Chris based on misunderstood premises and recycled arguments from two years ago.

I also don’t appreciate the condescension toward me when I challenged him on the matter.

@technosailor im listening, but you should call @chrisbrogan and @tedmurphy just as i did on the phone to get full story. Check your facts

For the record, I have spoken to both of them in great detail about this and other topics over the past year. Thanks, Jeremiah.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

35 thoughts on “Jeremiah Owyang Inserts Foot In Mouth (Again) Over IZEA Sponsored Posts

  1. I hope you know this was nothing more than a baited argument set up by Jeremiah.

    I followed the exchanges and I dont think this was about Izea/Kmart, this was about someone wanting some Twitter attention by stirring things up by laying out the bait and unfortunately you and Chris fell for it. Reminds me of a certain Twitter mom still in a frenzy DAYS after the #Motrinmoms debacle.

    If I were in Chris’ shoes he would make me no never mind because it’s obvious he didnt know what he was talking about. But if inclined to answer back, lay out the facts and be done.

    You’re not a fish, stop going after the bait.

  2. “If you’re not part of the problem, and you’re not part of the solution, then you stay out.”

    Why are you not following your own advice??

    Clearly this seems an issue between Chris, Izea, and Jeremiah.

    How exactly do you fit in?

    2cents

  3. I agree with your defense of Chris Brogan – and I think his authenticity is well-defended by a great many of his friends and fans.

    I do think it’s tough, though, to pin down Jeremiah’s “role,” simply because he’s a human being with opinions. Professionally he is an analyst for Forrester Research, but does that relieve him of his right to express his opinion via Twitter? His point seems to have been that Chris’s participation in the Izea campaigns would, over time, diminish his perceived authenticity. While I doubt we’d see this regularly from Chris, I find it hard to completely discount that possibility.

  4. And you helped me fix my blog search. : )

    I appreciate your perspective. I think Jeremiah attempted a fair post. I think he didn’t expect the outcry that happened on Saturday. That said, it was interesting to read your take. Thanks.

  5. Mike- Jeremiah was (and almost exlusively always does) represent his Twitter engagement as part of his Forrester role. He rarely uses it for anything other than his research.

  6. Amen my brother! I’m in full support of @chrisbrogan – and apparently, so are you. Interesting read – and hopefully we can all play nice in the future. One of the reasons I left corporate America, was to get away from the politics of it all. Ahh, humanity – ain’t it great?

  7. Wow, a lot to digest here Aaron.

    First of all, I don’t have any personal ill will against you, and we’ve not interacted much before, so am I to guess that you’re defensive as you’re one of the bloggers on the Izea program? If so, great, I’m listening – I really am.

    Good points, my assertion (the one you made a screenshot off) is STILL my stance, as noted on my blog. I did get clarification from all the parties present, and can back it up. Your accusation is baseless –I made a stance, asked questions to my network (which you’re part of) and had follow up calls with the parties involved.

    I can see why you think I should be a thought follower, but Forrester’s model is actually to have analyst be thought leaders. What’s the proof point? We’re in press, and media very frequently and do public speeches –I’m paid to be a thought leader. Secondly, my twitter and blog account were created long before I joined Forrester, and will be my own after I leave.

    I am going go to agree with you about the Chris Brogan, you’re right, it shouldn’t have been about him, and I am not happy with the way it turned out. As you know, he’s a social media leader, and is writing a book on “Trust Agents” and frequently discusses transparency –you can see why he’s very visible. Perhaps the most important thing is that he was the most visible participant and is on the Board of Advisvors, he holds equity of the company. With that said, I agree, there was unnecessary negative attention drawn to him, but you can NOT hold me accountable for the actions of others. In retrospect, I would have done this differently.

    You mentioned: “I also don’t appreciate the condescension toward me when I challenged him on the matter.” And pointed to this tweet.

    http://twitter.com/jowyang/status/1057321628

    Yup, that sounded condescending on my part, they were in response to these two tweets you did, which were threatening (but true about the buzz words part, heh)

    http://twitter.com/technosailor/status/1057207220

    http://twitter.com/technosailor/status/1057249452

    (now I feel like a petty child, ‘he said, she said’ thing)

    Also, I was with my family, at my nephew’s bone marrow drive, and really didn’t do a good job of responding, and for that I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to escalate, and that’s why I offered a phone call.

    So, there we go, I’m responding to your assertions and here’s the summary

    I stand by what I said in the tweets, and I backed it up with research.
    Industry analysts are paid to be thought leaders –so expect to hear our thoughts
    You’re right, the focus should have been more on Izea, not so much Chris, although I can’t be responsible for others actions.
    I’m sorry for coming across condescending, I overreacted.

    I offered a phone call with you to discuss this more in detail, and it’s still open should you want to talk. I really don’t’ want to make this a personal matter, I hold no ill will against you. I hope you understand my point of view.

  8. Last night I think I ticked Chris off by asking if it was for charity. I had been out most of the evening and came home and hopped on Twitter to see this battle going on. Had no clue what was up so I asked an innocent question. Turns out it was in part for Toys for Tots. I later tweeted that it was sort of this year’s Frozen Pea campaign.

    I don’t get it why people are so upset…it was completely transparent, it wasn’t meant to be a permanent relationship, and it helped out charity. The horrors!

    Is it sustainable? Probably not. But it wasn’t designed to be. It was designed to be fun. Happy holidays.

  9. @Ginger, I don’t think Chris fell for it.
    He had to respond, as there were obviously bloggers out there
    locked and loaded, ready for this.

    They don’t realize they permanently got themselves written off as jealous
    wannabes but many users.
    Guys like marc meyer don’t realize the dm’s in agreement,
    relegating him to the side lines for claiming Brogan’s
    integrity was for sale.
    This was in conversation with Barbara “I’ve been ordered to make mainstream stay relevant” Gibson.
    Who wrote: “Here’s the lesson I’m drawing from all this for myself: bloggers frequently say that the blogosphere is more trusted than traditional media (although the Forrester report doesn’t support that), but just as the news media has lost a great deal of its credibility as it became more about business than news, so will individual bloggers lose the trust of their readers if they write without integrity, whether paid-for or not. ”

    Jeremiah “Forrester” Owyang?
    Barbara “Accredited Business Communicator” Gibson??
    Hm, the notion of bloggers becoming the voice of trust worrisome?
    (ahead of lets say Brogan’s new book due out in May).
    Wait, is Brogan accredited?

    Hm, that would include straight talk about big brands that suck,
    from bloggers with growing, real authority.
    Where would that leave big companies that don’t want to listen?
    That want to go back to controlling things?

    Who would hire Forrester?

  10. My 2 cents.
    Everyone is taking this sooooooo personally. Too personally. Chris taking Kmart gift cards is his choice. I know none of you, personally or professionally. Yet I was surprised to see that Chris had followed the ‘pay-for-post’ scheme. It seemed strange, because he has gained respect among bloggers for his own voice. Getting paid to post moves a blogger over to another section of the blogging rainbow, in my opinion. I do not disrespect his actions, but it does color how I see his opinions from here forth. I do believe bloggers should find any/all ways to be paid, I have no problem with cash flowing to bloggers. But in my world, being paid per blog, in the Izea model, the WalMart model, the Johnson&Johnson model of mommy bloggers, all of these financial arrangements mean that the blogger is being paid to ‘give a look’. Chris’ blog about spending $500 at KMart was one thing, but asking people to re-tweet and visit his page to sign up to win a second $500 KMart card means that he was then out marketing for Kmart in the Twitter community. And to me, that’s where I stop listening to the blogger as a voice of the larger world. That’s my personal choice. So Chris is obviously a well-liked, well-respected person. He seems to have two blogs? One a daddy blog, the other a work blog? Well, in one blog he did pay-per-blog and in the other he is not going to take $ to blog on specific companies? That’s fine. That’s his choice. But it honestly colors how I’ll see his professional voice. I felt that way when I heard mommy bloggers were being flown to J&J headquarters. It does not mean I dislike or distrust any of those great people, nor do I distrust Chris. But hawking a company’s goods with re-tweets is something I’m not interested in following on Twitter.

    I also do not know Jeremy, but I feel the above post is really rude to him, personally and professionally.

    Why can’t Jeremy have an opinion, why do you expect him to stay within only the parameters of his one ‘voice’, his job at Forrester, when you so clearly want Chris Brogan to be able to have multiple pulpits?
    Again, I believe its because too many people took this ‘discussion’ personally.

  11. @Mb, Mary, Paul, and Chris Brogan

    Thanks for reading the whole story, and trying to see my point of view. Chris Brogan’s tweet today says the following:

    “@Marc_Meyer @Barb_G – I think what happened was that people took @jowyang ‘s really innocent question and ran for the pitchforks. How rare!”
    http://twitter.com/chrisbrogan/status/1057088199

    In the comments above, Chris Brogan says:
    “I appreciate your perspective. I think Jeremiah attempted a fair post. I think he didn’t expect the outcry that happened on Saturday. That said, it was interesting to read your take. Thanks.”

    I had no intention of lynching Chris, and if you read my post, you’ll see I mentioned ShoeMooney, and Ted Murphy before Chris. http://snipurl.com/863e9

    As I mentioned above, I would have done things differently, but I cannot be responsible for the actions of the mob.

    What I think matters here is that Aaron is an EXTREMELY loyal friend to Chris, and I should be so lucky to have someone stand up in public to defend me like that.

    Aaron, you’re a good guy, but I think you shouldn’t put me on the hot seat for what happened, but instead look at the mob. (but you are right about me using buzzwords and putting my foot in my mouth –alot)

  12. As you say, I think the most disappointing aspect with Jeremy’s initial comment on Twitter was that he had already “made his mind up” about the post in question before getting the facts first.

    For someone in his position, to try and lock the stable after the horse has bolted made me question his authenticity and professionalism – something I never thought I’d do when it comes to someone I respect.

  13. Ok kids, here’s a totally DIFFERENT perspective from me (I know you are all shocked) where in the hell has this analysis and questioning been for the Momblog community? Because you realize many Mom bloggers do sponsored posts or reviews all the time and have been for years and years and years.

    But then again, those involved rarely pay attention to that community and heaven forbid might have had this discussion two years ago otherwise.

    /end rant

    New rant: I totally don’t understand how a disclaimer can be taken any other way. And going after it any other way is just…well…stupid.

    I can make up my own mind about bloggers who do these sorts of posts WITH disclaimers, but frankly I’d like to see everyone focus their outrage over those bloggers who don’t even tell us it’s sponsored. Because there are a lot. And that’s where the REAL problem lies, instead of this totally made up one.

    /end rant #2

    xoxoxoxoxo

  14. I agree the whole issue is stupid. The fact that Brogan, (and I, this upcoming week) are doing these posts and have our own personal reputations and brands on the line should be enough to recognize that the fact that there is a sponsored post will not hurt our reputations.

    The problem, Jeremiah, is that you are taking the stigma of a company from two years, channeling the mindsets of the Mike Arringtons and Jason Calacanis’ of the world from two years ago and trying to make the same arguments today is where I think the stink is coming from outside of your direct influence. By the way, Calacanis gives a thumbs up on the effort.

    There once was an argument about whether bloggers could maintain credibility and have ads was the argument 4 years ago. The last big critic, Scoble, now has ads.

    There once was an argument about whether bloggers should use affiliate marketing, and now it’s common place.

    There once was an argument about whether PayPerPost (now a product of Izea) was ethical, and now Brogan, me and other bloggers that have brands and reputations are engaging.

    The problem is when you start fighting two year old fights. It makes you look irrelevant and petty. It makes you look tone deaf. When you go after Brogan (which I respect your assertation that it did not happen the way you wanted), it makes you look… well, clueless.

  15. And Jeremiah- I have no personal animosity toward you either, but someone had to put some skin on the line here to say what I know has been on the minds of people. At least several people I’ve had direct conversations with in the past few days. So, I’m happy to be the bad guy to have that bad taste aired.

  16. Oooh Aaron, I’m trying so hard here…

    It seems like you want your cake and eat it too. I’ve since responded to your four assertions, and backed them up successfully using links from Chris, Ted, and my own historical tweets. Now I’ll address your fifth:

    You wrote in your latest comment that:

    “The problem, Jeremiah, is that you are taking the stigma of a company from two years,”

    Not sure why that’s an issue, as this is still an issue as we see more sponsored posts coming (starting with yourself). It’s a real and relevant issue, and now that Izea has evolved from Pay Per Post, this is a service I may recommend to my clients (this is how I get paid, just as you do for sponsored posts and your other talents)

    What’s amazing Aaron, is that in my blog post, I fundamentally agree with you, which you’ve linked to. So where’s the beef?

    I’m really trying here to stay polite, professional and respond to all your criticisms. I get that you don’t like me, personally or professionally, yet In my mind you continue to insult me (as Mary a previous commenter has stated) while I maintain a level of respect with you.

    I’m trying here Aaron… can you come half way?

  17. Aaron–

    You make a lot of good points. We are navigating our way towards a workable relationship between advertising and content that works on the web. And that path is up to each blogger to negotiate with his/her own community and his/her own reputation. What happened two years ago is not the same as what’s happening today. But…

    I see a lot of commentary that questions the debate altogether: “people are just jealous of Chris”, “these critics all have an axe to grind”, “Jeremiah doesn’t have the standing to ask questions.” And other commentary that just gets petty and personal, which I won’t repeat.

    The fact is, this is an important issue for serious bloggers to consider. How do we get paid for the value of our content? How do we maintain the value we’re delivering in ways that don’t compromise our brand? How do we navigate this effectively with our readers? These are legitimate questions that have been hammered on for decades as times and technology have changed, and the last two years didn’t erase them. The fact that any number of prominent bloggers may decide that sponsored posts are right for them doesn’t put the question to rest for everyone.

    I ~hugely~ appreciate what Chris contributes to the discussion on social media, and his transparency throughout this whole affair. At the same time, I also ~hugely~ appreciate Jeremiah’s questions about the impact of sponsored posts on a blogger’s brand. Those are questions I trust both Chris and Jeremiah to highlight and drive a dialog about, which is why I read them. I do ~not~ expect to see them, or anyone else serious about moving this industry forward, question the legitimacy or intentions of people asking these questions. Their questions about things just like this are exactly what built their brands in the first place.

  18. I didn’t see your latest comment before I posted the one above

    You wrote:
    “And Jeremiah- I have no personal animosity toward you either, but someone had to put some skin on the line here to say what I know has been on the minds of people. At least several people I’ve had direct conversations with in the past few days. So, I’m happy to be the bad guy to have that bad taste aired.”

    That’s cool, and I appreciate you calling me out, I get critiqued all the time and certainly welcome it. I make a lot of mistakes and it’s been noted by many in public and in private (I’m sure)

    I think we’re getting closer…

  19. I think that Mary Wallace (above) hit the nail on the head!

    “Chris’ blog about spending $500 at KMart was one thing, but asking people to re-tweet and visit his page to sign up to win a second $500 KMart card means that he was then out marketing for Kmart in the Twitter community. And to me, that’s where I stop listening to the blogger as a voice of the larger world.”

    Sorry folks but this is spam: http://cli.gs/KmartSpam

    Great for the client as they are getting new traffic to the site, but it is still spam… and Jeremiah Owyang (working for Forrester or for Burger King) can talk about it.

  20. It’s too bad there’s such personal element involved here (hi, Aaron), because there is a real interesting discussion just waiting to happen around this topic.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t it. Carry on, Internet fight.

  21. Forget paying Chris and Aaron, I wanna know how much IZEA paid Mitch to do that podcast, I think this is like the 10th blog in a row I’ve seen him promoting it on ;)

  22. Are we reporters or are we advertisers? For me, covering mostly hardware the line is easier to draw, the sides easier to see. For Chris and Aaron covering and participating in the “social media” echo chamber, it’s not as clearly defined. But by working with IZEA, they’ve certainly lost their objectivity in this particular conversation – on the payroll. But perhaps it’s like being an embedded journalist rather than being a shill. Also, sponsored posts sort of reminds me of radio show hosts who pitch products between their own segments… and folks don’t seem to have much of problem with that.

  23. Interesting thing is that, according to the articles on the Izea deal, there were six bloggers involved–yet the only one we know about is Chris. And we know because he’s been transparent.

    Who, though, are the other 5? and have they disclosed? or did they do, as I’ve seen on a number of blogs (and a high number of mommyblogs), put up a general disclaimer in the sidebar saying that *some* posts are sponsored, and then leave it up to the readers to figure out which posts are the sponsored ones?

    If the person is transparent on each and every sponsored post–as Chris and Aaron are with their dealings with Izea–then fine. That’s the promotion and marketing business (not nec. the journalism business–but who says all bloggers are journalists?) But if there’s only a general disclaimer, and readers cannot know for sure which products or “deals” are being sponsored, then there’s a strong chance of misleading readers.

    BTW, does anyone remember the Marqui paid-blogging deal from 2005? Y’all might find this post from Molly Holzschlag to be of interest:

    http://www.molly.com/2005/02/28/goodbye-marqui-paid-to-post/

    Some important lessons to be learned from that promotion that could apply here as well.

  24. @Tish: As a blogger, advertiser and investor in IZEA I’ve followed this pretty closely. The campaign came through IZEA’s http://www.SocialSpark.com/ marketplace which always requires 100% in-post disclosure and each participant in this campaign disclosed in-post, typically multiple times. I hope that context helps…

  25. The only winner here is Izea. Oh and yes you are being too harsh. Jeramiah is a research analyst but more often an everyday person – Infallible and imperfect.

  26. Aaron, pu-lease.

    The idea that your taking payment to write a post is *OK* while Jeremiah offering his own ideas is *not OK* is so far beyond ridiculous, I may have to write a comedic movie script about this. Shame, shame on Jeremiah for having a free opinion, nay, for voicing a question!

    As far as Chris, many of us have no problem with him as a person, rather respect him, and our critiques were not personal attacks. We just find pay-per-posts morally dubious and hate to see the practice diminish some of the smartest voices of our generation, including the usually insightful Brogan.

    The fact that this kicked off a firestorm shows that many people don’t like PPP because it’s cluttering up the clarity of what is real vs. paid influence on the internet. Disclosure and labels aside, PPP inflates the relevance of topics and makes the voice talking less credible. For case study, please see Howard Stern.

  27. “Don’t take it personal, 140 Characters can make us write short and direct messaging.”

    I couldn’t explain it better than M. Wallace above and many that touch the point of authenticity and the implications of PPP and the flavors of bloggers. Advising brands in how to engage bloggers and any other social media networks is difficult enough with out spending significant amount of resources for listening measuring, analyzing and engagement. I look forward to the latest trends in order to advice properly, discuss and reach a conclusion.

    PPP raises tons of key questions, which Jeremiah as Senior Analyst for Forrester did and expressed his opinion and he is on the right track.

    I want to know if PPP will become a trends and what it means to me and clients.

    I will predict PPP inflation will start trending up due to the ailing economy and its impact on business and those bloggers with a PPT modus operandi will not only hurt their credibility but also bring the final debate between journalism and blogger to an end.

    A blogger at least for me is simply a publisher, and it should behaves like a publisher. Supporting sponsorship (you have to eat) or discrete ad space an many other things.

    For many a blogger is a citizen journalist, which implies following the ethics of true journalism.

    Can a blogger be both? – questionable.

    The discussion can go forever, many good and passionate people, “but at time like this” many are just trying to make it.

  28. Aaron, I like your voice and authenticity, but I don’t agree – at all – with what you’re saying. And I’m friends with every player in this little drama and respect y’all, including Jeremiah, Chris and even Ted.

    I was going to explore the issue here, but the more I wrote, the more I realized how there’s a bigger issue here and how I had more I wanted to say. So, I wrote a blog entry of my own, on my business blog @ intuitive.com.

  29. Yeah, I agree Aaron went overboard here in his, let’s say, analysis of Jeremiah’s role in all this.

    And contrary to what he stated, I don’t think these issues were resolved two years ago. The debates we’re seeing now are proof of that. I see social media marketing as something that is very young and all of the methodologies haven’t been fully worked out yet.

    I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post on this myself, meant in good fun, and hope no one (especially Technosailor himself) was not offended: http://digitalstreetjournal.com/wordpress/?p=144

  30. You know what I think is really going on here-
    KMart, and for that matter, Sears, and older and more “beat-up” brands- they are not cool and hip and popular. So the assumption is being made that the IZEA program is “paying off” bloggers to go shop there and get a positive review, for $500 worth of stuff.
    Knowing the bloggers involved, I don’t think they are selling or even renting themselves that cheaply. I honestly believe they are doing what amounts to a transparent “secret shopper” thing, and giving out of fashion brands a look and once over, like they were seeing them for the first time, and reporting their results online for the rest of us. Sure, the stores want people to like what they see. Sure, they want people to hear that they are “not your father or mother’s store”. Sure, they are trying to get younger people and a more diverse audience to shop there. How else to you get people to take a second look at a brand that many might consider “tired”?
    Moreover, let’s take it from a problem solving perspective. Jeremiah- if you were KMart or Sears, how would you get a new audience to take a chance on your brand? How do you think you could attract a new generation of shoppers, beyond the TV screen and boring weekend circulars? What are your ideas?

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