What company does not ask bloggers for reviews to boost their promotion? But who would think a company like Microsoft would actually pay bloggers to promote their new Internet Explorer program “rethink”? That’s what they’re doing right now, with the help of SocialChorus, an advocate marketing agency. The information was revealed by TechCrunch‘s founder Michael Arrington after being contacted by SocialChorus to write a sponsored post about Internet Explorer. The news quickly went up to Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google…
Microsoft’s bloggers campaign: #IEbloggers
On June 17th 2014, Michael Arrington, founder of the renowned tech news site TechCrunch received a Facebook message from “a social strategist working on behalf of Microsoft” offering an opportunity to work on a sponsored post. The topic of the sponsored post: Internet Explorer. This sponsored post opportunity came with the landing page of the job for Microsoft “rethink” bloggers campaign. This landing page includes the requirements, as well as the rules for the blog post, mandatory social shares using a specific hasthag and hub shares for future opportunities:
- “Blog Post – For this blog action, we’ll want you to talk about the new Internet Explorer browsing experience from your perspective! You can either center your post on the RethinkIE program in itsentirety or on one of its specific partnerships. These are the partnerships you can write about (if you choose not to write about the entire program): ESPN FC World Cup, Assassin’s Creed Pirates Demo, 22Tracks, Everest Rivers of Ice, Atari Arcade, and Hover. We’d really love for you to make this post your own and talk about either RethinkIE or the partnerships and how they relate to you. We’d love to see original imagery and hear your personal viewpoints on the new browsing experience! Please note that you will be provided with the required assets to embed in your post, as well as more details on each partnership, once your contract is signed.
- Social Shares – Share your post or related photos with our hashtag (#IEbloggers) on 2 to 3 social networks (Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter). If you would like to share on Pinterest or Google+, please email [email protected] with the corresponding links.
- Hub Shares – Please feel free to also share content directly from our hub once you are provided with the link (this will happen after the contract is signed). There will be a lot of great content that you can directly share to your social channels and there may even be fun opportunities for doing so!”
This sponsored post opportunity by Microsoft and SocialChorus also includes questions regarding the compensation rate:
- “This will be a sponsored post opportunity and payment will be made out via check.”
Is this any wrong? Well, not really. Asking bloggers to promote a product is OK though one may wonder why such a big company like Microsoft would do so, especially through a hashtag, which is sort of like giving themselves away.
Second, SocialChorus not checking up their mailing list before sending out a standard message to the founder of TechCrunch was not a smart move, especially when knowing Michael Arrington is not of fan of the paid links method.
And the most important of all: offering to pay bloggers through sponsored posts with paid links is a sensitive subject for Google and its webspam team.
Google’s fight against paid links
As you know, Google is against paid links especially when the goal of this method is to improve your PageRank as it violates their quality guidelines. And Google definitely takes action against this kind of tactics: sites impacted lose visibility on Google’ search results pages as they’re not considered trust worthy by the search engine. The links offered by sponsored post with paid links are considered artificial and therefore unnatural. As for PageRank, Google is especially merciless when it comes to rel=”dofollow” links. Here are Danny Sullivan (of Search Engine Land) and Google’s own head of webspam Matt Cutts’s reaction to Microsoft and SocialChorus’ actions:
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) June 18, 2014
Google actually has a a dedicated page where one can report paid links, to keep the quality of Google’ search results at its best. It is no surprise most of the sponsored posts found through Microsoft rethink campaign’s hashtag #IEbloggers will end up there if using the rel=”dofollow” attribute.
What’s next? Is Google going to take action?
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) June 18, 2014
It definitely seems like Matt Cutts and Google are looking at these “sponsored posts” very closely. But would it be legitimate to penalize them when the “rethink” landing page requirements do not mention what kind of links have to chosen (follow/nofollow) for the post? Also, the landing page by SocialChorus mentions you can use your own language. In some country (like France), bloggers are meant to write “Sponsored Post” on their post, which means using the rel=”nofollow” attribute has to be used on links. But is this regulation the same in other countries?
As mentioned by Search Engine Land’s founder Danny Sullivan himself: it does not seem like any of these sponsored posts are live yet anyways. Let’s wait and see if this simple PR campaign turns into a black hat SEO campaign…
What do you think Google should do? Are Microsoft and SocialChorus wrong?
UPDATE: According to Michael Arrington, Microsoft has suspended their program: “This action by a vendor is not representative of the way Microsoft works with bloggers or other members of the media. The program has been suspended.”