ScienceBlogs, the largest online community dedicated to science, recently added a controversial new blog to its ranks: a nutrition blog sponsored by PepsiCo. The blog network originally consisted of over 80 bloggers that have been hand-picked for their "originality, insight, talent and dedication” to scientific dialog. One such blogger, who writes under the penname GrrlScientist, has used ScienceBlogs as a forum to lodge her distaste over this decision—a sentiment which is presumably echoed by other ScieneBlogs readers and authors. According to GrrlScientist, the corporate sponsorship of the nutrition blog introduces the potential for a conflict of interest. By including to what amounts as a "corporate PR blog” among the existing bloggers, it undermines the credibility and willfully disinterested status that they have built up over the years, argues GrrlScientist.
What is interesting about GrrlScientist’s diatribe is that she—and others who share her view—seem to draw a line between the "necessary evil” of advertising and the somewhat more hazy territory of a blog sponsorship. At issue is the fact that articles written under the ScienceBlogs moniker are regularly picked up by Google News. As such, a sponsored blog post (or "paid propaganda” as described by GrrlScientist) would appear to have the same level objectivity and disinterestedness as an article from a blogger with no corporate sponsorship. The notion that ScienceBlogs existing credibility would bolster that of the Pepsi-sponsored blog is "unethical,” says GrrlScientist. Furthermore, the "clandestine manner” by which the ScienceBlogs administrators executed the decision is a "slap in the face,” as it potentially debases the credibility that the existing ScienceBlogs bloggers have built up over the years.
While this controversy is continuing to unfold and the full backlash is yet to be measured, this highlights an important aspect for publishers and advertisers to consider. When it comes to monetization, many Internet marketers and web developers think in purely technical terms—page rank, authority, backlinks, subscribers, traffic and bounce rates. But in the case of the ScienceBlogs controversy, there’s another intangible asset at stake: credibility. Impossible to measure and difficult to strategize, it seems that ScienceBlogs may be running the risk of cashing in on its credibility for short-term gain. The danger is that the immeasurable amount of credibility that ScienceBlogs has sacrificed may have been a more valuable asset than they anticipated—with their credibility compromised, ScienceBlogs may see less traffic and advertising dollars overall.