The difference between paid and earned

It’s pretty easy to tell them apart :

– Paid means getting compensation.

– Earned is… well, something that’s passed along based on merit, trust, relationships, need or  some combination of the above.

Of course, we’ve all heard stories of how paid/earned was blurred in the ’50s. Record promoters would hand DJs a wad of cash with the latest single as a way to guarantee airplay.  And community newspapers sometimes cross the line when they promise positive editorial in exchange for an ad. 

Now a piece in the New York Times estimates nearly a third of online book reviews are paid. I know there have always been cases of businesses posting positive reviews or getting friends to, but I’m surprised by the number.

On Twitter, more people are purchasing followers – to make it appear as if they’re more influential (popular?) than they are. They don’t care that many of the bought followers are fake accounts.  Joe Thornley recently got an email asking if he wanted to buy Twitter or Facebook followers. His response: no – let’s market with integrity.

But how can a person tell the difference between earned and paid-earned?  In many cases you can’t.

These days, we’re all be reviewers and that’s a great thing.  With social media our words can be amplified, shared and used to persuade.  But in a world with less formal curation and a bigger reliance on our trust, authenticity is our communications currency.

It comes down to two things: being honest and transparent. So if you’re paid to write a blurb or you’re a blogger getting money from a brand, disclose it.  A few years ago the FTC made that the law.

I know things will never be perfect, but if you like something and want to spread the word, say so.  And if you’re paid to write about a product, say that too.

Do you think there’s ever a case that justifies paying for writing that looks like it’s been earned?


About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.

John Treck
John Treck

But if you get paid for something that also means that you have earned that?!

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KDillabough 1 Like

I'm with you on your second last paragraph. And re the final sentence in your post: no. Cheers! Kaarina