Web Communities, Rainbows & Butterflies


Butterfly FaceThere was a great piece written by Mark Schaefer this morning about the monetization of Chris Brogan. Of course, it’s not really about Chris. It’s about people “like” Chris, the bloggy-type people earning a living. The title could have easily been The Monetization of Heather Armstrong. After all, she ‘bullied’ herself a couple of washing machines, you know? I mean, she gave one away to a local shelter in Utah. But still, what a bitch.

I’d encourage you to read Mark’s piece because I think it brings up a lot of really great points about bloggers, communities and what we expect from them. But let’s talk a little about Chris for a second. After all, everyone else on the Web is.

I like Chris Brogan. If you’ve ever seen him speak, it’s hard not to. He’s charismatic. He’s high energy. He’s silly. He’s the kind of guy that leaves his audience with a tiny piece of himself at every encounter. I respect that. He’s “one of us”, except he’s on a stage. The stage we put him on.

According to Mark, “the glow” around Chris has been “muted” in recent months. People have been left wondering if he’s lost his ethics. Lost his ethics, you say? What the hell happened? Has he been seen murdering children? Cheating on his wife? Beating defenseless puppies?


He just started leveraging the network he’d previously been feeding for free.

shockHe participated in a couple high profile sponsored conversations (all disclosed) and over the past few weeks has been hard at work promoting his new book, Trust Agents. And he’s used the social connections he’s created to help him do that. I know! We just can’t have that! Bloggers are supposed to work for free. It’s supposed to be about the community. It’s supposed to be about a pure love of what they do. They’re supposed to hold hands and will their children back to school clothes and books and computers, not make money off their talents and hard work!

I want to thank Mark for starting the conversation he did. Because Chris isn’t the first example of this happening. He’s just the latest. Mark says it’s because we need rules, we need responsibility, and we need to understand that social media can also be about money.

Personally, I think people just need to get off it. There are no rules in social media or in Web celebrityhood. And hopefully we’re not knocking people over declaring that social media is about money. Of course it is. Why the hell else are we all here?

I have a stupid title. I’m “Chief Branding Officer” for Outspoken Media. I have that title because Rae and Rhea got fancy titles and they didn’t want me to feel left out. Fine. But WTF does that mean? It means that I spend my day building communities on the Web. I help our clients identify their audience, I create plans for how they can connect with them, and then I teach them how to use the tools that enable them to do all of that. And do you know what they do with all that information? They use those connections. They leverage the relationships. They use their communities to make money.

We are all in social media to make money. Not directly, of course. You’re going to have a hard time convincing your Twitter followers to pay your rent. You can’t show your physician how much traffic your blog got this morning and expect him or her to use that as payment for your heart surgery. You need to leverage that traffic, those eyes, those relationships and actually do something with it. That’s where the ROI in social media comes from. The ROI in social media does not come from Twitter. It does not come from being liked on the Internet or having lots of friends. It comes from taking all of that and figuring out a way to profit from it.

If you’re not in social media to make money, you’re doing something wrong. Companies forget that when they jump in and we forget it when we see our favorite people “brands” trying to leverage their own networks. You need to have a goal.


Is social media about conversations, relationships and engagement? YES. It’s about using all of those things to make money. Dell is on Twitter to sell more laptops. Browns Brewery in Troy is on Twitter teasing us with the Beer of the Day because they want to lure us in to try it. And because social media has opened the door for all these personal brands to emerge, you’re going to meet more Chris Brogans and Heather Armstrongs leveraging the connections they’ve created. Not because they’re shills or whores, but because this is America. And even more than that, because THIS IS THE INTERNET.

There should be a reason you’re participating in social media and hopefully it’s not just because you have no friends IRL. If you’re a corporate brand, what is this helping you to accomplish? How is this increasing your bottom line and ROI? If you don’t know, then you’re doing it wrong and you should hire a social media company to help with your social media plan. [What? We’re here to make money, right?]

If you’re one of the hot personal brands of today, then you also need to figure out how you can leverage your relationships. Otherwise, it’s great that you’re out there entertaining, informing and engaging people…but how is that helping you? If you’re not making use of the voice you’ve created, you’re arguably wasting it.

If you have a problem with brands using social media to make money, regardless whether that brand is Dell or someone with a pulse, then don’t follow them. Don’t listen to them. Close your ears and hide your head in the sand. But let’s not pretend they don’t have a right to do it. That they haven’t earned it. And please don’t pretend that social media is just now about money. Social media has ALWAYS been about money. That’s why we’ve built an entire industry around it.

Your Comments

  • Jacob Stoops

    You’re right on. It’s often because of social media that people get jobs, or gain more popularity (enabling them to make money) etc…People need to quit turning their noses up at those who’ve figured out a way to profit from it.

  • M.-J. Taylor

    Good thought provoking piece, and thanks to Jill Whalen’s status bar, I found it. I am not sure all social media is about making money. At least I hope Facebook isn’t. But I developed my FB relationships to promote a non-profit dance organization and nearly 2,000 friends later, I *have* begun to think I could use it to make $ … so you are right about it, after all.

    I do get irritated when a FB friend posts nothing but business related status updates, but I do get that it’s okay to do that.

    You’re so right; there are no rules. Nor should there be. Good article. Thanks.

  • Ben Cook

    Another great post, Lisa, and I absolutely agree. Unfortunately there will always be idiots out there who resent you for monetizing in any way but they should be tossed aside & ignored.

    Oh a larger scale though, it’s striking to me how similar this discussion/debate/drama/whatever is to some of the ones SEO goes through from time to time.

    You’ve got the call for standards, calling the “leaders” to task, and of course all the blogs in the niche chiming in with their take.

    In SEO the net result was a whole lot of wasted words, a few people getting some exposure for being controversial or taking a stand & then everybody got back to the business at hand.

    I suspect the same will hold true for this social media discussion, all the while those like Chris Brogan and Outspoken Media’s clients who are leveraging their social media efforts will be the ones coming out on top.

  • Terry Van Horne

    The dirty little secret: All bloggers start blogs to make money or benefit in other ways. Of course if you enjoy torturing yourself to put a few logical statements together then… you became a blogger “for the community”.

  • Lisa Barone

    Jacob: Totally. Just because they’ve found a way to use their talent and the connections *they’ve* created, doesn’t mean you can hate simply because you haven’t.

    MJ Taylor: Social media is about connecting people. But in the end, you’re connecting them to do something. Even if no money is transferring hands, money’s not the only type of currency out there. Something is being passed.

    Ben: There are always going to be “idiots” resenting people for something. People may resent Chris for leveraging his network, just like they resent me for being loud or resent Rae for always being right. You can’t listen to that group, regardless of how loud they get. That’s not who you’re going after.

    The comparison to the SEO standards debate is a good one. In the end, everyone has their own motivations for spouting what they do, which makes the whole conversation relatively useless.

  • renée

    great post. i guess it’s time i take my blogging a bit more seriously and figure out how i can one day make some money. thanks. oh, and i like your title…it’s fancy.

  • Chris Brogan

    Thanks for a great post. We do need to hang out.

    As for money making, i’ve learned a ton lately. Almost a new book’s worth about how people feel about it.

    But that’s for another time.

    Thanks for the kind words.

  • Daniel

    Hey Lisa,

    I love the idea of a dog eat dog competitive social media marketplace. I just worry as more and more people try to monetize social media, the landscape will get more corporate, spammier, and the content will suffer. Then, the only people left will be brands and marketers– those who are most interested in using social media to make money.

    How can we both leverage social media to make money while keeping the content genuine, engaging, and beneficial to society? That’s the real question.

  • Joe Hall

    I like Chris Brogan for all the reason that seem obvious. This whole conversation reminds me a lot of CopyBlogger’s post Is Your Tribe Holding You Down? There Sonia talks about the importance of having two tribes. Brian Clark then explains what that means for his business. I think that balancing tribes is probably one of the hardest things one can do. But it is even harder when both brands are depended on a personal brand. People then take it personal because they feel they have an invested interest in this person.

    Wow, lots of good thoughts here…

  • andrew wee

    Hmm, I call this “Pure Blogger” misguided school of thought akin to the “starving writer” syndrome. Maybe it’s some puritannical influence that’s weaved its way into a drive to make money (to buy food, clothes and nice shit), together with a guilt complex?

    Anyway, whatever ideals that blogger/social media purists have conjured up for themselves, they might want to take off their rose-tinted glasses for a sec.

    In my reporter days, I went on sponsored junkets to Redmond WA for the launch of MS Office, travel, room,board paid by the evil empire. Heck I got a bunch of free swag that would make any conference attendee green with envy, plus the opportunity to buy Windows NT (Workstation) for less than 20 bucks.

    I did a piece on my visit, talked abt the launch, and didn’t have any disclosure or say that all my meals and expenses were covered. The piece was (in my mind) balanced, neutral and answered the questions that readers probably had in their minds.

    IMO, the sooner we get off this ‘is it fair to benefit from social media’ kick, the sooner we can do some useful stuff.

    PS: Has anyone calculated the opportunity cost in terms of time that Chris, Brian Clark, et al, put into their branding? It might be equitable, or slightly above par, but I doubt anyone is making a run at the banks…

  • Bryna

    Thanks so much for this thought-provoking post. I think you’re totally right. Despite my normal leanings toward using SM for good causes: bottom line, if you aren’t helping your clients make money (or get donors), then you’re missing the point. I love that you’re always so honest. It’s refreshing to see someone who doesn’t skirt around the issues, but addresses them head on.

  • Andromeda Edison

    I am a regular lurker on your blog but I just wanted to pipe up and say one thing – AMEN!

  • Joe Hall

    I studied politics in college. A few years after I graduated I decided to start my own web development company. I remember my college mentor then telling me “oh well you won’t do well with that, because there are so many amateur web designers” What he failed to realized is that I am not an amateur. My clients don’t pay “amateur” rates, because they don’t get an “amateur” product.

    When i hear BS like “blogging purist” I think “amateur”. Because honestly if you aren’t leveraging all the hours and words that you put into this whole thing called then internet to make a few dollars, then you are either independently wealthy (which is fine) or you are a homeless person at a wireless cafe (which is sad).

  • john andrews

    Great post, Lisa. Social Media is for raising awareness and building an audience. If you don’t have a plan to utilize that, you are wasting everyone’s time. That’s ok, too, as long as nobody is being deceived.

    I fear some people have confused abuse of authority with use of networks. If you publish an info site, and spam it to death, that’s abuse. Worse if it’s a .org with a hook that makes consumers think it’s non-profit (in the real sense, not the US IRS code sense). Or perhaps if you started blogging by putting yourself up on a pedestal saying “I’m a blogger because information needs to be free, power to the people/death to corporate greed” then yeah, you’re a sell out when you accept Wal-Mart pop-unders. You stand up and say “SEO is BS” and then execute an SEO play, or call yourself “open source” and then with hold the best bits for paying clients, calling it part of a “premium support package”. in short, if you trick your followers or otherwise “cash in on your friends”, you suck.

    But entertainers charging admission to their shows? That’s not abuse.. that’s how bills get paid.

  • Jon Henshaw

    John Andrews, I think you should “cash in on your friends” and I’ll be your agent!

    Lisa, the people who approach all of this as if it should be based on 100% altruism are not only anal retentive weenies, they also haven’t experienced success yet. I started a family education/resource website in 1996 and would either ignore or reply with a snarky remark to anyone who wanted to advertise on the site. I was one of those anal retentive weenies back then.

    But then the site took off, started kicking butt in the SERPs, was getting organic inbound links like crazy, and when I tested AdSense on it, the CTR and income went through the roof. That quickly changed my spirit of altruism to “it’s time to make some money!” So much so, that I sold that site a few years ago and used the money for the down payment on my home.

    Personally, I don’t have any problem with Chris Brogan. He has experiences and knowledge to share, and if enough people are willing to pay him for that, then so be it. He’s a super nice and smart guy, and I think he deserves his current success as much as the next person in his position.

  • Paul Singh

    Nice post.

    This is my first visit to your blog, and I intend to keep visiting for more.

    I completely agree with the fact that if one wants to monetize, they should, and it’s completely fine.

    Even Jon Henshaw has made a valid point.

    I started out with absolutely no intention of doing ads on my site, but only later realized, it made sense.


  • Yawn Webmaster!

    Bloggers flogging themselves to the highest bidder and then citing the fact that there aren’t not rules in Social Media as justification for the act of what they have done is a joke. It’s like committing a crime that has not been legislated against, but is clearly in contravention of socially accepted conventions, and then coming up with the defence it’s not illegal.

    At the end of the day come on, you and I know what’s right and wrong, the difference is in those that choose to go ahead and do the wrong, and those that don’t.

    Extracted from

    “This post is a sponsored post on behalf of Kmart via Izea. The opinions are mine.”

    Which part? It’s really pretty damned straightforward, and if any group of people should be aware of how to declare their intentions it would in Social Media (which based on my reading attracts very bright minds) , don’t treat your audience like idiots. Declare it clearly and they WILL UNDERSTAND and respect you more.

    Not having a poke at Chris, it could have been anyone, but as usual the person with the highest visibility is the person most likely to get negative press. Can you do a post on blog clans or identifying a blog clan (a la thesis for example :) )

    Trust is such a big thing on the Internet and we’re being challenged by it too.

    I don’t agree either that anything is owed to anyone because they are a) a nice guy, or b) because of a fair quid-pro-quo a tradeoff for investment and time they have given to writing and running a free blog. If you can’t work out how to monetize a blog ethically then you should have thought about that first….or don’t think about it and get this kind of press.

    It’s a good discussion piece, I’m glad you raised the point.

  • Lisa Barone

    Renee: You know I’m anxiously watching your blog, drooling at all the photos.

    Chris: It’s funny how people’s attitudes toward you chance once you “make it” and “become successful” and start “earning a living”. That’s always when the attacks come. Funny thing. Thanks for dropping by.


    I just worry as more and more people try to monetize social media, the landscape will get more corporate, spammier, and the content will suffer.

    You mean like it has with blogs? :) Money pretty much ruins everything, doesn’t it? I hope it doesn’t ruin the content being produced in social media. I don’t think that it will. I think as consumers of it we’ll just have to become more discerning with who we trust. But, I suppose that’s life.

    Joe: Can I applaud that comment? Because I’d like to. Totally, totally agree. :)

    Andrew: I think that last point is what people forget. It’s not like the Brian Clarks of the world woke up with these amazing personal brands. No. They spent time building them. There’s a huge investment there that people don’t always realize. So yeah, he’s going to use the connections he’s built to support himself. He’d be crazy not to. Unless, as you mentioned, you’d like to be this generation’s version of the starving writer. Personally, I’d rather be able to eat.

    Andromeda Edison: Thanks for speaking up. :)

    Yawn: Thanks for the comment. I agree that bloggers “flogging themselves to the highest bidder” are pretty much douchebags. They’re going to lose trust and, eventually, their spot in the food chain. But that’s now what Chris, what Heather Armstrong, what Brian Clark are doing. There’s integrity there and I think it’s unfair that they get chastised for using what they’ve got. Social media is about money. They don’t need anyone’s permission to monetize themselves.

  • Yawn Webmaster!

    Hold on a minute Lisa, you say Social Media is about money. Yes it can be, unless you’re a student with nothing better to do in your day. :)

    However as countless examples are playing themselves out in the popular press a consistent theme among them is that of the bridging of public and private space. They are becoming one, and this is creating problems as the distinctions are becoming clouded.

    Social Media is personal. Think about your Facebook account (if you have), think about the level of information a typical user might share, and then think back over history of a similar commercial platform that has provided business with an opportunity to have acccess to that data (if Facebook did a subscription based model “behaviour tracking ads free” what would the takeup be?). Anwer: There’s not been one. That means that people in this sphere, Chris et al, need to tread carefully and tranparentely.

    We’ve seen a bit of a privacy vacuum take place in the last few years. I can still remember when people were concerned about banking online, and giving their credit card details. While the latter is still a concern, what we have seen is an embracing of Tech which has not been complimented by an explanation of what might be the cost of embracing it or the risks involved for the consumer.

    That I think is what many of the most significant negative press cases in Social Media amount to, people upset or realizing that the promise is not matched by the trust.

    Key message: tread carefully and clearly in the SM space and you’ll be fine.

  • Social Media Commando

    Social Media – Learning to Be OK with Earning a Living

    I won’t be another ‘me too’ who says ‘great post.’ Instead let me just say it’s refreshing to read an article that doesn’t mince words about our right to earn a fair profit from the intellectual property we create.

    Social media doesn’t always mean free. And that’s not evil..


  • Verabera

    I like the way you write. The content of course as well. In Europe, where I live and work in an online operating company, is social media marketing quite in the beginning. The biggest achievement is to have a profile and words like “plan” , “concept” or “buzz”…not even mentioning “originality” are far away from being implemented. Therefore your articles really help me to understand SocMed from the strategic perspective and make sure that creating a profile without a relevant content is NOT a goal number one (as it sometimes looks like). Good job and thanks!

  • Miguel Salcido

    Awesome stuff, and thank God this discussion is happening! People do need to realize that nothing in life is truly free. This was the premise of our post regarding sponsored tweets a few weeks back. The part of the social media community that is whining about ads infiltrating their warm and fuzzy worlds of free content needs to get off of their high horses. It IS about money.