Resuscitated iPhones and Blogger Ethics

I’m not vain enough to think that any of you give a crap that I have an iPhone or better yet that it was spared “brick” status thanks to it’s semi-waterproof SaFPWR case/charger when it went for a swim last weekend. Instead, I want to make this into a bigger story about what I choose to blog about and what I don’t and how I try and keep my morals and integrity in tact while doing so.

So let me start with the story of my revived iPhone to help set the stage. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, Mike Merrill, sent me a direct message on Twitter asking me if I’d like a free SaFPWR iPhone battery case/charger. Given the fact that I am a heavy iPhone user and am constantly seeking outlets to charge my insufficient battery, I said sure. Now to give this story a little more context, I had actually purchased a smaller auxiliary batter charger before SXSW for the reason I just mentioned. What I’ve found about this charger — the Kensington Mini Battery Extender — is that it’s adequate but has several shortcomings including the way it awkwardly hangs off the end of your phone when it’s charging.

Photo Credit: Kenard Consulting

Following my reception of my new SaFPWR charger/case, I received a nice note from Mike saying that “if I chose to blog about it, I could offer my readers a 15% discount” (more on that in a minute). I told him that I would likely blog about the charger but that I wanted to try it out for a few days first before I decided on anything. Little did I know that five days later, that very case would save me $199 for a replacement iPhone and the hassle of rebuilding my phone. The short version of the story is that because the case is also a charger (and made out of hard rubber), it plugs up the charging slot at the bottom of the phone. This combined with the fact that:

  1. I didn’t try and turn my phone on
  2. Immediately brought it to the Apple store so they could inspect/dry it out
  3. Inserted it into a bag of rice for four whole days
essentially saved my phone. You have no idea how delighted I was when I returned from my business trip to see the battery charging light come on when I plugged it in.
So now that I’ve told you this story, I’ll tell you how I’m relating it to the bigger picture of “blogger ethics.” To begin with, this is somewhat new territory for me. Even though I’ve been blogging for four plus years, it’s only been over the last 6-9 months where I’ve started to get pitched by companies and PR shops to cover their products and services. I suspect this may equal parts to do with my weekly Quick’n’Dirty podcast show (my co-host blogs at ZDNet and we’ve had some pretty kick ass guests) and the company I work for, Powered, moving squarely into the limelight post purchase of three other social media boutiques.
As someone that’s been critical of bloggers that take stuff for free, I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching now that I now have the opportunity to get the same schwag. However, where I draw the line is this… For starters, the product or service CANNOT cause any conflict with my job i.e. I wouldn’t accept free tickets or gifts from a potential vendor that I wasn’t already doing business with under any circumstance. This doesn’t mean I can’t have dinner with them or attend a ballgame to talk business but I don’t want my judgement clouded or pressure exerted because of an unspoken quid pro quo. I also never promise to write a blog post about anything I receive and if I do agree to do a post, there is a 100% chance that I may write something negative if your product or service sucks. If I am underwhelmed or net neutral on your offering, chances are I won’t write anything at all. For some examples of a few companies that have directly or indirectly invoked some blog coverage, you can check out my I See You post for details.
Getting back to my man, Mike Merrill and the free SaFPWR iPhone case/charger, I’ve gotta give them major props because not only does their product work (I’ve used it for a few weeks now and it’s not only a great solution but it also adds about 4-6 hours of life to my iPhone. What Mike and SaFPWR didn’t know is that by saving my iPhone from drowning, they’ve made me the best spokesperson they could ever imagine. And to avoid any impropriety on my front, I’m going to go out and purchase one of these cases for my wife who has a related “swimming iPhone” story of her own. Oh, and if you’d like to buy one of these phones, go to their site and use the discount code “blogger” to get 15% off. In the spirite of full transparency, I get ZERO for pimping their product or giving you a code.
Do you have a great story of a game changing product? Or maybe some thoughts on blogger ethics (feel free to call me out if you think I’m being hypocritical).
  • http://www.mikemerrill.com Mike D. Merrill

    Aaron,Glad to hear the product did more than just extend your battery life. I met the SaFPWR team a while back and asked to evaluate the device since my Mophie was so much heavier and thicker. I am encouraging the company to do more to leverage social media to drive awareness of the product and I saw an opportunity to get some product feedback from heavy iPhone users. SaFPWR is not a client of mine, but I knew that friends like you would appreciate the benefits of the product. I also knew that folks wouldn't blog about it unless they had the same positive experience that I did. Additionaly, my goal was to demonstrate the power of inbound marketing to SaFPWR. Since they are a local Dallas company, I want to help them succeed.Just like you, I would disclose any eval products I was given per the FCC rules as well as identify clients if I promote something for them online. Thanks again Aaron!@mikedmerrill

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09964204478772858370 Aaron_Strout

    Mike – thanks for the comment (and getting me in the "program.") You're definitely doing your clients and potential clients a service by showing them the power of earned media.Best,Aaron

  • http://www.crossingmarketingandit.com Elmer

    I don't see anything wrong with endorsing a product A) that you likeB) if you got it for free you disclose that fact to your readers.A lot of bloggers have taken flak for taking free stuff and blogging about it openly (Chris Brogan comes to mind with the Kmart Incident). So long as you don't promote something you don't like and would never use just, I think you're headed in the right direction.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09964204478772858370 Aaron_Strout

    Elmer – sage advice. Thanks for chiming in and adding to the conversation.Best,Aaron

  • http://www.colinalsheimer.com/ Colin Alsheimer

    I think I fall in Elmer's camp (I also chose to write a post for SaFPWR after receiving a free case from Mike.) As long as it's disclosed, and like you said, not conflicting, I think it's OK.That said, I did choose to write the post on my Posterous blog, rather then my personal blog, as I thought an iPhone case review would have seemed a bit out of place there.

  • http://austinstf.tumblr.com Cathy SlavetoFashion

    I've pimped a couple of products on my blog. One is a local company that I didn't receive compensation from (I just love her line) and the other is a fair-trade scarf company that did send me a free scarf. I believe in their product and had purchased one prior to them sending me a free one. I think as long as you are upfront about free products and give your honest opinion there's nothing wrong with it. But you should also let the company know that if you don't like it, you either won't write about it or will give a negative review. It's all about being honest….. just like you learned in kindergarten!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09964204478772858370 Aaron_Strout

    Colin – I'll have to head over to your posterous account to read. And to your point, I figured that people didn't care that I necessarily got an iPhone case. Thus my attempt to tie it into a bigger, more relevant topic. I did the same thing with my "I See You" post vs. creating individual posts about each product.In a way, this is part of the problem that many companies face. Instead of making their products or services more relevant, they just tell you the facts about what them offer. They are of course missing the opportunity to tell a bigger story and thus create customer value.-Cathy, thanks for chiming in. I just checked out the back and forth that you and @BaddMom were having on Twitter and it seems like this post was right up your collective alley. ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12521247639838493705 Rachel Luxemburg

    I have no problem with your post Aaron. You had clear disclosure & the product sounds great. :) If they made those batteries for my Nexus One I'd buy one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09964204478772858370 Aaron_Strout

    Thanks Rachel. I always strive to be upfront and transparent with the people I interact with. It's not always easy but it's the right thing to do. ;)