I’m not getting free stuff

Every now and then, I go to the “statistics” page of my blog to see how many people are reading, what they’re reading, and where they’re coming from.  There is always a personal feeling of pride to see my post-view counts increase. It’s reassurance that people can relate to me, or at a minimum, that they enjoy my storytelling, and it’s a form of encouragement for me to keep the discussion going.

I don’t make an effort to market myself and put myself high in the Google-search rankings, despite the many comments (which WordPress reliably identifies and quarantines) encouraging me to do so. I have no reason to. Most people who read my blog for the first time often arrive via a developing Twitter friendship, a friendly referral (like a re-tweet or a blogroll) or by clicking a comment I posted on another diabetes blog.

Growing a blog audience is about attracting friends, not customers (as it should be, given I have nothing to sell).

But I do get my share of search engines that bring people to Rolling in the D, and they mostly all have a common theme.  It is that of people looking to evaluate new insulin pumps, notably the t:slim, and they land on the page about why I’m not getting one.  It is, by far, the most-read post on this blog.  (The second-most read is when I announced the Best of the ‘Betes Blogs for August.  Which reminds me: check out November’s winners if you haven’t already, and don’t forget to submit your December nominations! The week between Christmas and New Years’ can be crazy but you don’t need to wait; the nomination box is open all month long!)

I really feel bad about writing that post. My goal in blogging is not to damage any company’s sales, but to help organize my thoughts — putting them into words and paragraphs helps me do that — and at the same time to share them with friends and friends-to-be.  So when I see people keep gravitating to the post, and the discussions in the comments section continues to develop, I worry that my post may be hurting someone’s business and livelihood. Fortunately, there is much love for the t:slim in the DOC that will hopefully counterbalance my overall negative assessment – enough that sometimes I start to second-guess myself. (And let me reiterate: it is not a review. To this day, I have never used one, held one, or even seen one. It was based strictly on information I had gathered elsewhere).

They’re not the only ones whose products I’ve expressed my disappointment. I used a form of that very word in my description of the Bayer Contour NextLink meter. And my words and pictures have spared no disgust over my Medtronic pump’s motor errors. In fairness, I’ve also praised the NextLink accuracy and Medtronic’s data collection and reporting, so I’m not just here to complain.

Still, representatives from these companies may not be too pleased with my criticisms of their products. While I don’t know if they’ve read my posts directly, I know that the companies that create and sell diabetes paraphernalia are out there in Social Media Land.

A recent article in NPR says so.  <— If you click just one link in this post, click that one!

A subtext in that article is that manufacturers sometimes compensate bloggers in exchange for written works or other forms of endorsement (or, in some cases, with no promise – but the hope – of some publicity). We all know of bloggers who have gotten supplies, trips, or other perks from corporations in connection with their blogs. And they make no secret of that fact – the disclosures are obvious.

For the record, I believe they are impartial and genuine, and I sincerely believe the words and thoughts expressed to be those of the bloggers themselves. Let me say that again: I TRUST THEM.

But could I ever be one of them? Doubtful. I think I’ve been fair – but unrestrained – in my evaluations of some products. Writing critical reviews isn’t earning me any friends, and I’d be surprised if one of those manufacturers would want me to somehow represent them.  Even if they did offer me an incentive to talk nice about their stuff (with full disclosure, of course), that wouldn’t undo what’s already been written.

Oh, I’ll accept free stuff if it’s offered to me. I might even be convinced to accept it with preconditions, provided those conditions don’t mute my freedom to express my true thoughts and feelings. And if one of the companies (ideally close to my home in New Jersey) wants to hire me as some sort of writer, adviser, or technical-engineering-guru, than I’d be more than willing to talk. But I don’t expect it.

So where am I going with this? Well, if you read the blog of Tom Karlya, the diabetesdad, you may have seen my comment on his post about the aforementioned NPR story. Even without disclosures, sometimes the mere presence of manufacturers in Social Media space can have an effect on what gets written. While I believe it’s important to inform potential users of products of the pros and cons that I’ve observed, I don’t like criticizing people – especially to their face. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and simply not nice.

Knowing that these companies are reading blogs – and sometimes offering perks – might just be a reason to withhold negative critiques.  It’s a temptation, anyway.

In addition, then there’s a fairness issue: if I blog (or Tweet) about a problem I’m having, should I expect a personal response from the manufacturer because of my visibility as a blogger? Mos PWD’s don’t have an online presence and don’t have that channel of communication. Mike wondered about this very situation after a Tweet led to customer-service, as he described on DiabetesMine back in July.

What I’m trying to say is this. I’m not so sure that having the pharmaceutical companies, the device manufacturers, and the suppliers participating in our community is necessarily a good thing. I fear it could ruin the openness and implicit trust that we have in one another.  And although, according to the NPR story, the FDA is developing “guidelines” for the manufacturer’s behaviors on Social Media, they can’t develop guidelines for the bloggers who do not have relationships with them.  Or can they?

In any event, published guidelines may just make the community a bit less friendly. No one wants that. The unpublished code of conduct in the DOC right now is simple: it’s The Golden Rule. It makes sense, it’s friendly, and it works.

But when commercial interests infiltrate advocacy interests, can we still all get along? Sometimes I worry about that.

* * *

Disclosure: I’ve never received any compensation as a result of anything written on this blog.  I have, however, gotten some free stuff as a result of my activity in the DOC: specifically a book, a stuffed lion, some emergency glucose, and an award-winning T-shirt.  In addition, the DOC has given me support, friendship, and confidence, which is more valuable than anything that a corporation could provide.

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Posted on December 6, 2012, in Diabetes. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Well said..

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  2. Scott, these are all great points. As I said earlier, I feel that bloggers are remaining behind the line of inappropriateness at this point. If there are guidelines drawn up by the FDA or the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), I would hope they apply equally to healthcare professionals, Big Pharma, and medical device makers as well as patients.

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  3. Love it! And I love my Lenny, the only free thing I’ve received :) And I also get a kick out of looking at my blog stats – Views by country, # of views, Referrals, etc. And I also don’t promote, other than on twitter and Facebook.

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  4. Some great, and very thought provoking, points and perspectives here, Scott. Thank you.

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  1. Pingback: How to piss off a customer | Rolling in the D

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