What Happens When Everyone Becomes a Shill?

As bloggers and Twitterers become the new “celebrities” tapped by organizations to drive messages to the masses, when do they cross the line and become the very shills they once so willingly and joyfully persecuted?

Here’s the answer: Immediately.

There is absolutely NO difference between bloggers, Twitterers or public relations professionals who for various reasons (cash, gifts, ego) represent a product manufacturer or service provider. And it happens every day.

Procter & Gamble does it all the time; bringing bloggers and Twitterers into its headquarters or hosting events and showering them with product samples… and more. Take this recent story from the New York Times

“To harness the viral marketing of social media, Procter & Gamble sponsored an event last week before the BlogHer 2009 conference in Chicago to present its updated Swiffer Wet Jet cleaning mop, which will be shipped to stores around Aug. 1. The company was the title sponsor of the Swiffer SocialLuxe Lounge, billed as a pampering party. More than 500 BlogHer participants stopped by on Thursday afternoon, which offered makeovers, a blogging awards presentation and stations to recharge phones and hand-held devices.”

Roche recently held a Diabetes Social Media Summit at its headquarters. The company flew about 30 bloggers into its Indianapolis headquarters for a day and a half long event. Rachel Baumgartel, a Diabetes blogger who did not make it, offered these thoughts:

“I admit it. I was invited. I chose not to go, mainly because of lack of vacation days after family obligations and BlogHer. A little part of me questioned the intentions of this pharmaceutical company and the money spent on such event. You see, I used to be an administrative assistant at a medical device manufacturer and was on a planning committee for a marketing tour for directors of nursing, purchasing managers, and other hospital administrators. I know how much money is spent on these type of events. Even with corporate cafeteria lunches, it’s still a pretty penny – a pretty penny that should be used to bring down the cost of test strips.”

Earlier this month, PepsiCo, parent company of the Mountain Dew soda brand, rented out a bowling alley to throw a “taste test” party for its new “Ultraviolet” diet soda. And the guest list had been amassed not for its red-carpet potential, but Twitter influence. Here, CNET reports:

“Not only do Twitter’s uber-chatty twentysomethings want everyone to know exactly what they’re doing at the trendiest bowling alley in Brooklyn’s trendiest neighborhood, but their friends will probably listen — they, after all, want to know what’s going on.

And savvy brands have found that even if profits aren’t clear-cut, they can use that Twitter buzz to keep up a loyal following — even with a small base — rather than to broadcast a brand’s hashtag all over the Web and hope for profits.”

Here’s what Merriam-Webster says:

Main Entry: shill
Pronunciation: ˈshil
1 : to act as a shill
2 : to act as a spokesperson or promoter

Here’s what Harry Chapin says:

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me

My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home son?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

Jim Sweeney

Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.