January 13, 2014
I’ve written before about the line we draw when playing the points & miles game. Everyone draws a different line separating the things they’ll do from those they won’t. Is it OK to sign up for 4 credit cards at once? How about 10? Is it OK to buy and return items just to get points? The line may be based on ethical concerns, financial concerns, etc. Regardless, we all have things we will do and won’t do for the sake of acquiring points & miles.
A similar construct is the line drawn by bloggers. What is OK to publish and what is not? For me, this line is much harder to define than my personal line. When deciding whether to pursue a new approach to acquiring points & miles for myself I have a pretty easy algorithm: 1) Do I feel OK with it? And, 2) Do I feel OK telling my wife about it? If both answers are Yes, then I’ll proceed. Blogging is different. When I write a post about a new deal or technique it often means that many people learn new ways to earn points & miles (or cash) for free (or cheaply). But, it can also mean doing harm: with many (most?) deals, there is a loser. Someone is paying for those points or discounts. My posts could harm the companies who pay. Another negative side effect is when my posts cause a deal to die sooner than it would have otherwise (Yes, it has happened). When this happens it reduces the opportunities for those of us playing the game, and it often angers those who have been taking advantage of it.
While my blogging line is ill-defined, I do have a number of rules I try to follow:
1. If it crosses my personal line, don’t blog it
There are many opportunities out there for earning points and miles that I’m not comfortable with. When that’s the case, I avoid blogging about it.
2. Don’t disclose info given in confidence
Often, someone will tell me about a great new deal but ask me to keep it out of the blog. When that happens, I do my best to respect that request. While I don’t think I’ve ever published despite a request like this, I generally do assert that if the deal is something I’ve already known about, was already researching, and/or has been already published (by myself or others) then I reserve the right to make my own decision about whether it can or should be published.
3. Follow my passion, not the money
Often, bloggers have opportunities to use their platform to earn extra money, points, free trips, etc. and all they have to do is blog about it (whatever it is) to drum up interest. I’m not comfortable with that. I make it a point to write about whatever is most interesting to me at the moment. If its on my mind, hopefully readers will find it interesting too. More than once I have even delayed writing a post because a short term incentive has made it unclear whether I was driven by my interest or by potential profit. I’m not saying that I don’t like earning a living from blogging (I love it!), but I try very hard to separate the business of the blog from the content of my daily posts. That’s why I never put credit card affiliate links in my blog posts. Instead, I keep the affiliate links on separate web pages accessible from my website menu.
4. Advertised deals are OK
When a company advertises a deal, there’s no reason for me to hold back. If I find it interesting, I’ll happily publish it. And, if I write up ways to get more out of the deal than the company realized, I believe that’s fair game too.
5. Pre-published deals are fair game (or are they?)
Up until now I’ve felt that opportunities that have already been published in other blogs or forums are fair game for me to publish too. In a recent comment-conversation, though, a reader pointed out that it is not just one-time exposure that can kill deals, but repeated exposure as well. I can’t argue with that. Honestly, I’m simply not sure where I stand with this right now. I clearly don’t have all of the answers for drawing my “blog line”. This is one place where the line is murky at best.
6. Dying deals are usually OK to publish
If I have a good reason to believe that a deal is going to end soon anyway, I don’t see any reason to keep it secret. In most cases, the more people that can get in on it before its gone, the better. This is often related to point 5 (regarding pre-published deals) because some things like mistake fares almost always die a quick death once they’ve been published.
7. Obfuscate as needed.
Most big businesses use news gathering services to keep an eye on how and where their business is being discussed on TV, newspapers, blogs, etc. I believe that sometimes deals are killed when people in charge learn what’s going on from such sources. I’ll sometimes write about the “numerically named convenience store” or the “three letter drug store” simply to keep those posts from catching the eye of anyone from those organizations that may be monitoring media. The point isn’t to hide the information from the reader, but rather to make it less likely to come up in a search.
Above are the types of things I think about when trying to decide what I should and should not write. This is not a checklist that I march down with each post. Instead, it is my best attempt to put down in ink the inner dialogs that guide my decisions.
What do you think? Please comment below, but please keep your comments civil! For some reason debates like these tend to devolve into name calling. I’d rather not censor comments, but I will delete profanity and attacks on individuals.