When Advocacy Loses its Edge
In our society, I believe we tend to put greater value into the opinions of those who have a neutral standing in the matter. It's why film critics have the careers they do. They are impartial to the entire film-making process. If comments of disdain come from a competing studio, you cast the opinions aside. "Of course they think it's crap. They don't want the competition to be successful," you might think to yourself.
In our little world of blogging, entire reputations can be built on our impartiality. For the most part, this is fairly easy. We talk about the things we like and don't like without thinking twice about it. Because we have a separation from the development and prosperity of the products, sites and services we review, our opinions have power. And that power grows the longer we maintain that neutrality.
Sometimes, though, that reputation comes into question when we introduce money into the equation. Is a glowing review of a book as powerful when using Amazon referral links? Is a glowing review of a product as exciting when it's paid for by a service like PayPerPost? When writing a review under these conditions, I feel like I would have to offer up at least some negative feedback just to balance the review and maintain some air of impartiality. Is that fair?
Then there are situations where we become advocates for something because it solves a common problem. As an advocate, there's no direct ties. We're sitting in the neutral zone. But are we safe in the neutral zone?
For example, I like CakePHP. I use CakePHP on various projects and talk about it here on a regular basis. When I talk about other frameworks, I compare it to CakePHP. All of this talk for one framework can come across like I think CakePHP is the best framework in the world and nothing can touch it. Suddenly, that impartiality is gone and my opinion holds less weight. It's not from a lack of respect but there's a sense that what is being said is tainted. The power of my opinion is lost.
How do I get that sense of neutrality back?
The balance needs to be re-introduced. Be aware of not only the discussion at hand, but keep in mind everything you've put out in the world and balance the current article against the overall voice.
Using my love for CakePHP as an example, the fact is, I don't use it on every project. I've used PEAR and the Zend Framework with no CakePHP in sight. But I haven't talked about those projects. My public voice hasn't held the same pragmatic stance that I have with my projects and with my clients.
As a freelancer, whose livelihood depends on a consistent flow of client work, I believe that being impartial is an important skill when it comes to consulting with clients. Naturally, we want to steer clients to use products and services that we know best, so that we get the work. Many companies build their own products and pitch those products, even if they may not always be the best solution for the clients. That's where consultants are supposed to come in. They evaluate a number of products or services and recommend the best one. But partnerships and referral programs can once again skew that relationship.
In the end, there will always be forces that influence our opinion of things. Expressing our opinion on an issue burns that position into the minds of readers. If you never provide an alternate view, you run the risk of becoming typecast and losing the power of opinion we so desperately want to share.