People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands.
One of them, a contributor to Fast Company and other outlets who asked not to be identified by name, described how he had inserted references to a well-known startup that offers email marketing software into multiple online articles, in Fast Company and elsewhere, on behalf of a marketing agency he declined to name. To make the references seem natural, he said, he often links to case studies and how-to guides published by the startup on its own site. Other times, he’ll just praise a certain aspect of the company’s business to support a point in an otherwise unrelated story. (As of press time, Fast Company had not responded to a request for comment.)
This is hardly surprising to anyone who has spent a decent amount of time on the web. I can confirm, however, that I’ve never partaken in anything like this, and the occasional request of this nature goes straight into my spam folder.