Should WordCamp Websites Publish Sponsor-Provided Content?

There’s an interesting discussion happening around the WordCamp Seattle 2018 website. The organizers recently published two blog posts written by sponsors:

As I was reflecting on conversations about this with some friends in the community, this Guardian newspaper headline showed up in my news feed:

“‘It’s not a billboard’: anger at use of Sydney Opera House for ads”

That’s sort of how I feel about WordCamp websites. They should showcase the event, not serve as a place to host sponsor content-marketing copy. (For the record, I’m not actually angry about this – just curious about others’ thoughts on the issue.)

The WordPress-event ecosystem offers a refreshing retreat from the world of commerce. Yes, WordCamps and meetups accept sponsor contributions and let companies exhibit at their events. But the stated intent of the sponsorship program is to let companies support the event, not to get traditional quid-pro-quo marketing benefits.

These posts feel different to me than an organizer-written post about a sponsor, or a video interview with them (as we did in Seattle last year). Like giving them the keys to the car instead of a ride to the store.

I don’t recall seeing posts like this on other WordCamp websites. But then I haven’t done a thorough search.

Have other WordCamps published posts like these?

I see a few potential problems with providing sponsors with this publishing opportunity:

  • placement of native advertising on a WordCamp website seems to me to go counter to stated community intent about sponsorship benefits
  • if this became a standard practice, every sponsor might expect a similar benefit and WordCamp sites could get overwhelmed with sponsor content requests
  • if sponsors placed the same post on multiple WordCamp websites, the sites and sponsors could face the SEO issues that can arise from duplicate content
  • it might require WordCamp.org to take on additional publishers’ liability, editorial oversight, etc.

I can also see some benefits:

  • it gives WordCamp websites free content
  • it could serve as an additional sponsor benefit, like an exhibit table or event shout-out
  • it could augment the information that exhibiting sponsors share at their tables

A couple of other community deputies asked me to elaborate on our conversation about this topic on the MakingWP Slack. I’d love to hear what @remediosgraphic, @francina, and others think.

I’ve also talked a lot over the past few years with several WordPress event sponsors about these kinds of issues and hoping some of them share their thoughts, too.