No, Coda didn’t pay me to write that last post.

 But a few people wrote to ask, so I want to share the incriminating truth: I wrote that ode to Coda because I’m geeky, enthusiastic and incredibly bossy. I’m geeky enough to love a really good piece of software the way I love a great musical or a wonderful novel. I’m enthusiastic, which means I can’t stop raving about the stuff I love. And I’m bossy, so when I feel like a piece of software can solve a bunch of problems for you,  I’m going to keep pestering you until you try it.

This clarification feels crucial because I’ve already heard from a couple of colleagues who wrote to ask if Coda paid for the coverage. And the fact that a clarification is necessary says everything about how marketing is broken.

Influential expectations

When you get an email or read a post from an actual human, and perhaps especially from a human who regularly writes for credible media outlets, you should be able to trust that any pay-to-play content will be labeled. When I’ve written about Sprinklr, for example, I’ve always been clear that I’m writing about work I’ve done for them as a paying client. (And I’ve never charged Sprinklr or any other client for blog posts I’ve published on my own site, my Medium blog or a media outlet.)

But we’ve moved into an era where advertising has become “content” and artists have become “influencers”. The line between sincere self-expression and sponsored content gets blurrier all the time.

How marketing killed enthusiasm

We’re so saturated by advertising that marketers embrace sponsored content as the only way to reliably reach consumers who stream ad-free programming and block online ads. (I’m the kind of consumer who’s just about impossible to reach in any other way.) And as online advertising has steadily cannibalized media revenue streams, it’s become harder and harder for journalists and other creatives to make a living without accepting some version of this sponsorship.

That works okay when the business relationship is transparent. But the widespread lack of transparency means that it’s easy to mistake enthusiasm for sponsorship.

Admittedly, I may have contributed to the problem by being so enthusiastic about something a lot of people seem to think is un-sexy: productivity software. I mean, who gets that excited about productivity software?

Answer: me. I was once like this about Evernote. I wrote an ode to a now-defunct task management app called ManyMoon. And even after I’d started falling in love with Coda, I wrote a massive Medium guide to everything Google Drive.

Maybe someone should tell the Coda team that I love deeply, but not necessarily eternally.

What good marketing looks like

If I blame evil marketing for creating a world in which sincere, geeky enthusiasm needs an explicit “non-sponsored” disclaimer, I should also credit good marketing for making this kind of enthusiasm possible.

After all, it’s not like I fell in love with Coda while wandering through a deserted mountain range on a spiritual quest. For one thing, deserted mountain ranges have terrible wifi, and Coda is somewhat limited when you’re using it in offline mode.

When I was still deciding whether to use Coda or one of its competitors, I tweeted to a colleague to ask for his thoughts on the best way to upgrade a workflow I’d already written about for Zapier. (On their blog, and under the Zapier brand.)

The founder and CEO of Coda replied to my tweet and offered to give me a hand. We set up a call, and after talking about his vision for Coda—and getting plenty of coaching from his support team—I got my Pitch Machine doc (described in my previous post) up and running on their platform.

In the three years since, the Coda team has gone above and beyond for me on a couple of other projects. When I poured my early-stage Covid anxieties into rebuilding a Vancouver mutual aid spreadsheet, the Coda team jumped in to make it a scalable platform that could potentially support other communities, too.  And when I reached out to Coda support last week for some help fine-tuning our autistic son’s daily checklist, a couple of Coda folks with autism connections took on the job of upgrading my implementation so that it works the way I want.

I don’t know how often Coda goes the extra mile for other socially minded projects, or whether they’ve extended themselves because I’m a productivity writer who’s written about their platform in a piece for the Harvard Business Review, as well as regularly posting little love tweets. I’m enough of a superfan that I’ve talked with the Coda team about whether there could be a way for me to work with them in some form, because I’d love to be able to do a content project for a platform I so deeply believe in.

That’s the kind of result you get from smart content marketing: from reaching out to people and building sincere, transparent relationships.  If you’re doing the work to build genuine superfans, you don’t need to bribe people into delivering your message under cover of night.

About my business model

So that’s the real story: I am a productivity software enthusiast who has no financial relationship with Coda, other than paying $30 per month for my Coda plan. (Don’t worry, they have a free plan that might suit you just fine!) And I promise you that if I ever venture beyond the world of guest blogging and commissioned content on corporate sites, I will never send you a sponsored email or blog post without making it very clear who’s paying for that content.

I suspect one reason people asked if my newsletter was sponsored is because we’ve all heard the wise insight that “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”. (See: Facebook, Twitter, and every other platform that makes money by monetizing your eyeballs.)

So let me be crystal clear about the two-track business model that drives my newsletter:

  1. Revenue. Here’s how it works: I send you an email with stuff about remote and hybrid work, and hopefully you think at least some of it is smart and interesting and useful. When your boss or colleague mentions that they’re thinking about booking a speaker or advisor on the transition to a hybrid workplace, you tell them to talk to me. They pay me money. Tada!
  2. Savings. Here’s how it works: I get really obsessed with something I love (like Coda) or hate (like sketchy pay-to-play content). I could interrupt my husband to rant about it, but he’s on a call. So I sit down and I write a newsletter about it instead, and then I feel better. Then the time we would have spent on Rob listening to me rant gets spent watching Star Trek. We are happy. We stay married. I don’t have to buy a second place to live in Vancouver. Tada!

This post was originally featured in the Thrive at Work newsletter. Subscribe here to be the first to receive updates and insights on the new workplace.