Earlier this month, Matt posted on the proposed FTC guidelines regarding marketing and endorsements as they relate to bloggers and online media. Last week’s BlogHer conference in Chicago served as a platform to continue to look into blogging ethics and PR professionalism.
Following BlogHer, Kevin Pang of the Chicago Tribune wrote that “If there’s a hard news peg attached to BlogHer ’09, it’s the Federal Trade Commission’s proposal to regulate blogger endorsements of products.” Kevin notes the rising market influence of bloggers is the reason why the industry is now looking to identify the difference between subjective reviews and paid advertisements. Additionally, Lee Woodruff of Huffington Post wrote about the power of the female blogging community, commenting on a discussion she participated in that splits writers into the ‘new blogger generation versus the old:’ those that promote products versus those that focus more on writing and personal issues.
The interesting thing to me is this discussion of the two blogging camps – call it ‘fun’ bloggers vs. ‘profit’ bloggers. The remarkable part of the division is that, it seems to me, the blogging community is actively beginning to regulate itself. Paid promotion continues to be a grey area in all forms of media, but some easy steps are helping bloggers set themselves apart as trustworthy sources. Websites like DisclosurePolicy.org and BlogwithIntegrity.com offer templates and pledges aimed to ensure professionalism and disclosure. Personal transparency statements are popping up in an increasing number on blogs we work with, letting their readers know policies on product reviews and endorsements. Let’s not forget why blogs started posting reviews in the first place – because it’s an effective way to communicate likes and dislikes, and most importantly, foster discussions among like-minded readers who have a genuine interest in a product’s effectiveness or ability to please.
It all boils down to professionalism between bloggers and PR reps, honest communication, and realistic expectations. While bloggers are indeed influential media personalities, they are also moms, writers, freelancers… just regular people sharing thoughts to an online audience. As PR professionals, our job is to identify those ‘fun’ bloggers, and respect their personal feelings on product reviews (if a blog doesn’t post reviews, don’t pitch them on the latest, greatest gadget – makes sense, right? Is a post extolling the virtues of wrinkle cream going to appear in between pictures of Jane’s 5th birthday party and a post about making cupcakes? Probably not.) We must realistically expect what a blogger’s interest level will be and conduct ourselves accordingly. It’s simple professionalism, research, and respect.
Are FTC guidelines necessary to preserve transparency and integrity? Perhaps. But can bloggers and PR professionals work together to address these issues effectively outside of official rules and regulations? Absolutely.