Earlier on Matter Chatter I posted about the FTC’s approach to bloggers and how integrity and respect is an important part of the PR process for all parties. I’d like to revisit this topic, if I may, to discuss an update. A few days ago, the FTC released guidelines meant to further clarify their rules on paid advertisements, especially as they pertain to bloggers. It’s important to note that these rules, the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, were last updated in 1980, so this is a clarification, not an alteration.
The guidelines are meant to clarify a blogger’s disclosure requirements: “the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.” Therefore, if a blogger receives free products from a company, they must disclose this stipulation in a review post. Importantly, bloggers or advertisers also could face injunctions and be ordered to reimburse consumers for financial losses stemming from inappropriate product reviews.
As might be expected, the response from bloggers was swift and questioning. Fast Company, one of my favorite sites to visit, posted an interesting article in response to this announcement. Taking concerns from bloggers to an assistant director at the FTC, the article addresses some specific comments posted by the people who these regulations effect the most. The largest takeaway from this interaction is that while a fine does exist for violating these guidelines, the likelihood that a blogger will actually encounter the fine is very small, and should never happen on the first violation (call it a built-in freebie for those that are not aware of the rules). Additionally, and quite logically, smaller blogs will not be a target of the FTC when cracking down on violators – advertisers and larger outlets will have to be more careful.
As PR professionals we know that the face of mass media is changing constantly, and just as we evolve in our jobs to accommodate these changes, so is the FTC evolving to protect consumers. We will have to be more diligent in our communications to urge bloggers to disclose their relationship with us and our clients, but this will not mean a large-scale change in protocol – at least not yet. As always, if you’ll forgive me for the idiom, honesty continues to be the best policy.