Friday, August 06, 2010

At #BlogHer, bloggers and brands wrestle with FTC guidelines

After sitting through much of the BlogHer '10 panel on The FTC Guidelines: After a Year, Has Anything Changed?, I realized the session offered a meta view of the mashup that is blogging--and how brands and bloggers are wrestling not only with the FTC guidelines on disclosures for endorsements on blogs, but with each other. 

On this issue, the test for the FTC is whether the average consumer can clearly understand the relationship between compensation and an endorsement, which means bloggers need to do more than put up a blanket disclosure on their "about" pages; it may mean sharing disclosures in a tweet or a particular blog post. If there's compensation, but no endorsement, or an endorsement without compensation (you just happen to like the product and say so), there's no need for a disclosure. There's a great FAQ on the FTC website if you're trying to figure out endorsement guidelines for your blog, or if you're a brand hoping to get bloggers to endorse your product or service.  Blog With Integrity and's resources also were recommended as resources for bloggers trying to do the right thing.

But the mashup was about issues much bigger than the guidelines. First, a little background:  This is the sixth year of the BlogHer conference, and the attendance doubled over last year, so there are now 2400 women bloggers here in 2010.  For the participants, that's the biggest change--and for the brands, part of the reason they're here, the other one being that many of these bloggers reach the 55 million women in the U.S. who read blogs. (And no, not all of the blogs here are "mommy blogs.")

In this session, which included an FTC speaker, Stacey Ferguson, the audience questions came from both brands and bloggers.  Here's a bit of the flavor:
  • Some bloggers sounded resentful--why should they have to disclose gifts or sponsorships when people recommending products in other situations don't, like doctors recommending drugs or retail salespeople pushing one product over another?  (The answer for many of those situations: In many such environments, the relationship is already clear to the consumer, or other guidelines apply.)
  • Brands' marketing staff members got up and urged bloggers to just use their legal language, or the language they wanted bloggers to use in posts, prompting one panelist to remind the brands that when they specify language, that's an ad, not a sponsored post.  Tensions around control were clear.
  • A CNN reporter suggested that the FTC hadn't done anything to tell bloggers about the guidelines, Ferguson noted that FTC hasn't turned down a single speaking engagement request (and has appeared several times at BlogHer conferences, and sponsored other blogging conferences) on this issue, in an effort to make the guidelines clear.  And it was noted that many bloggers have spread misinformation and rumors about the guidelines, one reason for holding the session.
I have to say, it was interesting to be in a room with one reporter and well over 100 bloggers, all of whom could publish their own take on the panel--and many were doing so in real time.  At the same time, it's clear that bloggers aren't necessarily attempting to act as journalists, but don't want brands to interfere with their editorial control (did anyone really think that would happen?).

You can read the discussion in more detail through the live-blog of the session.  I'm going back in...

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