Just Say So: Disclosure, Transparency and Social Media

The FTC says bloggers must disclose the relationship between a blog and any corporate or commercial ties that could be deemed sponsorship or endorsement, or pay the price. To which I say, DUH.

On a corporate blog, unless it’s over-hyped that it’s really done by the C-level exec, most people understand that someone else is involved. Other people are probably:

  • Advising the firm, shaping the message strategy, and checking it against the overall marketing and PR plans.
  • Helping to draft that entry, research relevant sources and links.
  • Doing the physical typing, linking and posting.

In the old days a dictated business letter had two sets of initials at the bottom, to indicate that the person signing the letter did not do the actual typing or drafting. It’d be wise to stick to that model and include a “written with so-and-so” whenever appropriate.

I took a look at the DisneyParks blog today, written by different people, with their names and titles front and center. I’m sure someone is kicking the tires, selecting the bloggers, deciding which entries to publish, as part of the overall marketing program.

Motivation matters. Why are they writing about this?

For a “private” or general consumer blog, it is different. Even though there may be tons of ads, banners, links all over the blog, some readers may not realize they are reading the “paid” work of a blogger.

Would a reader feel burned more by the blogger they trusted when they find out they only wrote about that vacuum cleaner or this hotel because of a free gift or promotion, or do they blame the brands? Does this “fraud” damage the brand?

Depends on the nature of the campaign. While someone may think less of Royal Caribbean for their promotions and whether or not they disclosed the free cruise arrangements for their Champions, RC is a business after all, and they are about making money.

Maybe I’m cynical, but it’s not all hugs, free ice cream and glitter-farting ponies; it’s business. Dell, Ford and Victoria’s Secret are using social media to build relationships and create brand ambassadors in order to–wait for it–SELL Stuff…their stuff. As you recover from the shock let me add: water is wet, sky is sometimes blue, and [my love of] Coke Classic and chocolate make me fat.

A free sample of dish detergent may not seem like much and maybe that’s the point. So what if you rave about Dawn because you really like it but only did so after they sent you a free bottle? It matters more that you say so.

Disclosure is key. Just say so.

If someone gave you a product sample, a free trip, or computer for a six-month trial, say so upfront loud and clear. In the end transparency and disclosure may actually earn more trust and loyalty for the brand, the brand advocate and the blogger.

The fine print: No brands or companies have participated or promoted the development of this blog. If any wish to do so, my wallet will be open. 😉

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2 thoughts on “Just Say So: Disclosure, Transparency and Social Media

  1. Gini- I know what you’re saying. Over the years, I’ve read tons of reviews of new Macs and almost always they’re prefaced with “while I only had a week to play with the tester iMac Apple sent…” A small disclosure, but makes me wonder.

    Like when I read a short review of a cruise itinerary, and wonder: how much was comped by the cruise line, subsidized by the magazine or paper, and/or written off as a “business” expense?

    Is it that the reporter is being paid salary/fees by the media outlet, where as the blogger is being “paid” via product comps or sponsored posts that are undisclosed that’s bothering the FTC? It’s naive and dangerous for the FTC to assume that consumers understand how it works with journalists but not bloggers, or to create separate classes in the age of social media and citizen journalists.

    I just vote for disclosure across the board. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Davina – I’m struggling with whether or not I agree with the FTC ruling. What I don’t get is why the rules are different for bloggers than they are for consumers. You and I both know that, as PR pros, we send products to reporters ALL THE TIME for review. So why is it they don’t have to say they received a product to review, free-of-charge? Yeah there are some media outlets who either won’t let reporters accept the products or return (or donate) them after review. But there also are a lot of outlets who don’t have these guidelines, yet the FTC doesn’t require them to disclose they received a product to review. Why bloggers and not journalists?

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