How Bloggers Are Dealing with FTC's Disclosure Rules

  |  December 4, 2009   |  Comments

Bloggers are taking a variety of approaches to the Federal Trade Commission's endorsement guidelines -- from lax to rigorous.

Bloggers are taking a variety of approaches to the Federal Trade Commission's endorsement guidelines -- from lax to rigorous.

"As you may have heard, today's the day bloggers are supposed to start admitting on their blogs when they're getting free stuff in exchange for blogging. Mommy bloggers are to blame for this," wrote a blogger who goes by the name The Cream in Creamtastic on Nashville Scene's Nashville Cream music blog Tuesday.

The post acknowledged the FTC's voluntary guidelines, which went into effect the same day. Finalized in October, the guidelines call for endorsements made through blog posts or in other social media environments to disclose any "material connections" between advertiser and endorser, including direct payments and free samples of the product being discussed.

In a tongue-in-cheek post, The Cream went on to disclose items provided by various musical acts in 2009, such as cat food and tube socks, not to mention review copies of albums from record labels. "It's understood that we get review copies of albums and that those albums are property of the record label," noted the post.

Other sites are holding off on taking a stance on the guidelines. Cool Tools, which features positive reviews of old and new utilitarian items from kitchen appliances to footwear, has yet to determine its approach. The site's editor and publisher, Kevin Kelly, told ClickZ News he has "not had time to parse the FTC guidelines" because he's working on a book. "When I turn the book in I will turn my attention to the guidelines," said Kelly, also a co-founder of Wired.

Christine Young, owner of FromDatestoDiapers.com often writes about children's toys and other products she likes, and regularly offers reader giveaways such as discounts from Borders or Old Navy. Her disclosure policy, which "has been in place as long as I've been writing about sponsored trips and events, and about products we love," states, "This blog does accept forms of cash advertising, compensated giveaways, and sponsorship. We will and do accept and keep free products, services, travel, and event tickets from companies and organizations."

"I am not compensated for reviews of products or services," continues the FromDatestoDiapers.com disclosure. "I always give my honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on any topics or products."

Young said she has not changed her disclosure policy since the FTC guidelines went into effect. "I have always been completely transparent on FromDatestoDiapers.com. My readers have grown to trust me and value my opinions, whether I'm speaking about products I've purchased myself or those that were sent to me in exchange for some buzz."

Young indicates in her posts whether she's received products she reviews as gifts from companies. An example from a December 1 post reads, "Playskool recently sent us the Busy Ball Popper for Noah to check out." Yet, her site also regularly features discount and promotional offers that don't always clearly state whether any form of compensation was involved, such as a recent discount offer from Old Navy. "I visited Old Navy yesterday. Okay, I didn't just visit... The deals were unbelievable and I couldn't help myself!! Do you think you could resist 50% off already marked down items? Yeah, I didn't think so!" exclaimed a recent post offering five readers "$50 off of $100 coupons" from the clothing store.

On Thursday, Young suggested readers "purchase some American Express gift cards" and enter to win one of 10 $50 AmEx gift cards. At the bottom of the post, she noted, "I was not compensated in any way to host this giveaway. I simply could not pass up an opportunity to aid in blessing the lives of ten families during these hard economic times."

"Moms who write about their daily life and the most savvy review blogger, alike, now worry about whether or not they are disclosing enough, so some have gone overboard. Others have simply continued to be as transparent as they've always been," Young noted in an e-mail sent to ClickZ.

While some bloggers have yet to make any drastic changes, IZEA -- which operates paid blogging and social posting services PayPerPost, SocialSpark, and Sponsored Tweets -- is taking the FTC guidelines very seriously. Calling it "The Sarbanes Oxley of social media," IZEA CEO Ted Murphy has a positive view of the guidelines. "Around here we call it social SOX, actually," he added.

In addition to an image indicating a SocialSpark post has been sponsored, the company recently introduced a required piece of code that generates a disclosure message at the beginning of posts sponsored by advertisers using SocialSpark. "The biggest thing we're trying to do is automate the process as much as possible," said Murphy. The company also requires that people posting sponsored messages to Twitter through Sponsored Tweets include one of six disclosure options such as "brought to you by" or "#ad."

"[Sponsored Tweeters] can't submit anything back to us without having that... That's the way they can actually get paid," said Murphy.

The firm also offers advertisers the ability to track disclosures of all sponsored posts through a disclosure audit system. "A lot of the companies that were doing large scale outreach...didn't have the mechanisms in place to be able to automate the disclosure process and have a record of it," said Murphy.

"Now we have compliance tools that protect the advertiser," he added. "It's kind of like an insurance policy."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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