retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Content Guy’s Note: Kate’s BlogBeat is a new ingredient in the MorningNewsBeat stew – a regular look at what people are talking about on the Internet, and how it impacts the conduct of business by retailers and manufacturers.


Dear Reader:

I’m so excited to recommend this amazing culinary find … it’s delicious, nutritional and well priced. My husband thinks I’m the new Julia Child (but with a better hair style). Even my picky teenage daughters love the taste (but still hate my hair style). You’ve got to try it!

Kate

P.S.: Does it matter to you that the manufacturer sent it to me for free? It matters to the Federal Trade Commission, and as of Dec. 1st, I need to fess up about my fridge full of freebies or face an $11,000 fine.


That postscript, dear reader, is the crux of the spirited cyber-conversation percolating on the web since Monday’s FTC ruling requiring bloggers who review or endorse a product to disclose their relationship with the advertiser or sponsor who provided it.

Or, as one Twitter post summed it up: “FTC Cracks Down on Payola.”

Whether its payola or granola, all bloggers and celebrity endorsers need to play by the same rules. And that’s a good thing.

The new regulations, and the reaction to them, reinforce two recurring themes here at MNB :

• Social media is here to stay, and its role in the marketplace is evolving and expanding in a variety of platforms, from blogs to Facebook to Twitter.

• Transparency isn’t just a recommendation, but rather a requirement, for companies to succeed in today’s business environment, whether you are a “blogger mom” or a retailer, marketer, manufacturer or provider of services.

The FTC had not revised its regulations since 1980, and the agency’s Richard Cleland noted that “seeing the significance of social media marketing in the 21st century” it was time to apply the “principles of transparency and truth in advertising” to digital media.

The cyber-response hit literally minutes after the FTC emailed its new release. Not surprisingly, bloggers who have long disclosed that they received a product for free or were paid for their review welcomed the FTC guidelines, while others fretted about how precisely to word their disclosure.

The unhappy posts, as always, packed more of a punch:

”What the hell is wrong with all you people rolling over and asking how to comply or just hoping it won't intrude on your web design? Do you not treasure your heritage of liberty? Do you have no pride or testosterone or sense of justice? Do you care that your mom might get hit by an $11,000 fine 'cause she neglects to mention the sample of Tide that came in the mail when she says it's her favorite laundry detergent on her Facebook page?”

Others complained the fear of being fined would simply force “honest bloggers to stop discussing products entirely – or they’ll stop blogging.”

I doubt that. The much-publicized “blogger moms” take their roles very seriously. And while some may be in business for the free diapers, cereal and occasional HP laptop, I’ve read these blogs and the majority are committed to providing honest reviews for members of their “community.”

And just as people learn to trust a newspaper’s food critic or magazine’s movie reviewer based on personal taste and experience, blog readers must come to their own conclusions about the blogger’s opinion or review. These new guidelines add even more legitimacy to blog reviews, because where there is transparency there is also accountability.

This column will follow the on-line dialogue about this ruling in the coming months. My favorite tweet back to the complainers was this one:

“Clarity is a good thing. Digital needs transparency. Stop whining.”

Spoken like a true blogger mom.

You can reach Kate McMahon via email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
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