Several weeks ago we ran a story about the FTC’s recent crackdown on bloggers—specifically looking at how this may or may not affect Mommy Bloggers.  Since that story ran, we have heard from many in the Mommy Blogger community and wanted to share with our audience of brand leaders and marketing executives just how Mommy Bloggers feel about the possibility of FTC regulations and what every brand should do now with their blogger relationships.

Overall, what are your thoughts regarding the possibility of the Federal Trade Commission monitoring and regulating product reviews by bloggers?

Emily McKhann (http://www.themotherhood.com): Since we started blogging in 2004, the number of mom bloggers has grown enormously.  Mothers online have found their voice and each other, and a FTC regulation won’t change that in any real way.   As for mom bloggers who review products, my experience is that the top bloggers put their readers first and core to that is being upfront, authentic and truthful.  It’s hard to imagine the very popular bloggers risking losing the trust of their readers and community by doing it any other way.  On TheMotherhood, we organize on-the-ground and online events sponsored by consumer brands and are always upfront about their involvement.  From what we’ve seen, our moms feel a tremendous amount of goodwill towards the brands for sponsoring our events.

Linda M. Grant (http://www.newyorkcitysinglemom.com): I am not adverse to the FTC monitoring product reviews.  As an experienced marketer, I think the more transparency the better.  In my opinion, if the blogger discloses the nature of the relationship, that should be enough. It certainly would be more than what producers of films/TV shows do. If you consider that companies pay for product placements in film and TV, shouldn’t they also have to put a disclaimer somewhere in their shows that they are being paid?   By including the product in the movie/film, they are for all intents and purposes endorsing the product. Why does the FTC not regulate them?

Liz Gumbinner (http://www.coolmompicks.com): I think we’re all dealing with really uncharted territory here because bloggers are writers, editors, ad sales reps, publishers, and at times, celebrity endorsers all at once. We can’t be called journalists exactly, and we can’t be called editors.

I’ve read the entire 86-page FTC document and it seems that it all boils down to eliminating consumer deception. That’s a reasonable goal. Knowing this, blogs that accept products for review had better be very confident in terms of the way they disclose free products, and overall, with how they conduct themselves with marketers.

The proposals may put blogs under a miscroscope for the time being, but I think it’s unfair to single out mom blogs specifically. Tech bloggers, literary bloggers, food bloggers have also been accepting products for review from the get-go. And certainly magazine editors have been enjoying “perks” for years. I suppose it comes down to whether the blogger operates under a high standard of accountability to her audience, or whether there’s some sort of quid pro quo – looking at a free product as “compensation” for a review – or whether it creates conditions for a more favorable review than if the blogger hadn’t received compensation.

Put it this way: Could a toilet paper company pay Vogue enough money to do a whole feature on them? Of course not.

That said, the final arbiter of a blog’s integrity will always be the readers. The moment they sniff out an iota of deception, they’re gone. And if a blogger loses her readers’ trust, then really, she has nothing.

What are some tips for brands that are beginning to build a blogger relationship—what should they do to make sure the relationship continues to be compliant should regulations be put into place?

McKhann: Be authentic always.  Know the bloggers – really know them – their areas of interest, their blogs, their voice.  Talk through the brand campaign to get a real sense of the bloggers’ interest and approach.  Treat bloggers like the people they are and know you are creating a relationship with them.

Grant: Make sure there is full disclosure on the site that the blogger is being paid and/or was given the products.  If the blogger has integrity and is upfront, it will come across in the review.

Gumbinner: First off, brands need to look really closely at the blogs they’re pitching; mass email blasts are not a great tactic in the blog world, and it behooves you to read the blog a bit and scan previous reviews to get a sense of the blogger. Just because your audiences are synergistic doesn’t mean that blog is the right place for you. Marketers should place their brands only in the hands of a blogger who seems discerning, honest, and authentically enthusiastic about the products she features.

There are certainly some times that a blogger really does need to see a product for review to be able to evaluate it. But if she asks for money or insists on some other contingency for review, you may conclude that she’s not making decisions based on products she loves, but on those she can profit from. It not only ends up making the review itself useless, it has a negative halo effect over the marketer who’s now associated with a blogger of lesser integrity.

It’s also helpful for you to be clear that you want a review in the blogger’s own words, based on her own personal experience. After close to two decades as an advertising copywriter, I instinctively know how to avoid making claims that would hold me liable for them in the eyes of the FCC. Less savvy writers might be inclined simply to pass on unsubstantiated product points (“you can lose twenty pounds in four days!”) which will then get you both in trouble.

I have to believe that the majority of marketers and PR folks have decent moral compasses. If something feels wrong to you – it probably is.

Some of our blogger sources actually wrote entire blogs about the topic.  Checkout two of our favorites:

Stacey Kannenberg, Cedar Valley Publishing

http://cedarvalleypublishing.com/blog/2009/04/29/let’s-get-ready-to-hear-my-opinion-on-the-ftc-changes-for-bloggers/

Liz Thompson, This Full House

http://www.thisfullhouse.com/this_full_house/2009/04/potentional-ftc-regulations-on-mom-bloggers-are-you-kidding-me.html

Checkout more about Mommy Bloggers during M2Moms®-The Marketing To Moms Conference, October 27 & 28, 2010 at the Chicago Cultural Center.  Visit www.m2moms.com for additional information.

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