Yesterday, FTC announced new regulations that will impact the way companies have been communicating with bloggers. According to the new regulations (which we had been expecting for a while), bloggers are asked to disclose any material connections they may have with a company, if they are writing on the products and services they received from that organization. Fair? Absolutely. Tricky? Yes.
I don't think anyone in their right mind would argue against the importance of having honest conversations with bloggers and other consumers online. I would like to think that we are past the point of considering fake blogs, paid and undisclosed posts as smart marketing initiatives. Consumers will figure it out. You will lose their trust. Most importantly, you will lose their business.
However, I do think we will all need to be extra careful to make sure consumers know about the conversations between brand representatives and bloggers. We are always open and transparent about who we represent when we speak with bloggers. We always ask that their readers know how they are able to try products and where they get their information. But we obviously do not control what they write. Nor would we ever tell them how to write a post. (Would you tell Mossberg how to write his column??)
The FTC guideline is pretty clear on this: do not post without full disclosure. But, is it enough for a brand to ask bloggers that they disclose the source of their trial product? Will we need more structured and possibly legal communications with bloggers when we invite them to join programs? Does a coupon or a discount offer constitute material connection?
There will be much discussion on these types of questions in the coming days. I have a feeling we'll learn on a case by case basis, as blogger networks evolve and offer new business models. For now, the best thing to do is to over-communicate about blogger relations and brand connections... and to join WOMMA's upcoming Webinar with the organization's general counsel Tony DiResta on October 8th. Info on how to attend here at womma.org.