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Posted by Sean Corcoran on May 21, 2009
by Sean Corcoran
The Federal Trade Commission’s recent proposed updates to the “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” has rekindled the heated discussion around sponsored conversation. The proposed updates, to be voted on this summer, include examples and language that directly affect anyone working with bloggers. Because Google and the federal government have come out with updated guidelines around this subject since we wrote our report, we felt it necessary to update and clarify our position on it (our position has not changed, we’re just highlighting why things like disclosure and authenticity are as important as ever).
First let me state that, just as we support Google’s policies, we also support and agree with the FTC’s updates to their guidelines. These guidelines have been developed to both protect consumers and ensure free market competition – a necessary role in an online world that experienced too many deceptive practices (i.e. spam, link farms and undisclosed pay for post schemes). And while the guidelines themselves are not new, they have been updated to include online marketing tactics such as paid blog posts. Here are the most important points you need to know about the guides when working with bloggers:
There is no doubt that the use of sponsored conversation is growing and at Forrester we believe that marketers can compensate certain bloggers to create content for their brand in an above board fashion – one that follows all of the necessary rules so blog readers know when they are reading legitimate editorial content and when they are reading paid content. Sponsored conversations are a form of paid media but they do have the ability to create earned media (i.e. word of mouth conversation) when done the right way.
Here are our updated rules for any marketer considering the use of sponsored conversation:
While it seems as though influential people like Andy Sernovitz disagree with our position, the fact is we’re not that far apart. We all agree that advertisers and bloggers should not use this form of marketing for deceptive purposes and should always follow the rules set up by the FTC – disclosure being the most important. Readers should know when they are seeing paid content. Where most people disagree is what that content looks like and the type of compensation that is used. At Forrester we believe that the policies from organizations such as the FTC and Google will help create standards to solve these debates. Paid content on blogs will be clearly marked and disclosed to the audience. We ultimately expect the end product to look something like paid search – a value to the consumer (unlike most display ads) but clearly marked as paid content. Either way you look at it, make sure not to take the use of sponsored conversation lightly because the punishment could be heavy.