The End Of Marketer-Blogger Relationships?

By Sean Corcoran

The FTC made it official today.The proposal to update the guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials were approved and are now essentially the law. The bottom line is that anytime a blogger or any other endorser receives "material connections" from a company (e.g. cash payment, product samples, etc.) that a reader "would not expect" then that blogger must disclose the relationship. If the blogger does no disclose, then the blogger or even the company could be held liable - which could mean a hefty fine. And keep in mind the FTC doesn't care if you're paying a blogger in cash or simply sending free product, either way it is a "material connection."

So does this mean the end of marketer-blogger relationships (or "Sponsored Conversation")? We don't think so. In fact, over the long term we believe this will help strengthen those relationships by providing incentives to both companies and bloggers to do this the right way - with open disclosure, with authenticity, within the right context, and through a long term conversation versus short term PR spin or ad campaigns. It's that last point that many people miss. You can't use sponsored conversation like it's 1995 in which a brand pushes a message through an influential in exchange for compensation in a quid pro quo manner. The smart marketers in this space recognize that they can't talk and walk away. It's about creating conversation about the brand - whether good or bad - and adjusting to it through customer service, public relations and product development. Marketers should be listening to the community and creating a full feedback loop to improve their business.

Another key point is that marketers shouldn't be thinking of this as a way to replace organic endorsements. You can't buy your way into social media, you have to earn it. However, there is a role for Word of Mouth marketing to help influence and accelerate the conversation, but you need to know the rules before you jump in. The Word Of Mouth Marketing Association's Code of Ethics is a good place to start.

Finally, this isn't just about blogging as it impacts all social media. New challenges arise in emerging channels. For instance, how do you disclose material connections in a meaningful way through 140 characters on Twitter? Even using something like #Ad or similar, while a good start, would still be alien language to most of the 20-50 million people using Twitter. This is just another reason standards are necessary in this space and will slowly emerge.

At Forrester we plan to update our research in this area very soon. In the meantime, we encourage interactive marketers to follow the recommendations we recently published to ensure you're not breaking the rules.

Comments

re: The End Of Marketer-Blogger Relationships?

Here's a detailed analysis of the update regulation that I put together -- http://gaspedal.us/14The big ideas:1. As a citizen, you're free to blog all you want, unregulated. But as soon as you take compensation, you've gone pro and you have to play by the same rules as all professional media. Very fair and reasonable.2. As a marketer, you're free to earn all the blog coverage you want, unregulated. But as soon as you start paying for it, you are responsible for the actions of the people you pay. Very fair and reasonable.

re: The End Of Marketer-Blogger Relationships?

Sean,I am flabbergasted at the number of people on twitter that actually thing the FTC is being ludicrous.I completely agree with the FTC and you, Sean - social media is not a campaign, not a media campaign, and should be viewed as a conversation where companies and their constituents learn from each other, develop a relationship.If a blogger is prominent, he/she represent a group of people that companies should listen to, engage. That blogger is not meant to be a "channel" where advertising/promotions can be pushed through them!On that note, WOMMA is hosting a talk on the FTC ruling: check it out:https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/236073619

re: The End Of Marketer-Blogger Relationships?

It's business as usual.FYI Oprah's Acai Berries are likely coming out of India and, the last I heard, the FTC has no teeth there.

re: The End Of Marketer-Blogger Relationships?

Do these rules apply to people who review restaurants in traditional print media or are they somehow magically exempt?

re: The End Of Marketer-Blogger Relationships?

At BuzzParadise (http://www.buzzparadise.com), we do agree that disclosure is definitely a required step to avoid deceiving consumers. We always have requested it from start + respected bloggers freedom of opinion, good or bad for the past 3 years and the 300 bloggers outreach campaigns we have deployed in more than 12 countries.But why are bloggers treated with more severity than mature traditional media?Many offline press & TV journalists are offered outrageous gifts & travel invitations year along and I never saw any disclosure about it, not once! I am 200% for disclosure but I really think that FTC and WOMMA should be asking the same from the other media to be fair… Consumers trust is as important whether you are a TV audience or a WOM audience. And don't tell me traditional audience knows about all the extras journalists are benefiting from...Then how do you define "a blog" anyway?!What about campaigns on several territories with US bloggers hosted in other countries??!! what about invitation to an event?Moreover fining up to 11.000$ bloggers who are in 99% of the case animated by passion and not profit is just wrong in my personal opinion!I am sure the FTC had a good idea and motives, but it should definitely be a lot more precise and stop segregating blogs...

re: The End Of Marketer-Blogger Relationships?

I agree that this is both a good thing and that it was inevitable. Where is the harm in having people take some responsibility for their actions and opinions if they are doing it for money? Regulation adds back some credibility to the views and ratings that will reach consumers in the future.

re: The End Of Marketer-Blogger Relationships?

Agreed. You have to offer value with social media...if not you can expect no traffic or return from your investment.