Thoughts on disclosure, or the new FTC rules for blogging and me

Following months of deliberation by the Federal Trade Commission and rumors throughout the social media marketing world, the FTC this week released it’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” to much buzz.  And, a little panic, I think, for bloggers, twitterers and facebookers who like to talk about their favorite goods and services, wondering what this all might mean for them.

It’s an 81-page document, in rather complex legal-governmental language.  You can read it by clicking here if you like [opens PDF document in a new window].

First, because I’ve fielded a few questions about this from the reviewers I work with on content for clients, I want to define what the new regulations say about bloggers – as I understand it. Disclaimer:  I’m not a lawyer, this isn’t legal advice, and if I learn something new about it, I’ll update this post.

Disclosure

If a company gives you product or money or any other kind of award or compensation in return for your posting about them or their product on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social networking site, you (the blogger) need to say so clearly.  The consequence for not doing so includes potentially hefty fines, but the report does not delineate what to expect for certain infractions, nor how specifically it will be enforced.

Now, if you review books, resources or music for another outlet, such as YMX, and repost your work on your blog with link attribution (as that site has permitted), you need only be clear that you were given the resource to review for that outlet.  It is pretty clear that product is given to media outlets to review, and you’re (in the case of YMX) reprinting with permission with link attribution.  If you link to your work on another commercial site from your  personal Twitter/Facebook, etc, it seems clear to me that you got something in return for the work (product or  some other consideration).

If you are an affiliate marketer – say for amazon, or referral link prizes, and the like – you need to say so under these new rules.  If you make money on it, you need to say so more clearly than ever.  Here is a good overview of the new guidelines from the corporate marketing point of view.

About this blog

Most reviews on this blog are reprints of my work for hire, primarily at YS/YMX. Those include links back to the original publication page.

A few times publishers or companies have given me books to review, or something to give away. While it was clear enough at the time, I will be more specific about that going forward.  I have never been paid cash for any post on this blog, or anything I’ve posted on my personal social networking accounts.  I intend to add a disclosure page to this blog to acknowledge affiliate relationships so there is no confusion.

All very formal, but I have no problem disclosing this if it prevents confusion on the part of others. Clarity is good, and assuring readers that my thoughts and opinions are my own even if I got a free book is something I’m happy to do.  It’s necessary to help people who research purchases on the internet tell the difference between advertising and customer opinion, because the line had become blurry. Ethics are important.

Now, if we could just get the same kind of clear public disclosure from politicians and lobbyists, I’d be thrilled.

4 Responses to “Thoughts on disclosure, or the new FTC rules for blogging and me”

  1. Mike
    October 7, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    it’s not retroactive, is it? Would a blogger have to go back to every past post that has a review of a resource and add anything, would they?

    • patti
      October 7, 2009 at 12:16 pm #

      Good question. It takes effect December 1, so if a person started complying now, I think you’d be OK.

      That’s part of why I’m adding the disclosure page, to make it clear for this little corner of the web what content/links etc have either been compensated (via product, in my case) or could be (like amazon referral links).

  2. Paul from Canada
    October 18, 2009 at 10:48 pm #

    While the FTC announcement doesn’t directly affect Canadian bloggers, I review books frequently and therefore have an interest in this.

    “If a company gives you product;” is an interesting statement because if a publisher gives you a book looking for endorsement or review, it’s true they’ve given you something that has, for example, a retail value of let’s say $14.99 USD.

    However, many of the books I’m given are NOT product; they are “advance reader copies;” they have no barcode and they are marked “Not for Sale.”

    To me, this is key. Publishers can take the pressure off reviewers by simply doing more of these advance copies.

  3. patti
    October 19, 2009 at 8:41 am #

    Thanks for the comment, Paul. That may be a way to avoid the book aspect of this regulation, but the wider view is toward other items and incentives, such as trips given in return for reviews of products. The FTC has clarified that the giving of these products and incentives is considered remuneration for advertising and is therefore requiring it to be disclosed. I don’t think the majority concern is the $15 book, per se, but the behind the scenes activity that drives the review blog business.

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