By now you've probably heard the news: The FTC is looking into holding blogs and bloggers (including mommy bloggers) liable for false statements made in connection with product reviews. Blogger and lawyer Linsey Krolik writes:
Simple disclaimers (what can vary, but are usually something along the lines of "I am not liable for anything I say on my blog," etc.) can provide some protection, but only go so far. Nothing can remove all risk for bloggers - there is always risk. But how large is the risk? This will depend on the blogger, the product, the situation.
The FTC is mainly targeting bloggers who (possibly) make false claims, but the heart of the issue is blogger transparency. In other words, if you are writing about a product or service you received for free or if you were paid to post about a product or service, should you disclose it? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes, but there are some bloggers (and not just mommy bloggers) who haven't been as forthcoming. This creates confusion and has led to a lot of barbs being traded about mommy bloggers (especially) lacking integrity and damaging the community. I will get to that in a moment.
Although she is talking about reviews, Young's statement could be construed wrongly. It seems as if she doesn't disclose that she receives products or services for free, but rather she works them into her blog posts in a way that seems natural. The commercial goes editorial, as it were.
But knowing how interviews go, I am sure she meant exactly what she said: that her reviews are natural and personable, written in her own style and not "corporate." I am sure her clients appreciate her personal touch and that is probably why she was just named one of Nielsen's Top 50 Power Moms. (Congrats Young Mommy!)
Young's quote is a great one to illustrate why people are so confused about the issue, and why clarity is within our reach.
I am completely the opposite with my reviews over at CityMama's Stuff People Send Me. Even the name of my review blog lays it all out there and acknowledges that we, as bloggers, get sent free stuff all the time. My reviews are not "natural," they consist of 5 parts:
- an overview of the product
- what I liked about it
- what I didn't
- how much it costs
- how much it cost me (nothing)
I do it this way in the hopes of protecting myself against making false claims, but also because I want readers to know that my reviews clearly aren't editorial. (Here's an example of a recent review post.) As you can see the blog isn't updated often because I don't have time to write even short reviews, but when I like something I share it. (I was interviewed about this topic for Wallet Pop here.)
I'm no lawyer, but whatever the intent of your blog, the FTC probably won't have a case against you if you keep it real, and that means: be transparent about your relationships with the companies who are providing you with a product or service.
I think most of us who blog would say we do it in large part to connect with the people who are reading. If that weren't true, we'd all have private diaries and we'd never share them publicly. What you blog about is only of concern to two parties: you and your readership. Readers are savvy and will show their support for what you are putting out there by either coming back or not.
I think most readers take reviews with a grain of salt even if you are being honest. This is why I strive for a matter-of-fact approach with my own reviews. That style may not be what the person who sent me the hat or the face cream expected, but I feel like I owe my readers a spoon with which to scoop up those grains of salt, and that spoon is my straight-forwardness. Have I don't it wrong in the past? Yes. You learn as you go.
What sucks, though, is when you mention a product or service on your blog because you really and truly do love it and readers assume you either:
- received it for free
- or want to
Case in point, can't Dooce mention that her pregnant belly looks like the new Pepsi logo without people Twittering questions asking if Pepsi sponsored her? People, we've taken this a little too far.
However you go about your blogging is none of my or anyone else's business, but when lack of transparency starts to reflect on how readers view my blog content—in ways that I didn't intend when I wrote the post—then it behooves us all to be even more clear about what we got and where it came from. It protects what the memoirists do, it protects what the reviewer/give-away-ers do.
Why can't there be a de facto blog standard when it comes to reviews. Why wait for the FTC to come down on us? As we mommy bloggers have done in the past—creating relationships with companies, cultivating communities, getting compensated for our passion if we choose to be—it's time again, sisters, for us to do it for ourselves.
Let's all agree on few basic principles:
- To stop worrying about how other people use their blogs and focus on doing our own blogs proud.
- To respect our blogs, our individual strengths and talents, and our readers by demanding transparency in blogger-client relationships.
- To be transparent on our own blogs.
- To review products fairly not to say we love it if we don't, but also not to completely trash it if we hate it.(Or at least have a point to the "trashing.")
- To give honest, straightforward, constructively critical (when we have to) opinions and don't make false claims.
- To be selective in the products we review. To ask, "Will this product will really benefit me, my family, or my readers?" before accepting it, and if it won't, decline it.
- To acknowledge that our community is rife with diversity and that's what makes it so special. Appreciate the people who have created communities within our community even if you aren't in it. That is pretty powerful.
I need to work on those principles, and I promise to try. Anyone have any more to add?
If we can try to embrace these ideas, or at least the spirit of them, we won't have to worry about transparency or the FTC anymore. We won't have to wonder if Jane Blogger really loves her smart phone or camera or nail clippers or if she was paid to say it. I mean, don't we have other, more important, things to worry about?
Now, who wants a cocktail?