Published October 15, 2009 by Mac Chorlton
When you read a blog post with a glowing review about a certain product or service, do you ever wonder if the blogger who posted that was getting paid by someone to provide that glowing review? Well, that problem has actually become an epidemic on the web and it’s gotten so bad that the federal government has stepped in to provide some oversight. When you’re on-line, it’s often very difficult to determine if the content (blogs, customer reviews, etc.) you are seeing is a paid endorsement or an independent review. So the FTC recently announced that bloggers who receive compensation must disclose any payments they have received from the subjects of their reviews or face penalties.
The changes are aimed at de-blurring the line between editorial and advertising on blogs, social media sites (like Facebook and Twitter), etc. A study by Nielsen Online showed 78 percent of online users view recommendations from other consumers as trustworthy so the concept of policing pay-for-play bloggers sounds like a good idea. But the devil is in the details and this new regulation could create a myriad of problems. For example, in previous blog posts, I’ve talked about videos we’ve produced for several different companies who have paid us to produce those videos. But I’ve also referenced other videos that we have not produced. So would future posts like that put me in jeopardy of being fined by the FTC if I don’t make that paid-or-not-paid distinction for every video I reference? You can probably see how this problem would translate to any company, group, or organization that provides a blog or editorial content on social media sites.
As a production company, we are always creating videos that help a business or organization tell their story, connect with their customers or members, and market their services or sell their products. In a previous Tweedee blog post, my colleague Steve Donovan provided links to six different videos to show further examples of what he was talking about that week. Those videos were a collection of movie trailers and other videos that Steve produced himself. So if Steve or I mention videos or provide links to videos in a blog posting to enhance our message, do we really need to distinguish for each and every one whether or not we were paid to produced that content? It has been 30 years since the FTC revised its policy on endorsements so this new regulation is probably long overdue since these types of pay-for-play endorsements have become a rampant force in the internet world for shaping consumer decisions.
Of course, this new regulation will be very hard to enforce due to the overwhelming number of blogs, podcasts, social media outlets, etc. out there on the World Wide Web and we could have a Pandora’s Box on our hands. It seems to make sense that a blogger should not be able to promote themselves as an independent reviewer providing their opinion as opposed to what they really are: A paid spokesperson. So this new ruling will hopefully provide some transparency among these pay-for-play folks. But once again, monitoring and enforcing these new regulations seem like a real nightmare.