October 12, 2009 - Comments Off on Does the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Ruling Kill Blogging?

Does the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Ruling Kill Blogging?

On the 1st December 2009 new changes to the FTC Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising come into effect. This is potentially big news for our industry as the new guides address the fact that advertisers are increasingly harnessing Web 2:0 technologies and social networks for word-of-mouth marketing.

A legal perspective on the FTC guides was posted by a leading city law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse last week and includes some interesting comments.

The new guides recognise the common practice of payment for reviews on Blog sites as a form of advertising and seek to regulate this practice in much the same way as other similar activities or advertising. The FTC have given specific examples quoted in the Field Fisher Waterhouse commentary but include;

“Paying a blogger to post a review clearly requires disclosure as does a word-of-mouth marketing program that periodically sends consumers products for review. Sending a free sample to a blogger with a request to post a review may qualify as a “material connection” depending on the value of the product and the frequency that this occurs.” (for more visit the Field Fisher Waterhouse site).

Also made clear from the guide is that the responsibility for disclosure is placed upon the Blogger not the advertiser.

As I see it this will impact the SEO/Social media communities in the following ways, but mainly this rasies a lot of questions:

1.    Bloggers that receive payment for posting reviews/other content are obliged to disclose this fact.. but will they? and how will this be enforced?
2.    If posts with the appropriate disclosure are identified by Google, will Google react negatively? Will these be seen as paid for link sources and penalised?
3.    Given the method of disclosure is not specified then actually wont it be pretty easy to disguise the disclosure from Google in any case? (i.e. the disclosure could be placed in an image)
4.    Following on from above will this unleash a spate of people reporting blogs they suspect of receiving payment without disclosing to the relevant authorities/Google?
5.    What are the FTC expecting bloggers to do about all of the historical content/reviews that were paid for before these guides came into play?
6.    Does anyone else think that potentially this bites off more than it can chew given the sheer volume of content?

I’d be interested to hear comments from others to see if this can be clarified any further…