Giveaways prevent marketers from true benefits of blogger relations

Marketers stand to lose out on insight if they rely too heavily on bloggers to spread the message.

Marketers stand to lose out on insight if they rely too heavily on bloggers to spread the message.

A Newsweek.com headline caught my eye this week, “Are mommy bloggers corporate sellouts?” The growing debate over FTC guidelines on bloggers is giving rise to similar debates across the social media landscape.

But is this the beginning of a serious mom-blog backlash? It's fascinating that the ethics quandary seems to have coalesced around this particular area of the blogging community.

That is no doubt because, on the surface at least, it's a group that should be beyond reproach, motivated to share experiences and opinions through a sheer devotion to their families, and to exchanging knowledge with other individuals facing similar challenges.

That's nice in theory. But blogging is hard graft, and it's tough to imagine anyone doing it so persistently without some kind of payoff, either in goods or in glory. Few have the true love of writing, or the sensibility of the diarist to commit so wholly to the daily grind of producing copy without attendant benefits.

As for the marketers, I have a feeling that most of the really big ones, those that have set up mom “networks” and communities, are finding that much of the real value comes from the bloggers themselves.

General Mills, for example, according to the Newsweek article, has a panel of 900 bloggers, 80% of whom are moms that receive products to review, coupons, and other promotions. Other companies have similar communities, which are pretty substantial and qualified groups from which to glean insights about products.

The problem, according to a contact of mine who works on a consumer brand team, is that if there is a large percentage of those involved writing positively (or at least not negatively) about the products because of the relationship, the potential to gain real insight from this group might be seriously compromised.

“If they stop sending their products to the bloggers and diluting "real" writing with shills, then everyone wins,” she added. Given that, a PR “blackout”, as one mommy blogger has called for, might not be entirely wasted time.

I don't think the FTC or this recent scrutiny spells the end to the mommy blog, but it probably will mark the end of the gold rush. Authenticity isn't just a concern for readers, but also for marketers who want to know what their customers really think.

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