FTC proposal could vastly alter blogger relations

In 1998, a California-based consumer activist by the name of Mark Kasky filed a lawsuit against Nike.

In 1998, a California-based consumer activist by the name of Mark Kasky filed a lawsuit against Nike. The issue was the company's PR reports and Op-Eds regarding manufacturing working conditions, which Kasky believed should be classified as “commercial speech” and subject to the same kinds of restrictions and potential liability as advertising. Nike v. Kasky made its way to the US Supreme Court in 2002, which declined to render a ruling, and was thus left in a kind of interpretative limbo of conflicting lower-court opinions.

At the time, Nike/Kasky was concerning enough to lead Nike to cease printing its social responsibility report for public consumption. Corporate America was preparing for a prospective sea change in the ways it would communicate, particularly on issues that connected to corporate reputation, CSR, and employee communications.

A similar unease is in the air now, as the Federal Trade Commission's proposes revisions to the “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” If passed, marketers could be liable for false statements about their products that are made in blogs or other social media channels. Given their potential vulnerability, it stands to reason that outreach to bloggers and the like will be severely curtailed.

And with that, the implications of these proposed changes become extremely challenging. With Nike/Kasky, at issue was a company's ability to freely use traditional PR channels and tools, such as Op-Eds, to communicate with stakeholders.

But the communities of bloggers and other social media aficionados that are standing between marketers and prospective customers are the very communities these marketers want to cultivate over the long term. In other words, a mom blogger is also a mom, just looking to do the right things for her family, and to buy stuff from companies she likes and trusts.

A sudden shift in that marketer relationship that occurs once mom is no longer a media goldmine could prove devastating to loyalty and goodwill. Given the proliferation of these media platforms, and the fact that these moms and other social media influencers will continue to operate and influence in the unregulated, offline world, marketers and agencies need to carefully plan for what could be a rude awakening.

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