The long wait for the FTC's updated guidelines on how to disclose endorsements in advertising and other sponsored material like blogs and Twitter ended this week. But speculation as to what it will mean for the marcomms/ad world did not. There were inaccurate rumors of an $11,000 fine for bloggers who violate the instructions, and questions on how to disclose relationships in 140-character spaces.
These details will have to be sorted out, but what the FTC made clear is that the social media landscape is no longer an “other.” Bloggers are no longer a novelty, no longer a separate group. They must play by the same rules as others, and so must those who pitch them. This is a good thing in that it will formalize the standards that good PR pros are already following when reaching out to bloggers.
The important lesson for PR pros in all of this is that as bloggers have entered the mainstream they have to be treated – and selected – in the same way you consider which journalists to pitch. As the FTC said in its comments to PRWeek, though it will now hold bloggers liable for failing to disclose paid relationships and promotional appearances and writings, it still plans to focus its efforts on the marketers. Choosing to align your organization or your client's with a credible and honest blogger now becomes critical in order to protect a company's credibility.
The net benefit to working with those who operate under full disclosure and offer independent commentary, rather than a for-sale blog littered with endorsements, is huge because of the trust that blogger has with its audience. The blogosphere is much more likely to value the advice of a mommy blogger that compares 10 baby slings and then selects her favorite (all the while disclosing the products came free to her), rather than the blogger who blithely selects a new favorite sling each week as the freebies roll in.
This all boils down to what good word-of-mouth practitioners already know: transparency is a must, and authenticity sells better. Or as the industry has been saying for years: earned media connects better than a one-dimensional push strategy.