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The Death of Blogger Product Reviews

April 9th, 2009 · 8 Comments

The Federal Trade Commission is considering new regulations that will hold companies responsible for the actions of bloggers who make false statements about their products, when the blogger has been compensated by the company.  So if a company gives a blogger a tube of skin cream and the blogger falsely claims in their blog that the skin cream cures cancer the FTC can sue the blogger and the company.

This seems reasonable until you start to dig into it a little.  What about someone who doesn’t have a blog but has thousands of followers on Digg, Twitter, Stumbleupon, etc. etc.  What about Facebook, and Digg, etc who received ad revenue from Google for ads for the skin cream?  What about Google who received ad revenue for these same ads?

What about when the skin cream manufacturer offers free samples to 1000′s of people via Facebook and invites them to come back and talk about it?  This after all is the essence of social media, crowd sourcing and viral marketing.  If a few of these people make false claims is the manufacturer liable for them?

It’s very easy to see how the lawsuits will begin targeting the deep pockets of Facebook, Google etc.  But the real losers in this are the public.  Companies won’t want to promote their products via social media.  Bloggers won’t get samples to write about.  But most importantly, Companies will require bloggers to submit product reviews for approval. This will kill the independent blogger review of any product online.  How can you believe someone who had to have their article approved by the vendor?

Jeremiah Owyang will need to revise his list of sponsored blogs because they are going to go away.  Why would I or anyone else want to put our reputation on the line when we have to get the vendor’s legal approval?  If the article is critical, the vendor will pressure me to change it.  As a corporate PR person I know I will if given the opportunity to impact a blogger writing about my company’s products.  David Meerman Scott also has an interesting story on this from the perspective of book reviews.

Many will say that it’s a good thing for sponsored blog posts to go away.  But it’s not, because the largest impact will be on the small company starting out who wants to get noticed by the big boys.  They don’t have the resources to vet each article, so their lawyer will tell them not to send out free samples of that new organic soap you’ve made.  And big popular writers will not be willing to submit each article to a dozen different companies for review.  And that will be the thing that hurts us all.

I titled this article Social ME-dia because one of the great equalizers about social media is that it’s all about ME.  What I say online in Twitter, and in my blog are my responsibility.  I also write the blog for my company and what is said there is the official statement of the company.  In each case the responsibility for any statements made is squarely on the shoulders of the owner of the blog?  I am responsible for the things I say, not someone else. Making some company responsible for my actions simply because they gave me a sample of their product is foolish.

I want to publically ask my blogger collegues and the FTC to not make the deep pockets of companies responsible for this.  It has the ability to stifle and pervert the nature of internet marketing in ways that we cannot forsee.  Make the individual responsible for their words.

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Tags: Reasonable Social Networking · Reasonable Techie Advice · Reasons For Net Marketing · Web Wednesday

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 hdbbstephen on Twitter // Apr 9, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Another power grab by the government. Pretty soon every blogger will have to submit every post to Cuffy Meigs for approval (see http://tinyurl.com/dzdl5r ) for a humorous take on the subject.

  • 2 Cam Beck // Apr 9, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Chris – Completely agree. We already have laws against fraud, where the one responsible for the fraud is actually liable for damages. This legislation reeks of the trial lawyer lobby.

  • 3 Lewis Green // Apr 9, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Chris,

    Good post. I agree it seems ass-backwards. We bloggers are personally responsible for what we say about products, services or other businesses. Whether or not we received a freebie isn’t a problem as long as we declare that we received that freebie or compensation in return for the expectation that we would write about that product or business. Then, let the reader decide whether or not the blogger is credible and trustworthy.

  • 4 Bronson // Apr 9, 2009 at 10:41 am

    My my, this is an interesting development.

    You’re right that it sounds fine in principle, but when you look below the surface you can see that there is one big, nasty can of worms that is about to be opened.

    So by that token if you’re paid to have an opinion and your opinion happens to suck the thing you had the opinion about is in trouble….. hmmmm, hell no!

  • 5 Jia // Apr 9, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Communities are self-regulating like a market. It wouldn’t be a good idea or the best interest of a blogger to post something not credible. The expecation is different for a sponsored blogger because of the objectivity if FTC has to make the argument.

  • 6 Andy Beard // Apr 9, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Those Acai blogs were just pushing things too far, though holding the affiliate companies jointly responsible is just impossible.
    They couldn’t possibly police millions of pages created per day.
    I know (and have written about) Clickbank requiring you to comply with all FTC regulations on WOMM. That is all they really can do.

  • 7 Ginger // Apr 9, 2009 at 11:49 am

    It would be interesting to know what may have prompted the FTC to even take this under consideration. We are a small company that has just started to navigate the social media waters recently. I would hate to see us lose the opportunity to introduce our products to a wider audience.
    We can discuss this, but it would be helpful to also comment to the FTC on this issue. I hope everyone who might be impacted will take the initiative to do so.

  • 8 Todd Jordan // Apr 9, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    I’m not sure why the government is even that interested. There are already laws in place for such things, why a special law for bloggers?

    This is just more reason to wonder how folks up there prioritize things, and who’s pushing this.

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