FTC Forces Bloggers to Get Real

As expected, the Federal Trade Commission yesterday issued new guidelines for bloggers to disclose freebies or payments they receive in return for reviewing products. Although the regulations are still vague and will be judged on a case-by-case basis, this is a big step in cleaning up the blogosphere from the proliferation of content trash floating around.

Social media guru Brian Solis argues that the FTC is not showing bloggers respect because “traditional reporters and journalists have long received products and services to review.” Yes, with several key distinctions. Real reporters are schooled, apprenticed, trained, and are usually part of an organization that has adopted standards and oversight. News organizations have guidelines about accepting gifts and returning products they review. Bloggers are not reporters and, in the case of those who stoop to write positive reviews on products or services they receive without disclosing the relationship, they are hardly behaving ethically.

There is a mad rush to get exposure on the web and game search results – hence pay for play bloggers. Blogging is hard work. It takes thought, research, and a bit of tech savvy (not much), and understanding of basic journalistic principles. Bloggers don’t usually do ‘original’ research – we comment on what has already been reported. Bloggers can have value, the same as any op-ed contributor to a news organization.

This goes back to that big question – what is more important, content or SEO. I argue that content is more important. If you produce articles that have insight and value to the market, search engines will pick it up and you will receive deep, long-lasting benefit. If you’re out to game the search engines through slick SEO tactics and prostituted bloggers, then you will always be at the mercy of Google’s next algorithm that boxes you out and government regulations. 

For bloggers, the FTC stopped short of specifying how they must disclose conflicts of interest. Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s advertising practices division, said the disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous,” no matter what form it will take.

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