How the New FTC Guidelines Affect Bloggers

by Christine - From Dates to Diapers on October 7, 2009

Do you have a disclosure policy in place on your blog? Do you make it clear in your posts when you receive an item for review, are sent on an all-expense-paid trip, or post ads? If not, you need to make sure you begin disclosing your relationship with brands and companies beginning on December 1st, 2009. Better yet, start now.

Why?

If a blogger frequently receives products from manufacturers because he or she is known to have wide readership within a particular demographic group that is the manufacturers’ target market, the blogger’s statements are likely to be deemed to be “endorsements.”

Our opinions or reviews, as bloggers, are now considered endorsements by the Federal Trade Commission, regardless of any compensation above receipt of product for review. Although it will be difficult to enforce, bloggers and the companies they endorse can be fined for not following these guidelines.

But I only post my opinion.

A consumer who purchases a product with his or her own money and praises it on a personal blog or on an electronic message board will not be deemed to be providing an endorsement.

These new guidelines do not affect an average mom (or dad) who blogs about their daily life with kids. If you have a favorite car seat, you purchased it yourself, and you are simply providing your opinion, you need not worry.

All media is not created equal.

The Commission does not consider reviews published in traditional media (i.e., where a newspaper, magazine, or television or radio station with independent editorial responsibility assigns an employee to review various products or services as part of his or her official duties, and then publishes those reviews) to be sponsored advertising messages.

There is power in social media, the new media. We are being held to higher standards than newspaper editors and magazine contributors. Yes, it seems to be a double-standard, but look at it this way – Our blogs and Twitter streams are where moms are looking for  honest opinions on the best strollers on the market and whether or not kids really do like V8 V-Fusion. Why? Because we are real parents and are trusted voices. Don’t look at these new guidelines as a negative, but rather as an elevation – a promotion, if you will. The Federal Trade Commission sees us as real and positive influencers.

So, how do I make sure I’m on the up and up?

  • Disclose. Disclose. Disclose. “Clearly and conspicuously” is as much as the guidelines suggest. Here at From Dates to Diapers, I have my Disclosure Policy posted on the right sidebar of the front page. I also place, within my posts, wording that indicates whether or not I received the product I talk about directly from the company (or public relations firm) who makes, distributes, or represents it. These are wise practices for any blogger who is sought out by companies to provide opinions.
  • Avoid making blanket claims. Do not tout a product as being a cure-all, or make promises that a certain item will produce certain results. Only write about products from your perspective – “XYZ worked for me,” or “I noticed that XYZ benefited me and my family in such-and-such a way.” Do not be afraid to give your opinion, but avoid making specific performance claims.
  • Be authentic. Be real. Only give your honest opinion. If you received an item for review, test it out for a significant period of time, have your kids test it out – and only after you’ve actually used the product – offer your thoughts. Parents want to hear the real opinions of parents.

    Here at From Dates to Diapers, we only write about products that work well for us (our family), or make family life fun. I have yet to waste the time, space, and energy writing about products that do not resonate well with us or may not benefit my friends (aka readers). This is not to say that you will not find me talking about what may not be so great about an almost perfect product, but I will not focus on the negative, nor will I advertise products we do not use or like. My readers know this about me.

The long and short of it all.

Your readers deserve to know when you have received an item for free, especially if you have nothing but good things to say about it. If your readers trust your opinion and know you would not steer them wrong, only good things can come of your transparency.

**I am not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one on TV. These were simply my thoughts on the new guidelines. Do with them what you wish.**

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Creating Buzz For Your Sponsors

by Christine - From Dates to Diapers on March 2, 2009

Companies are seeing, now more than ever, the value in working with bloggers and those engaged in other social media avenues, such as Twitter and Facebook. With BlissDom and Mom 2.0 a mere memory and SXSW coming up next week, BlogHer seems to be the conference that is the focus of much talk as we try to decipher how best we can partner with these companies in a real life setting.

Tara has written a great post highlighting the steps to take to gain event sponsorships. Mandi has posted an example of what your media kit should look like. And, Lori has written about how important it is to include a demographics survey in your kit.

But, before you write your proposal it’s a good thing to map out some ways you can benefit your sponsor – ie, what you can offer to do for them in exchange for a sponsorship to your conference of choice.

Here are some ideas:

Mention your sponsor in any blog posts related to the conference itself. This could mean a standard blurp, like “travel to BlogHer made possible by XXX,” or something more organic, like “thanks to XXX I will be flying to Chicago, first class!” Whichever way you decide to do this, make sure you include a hyperlink with each mention.

Offer an ad space to your sponsor. Ads take on several forms. It could be a button on your sidebar, a banner above your posts, or even a special graphic included within each of your conference related posts. Work with your sponsor to determine the proper length of time this ad will appear on your site, but remember that your blog real-estate is precious, so try to steer clear of long periods of time to ensure relevance to your readers.

Do you Tweet? Create a hashtag that works for you and your sponsor and plan to include it in any related tweets. Use this hashtag as you prepare for the conference, are on your way to the conference, and throughout the duration of the conference. You can also plan to include the company’s handle in some of your tweets, during the conference, and urge your followers to follow them. Be careful, however, not to sound spammy when tweeting about your sponsor.

Sport the brand. Companies can have their logo printed on tees, canvas bags, laptop covers, even stickers. These items can be worn by you, or your laptop, and given to those you meet as a marketing tool.

Work with your sponsor to offer a giveaway. As you are gathering business cards from fellow conference attendees, tell them about this exclusive giveaway and let them know how to enter.

Host a special event. This may be an invite-only luncheon at a local restaurant, an evening cocktail party, or a PJ party in your room! Be creative and plan a get-together that will be memorable and fun. Remember this is about creating buzz for your sponsor, so include reference to them in any and all invites, party info, and wrap-ups.

Be yourself! Above all be true to who you are and what your blog represents. Your readers, followers, friends, and sponsors will best benefit when you are being you. It is important to also remember that you may have several sponsors for one event/conference, so be strategic with how you plan to dedicate your time, talents, and site space.

I’m sure between you and your sponsors you will come up with some great ways for you to become the ultimate brand spokesperson at a conference or event. I would love to hear some of your ideas.

See you at the next bloggy conference!

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