When business owners decide to use blogs to market their companies, they should understand the purpose of a blog and the guidelines for anyone putting their name on this type of communication.
It’s an especially important time to pay attention to what and how you blog, given that the Federal Trade Commission is now watching. Beginning Dec. 1, 2009, new rules adopted by the FTC will require bloggers to fully disclose when they have received compensation or other benefits from companies whose products they endorse.
There are all types of blogs, and bloggers, out there giving advice and opinions on everything from parenting to canning vegetables to fixing your computer. Parenting blogs are among the most popular blog destinations on the Web, a fact that is not lost on some of the largest marketers of consumer products who have cozied up to and attempted to curry favor with these powerful voices. Among those corporate giants are Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, and General Motors.
Being the object of all this attention has made bloggers aware that they must above all strive to maintain their credibility and objectivity. A recent panel discussion at an online-marketing conference in New York focused on the theme of marketers and bloggers forging relationships that maintain the credibility of each party.
Before the FTC hammered out its new rules, a debate raged throughout the blogosphere, with some parties saying the governmental guidelines will curb free-speech rights and hamper the sponsorship of blogs (and the pocketbooks of bloggers), while others argue that they will act to professionalize and legitimize blogs.
But some bloggers have already taken it upon themselves to create some rules to blog by. In July 2009, a group calling itself Blog with Integrity created a pledge that bloggers can attach to their sites, free of charge, after vowing to follow certain guidelines.
On the group’s Web site, the creators of the pledge explain that “after … polarizing debates about blogger compensation, sponsored posts and product reviews, an alarming increase in ethical lapses and idea theft, and a growing backlash against poor blogger relations practices, we believed it was time to refocus on integrity.”
The pledge states that as long as bloggers disclose their relationships and interests, readers can better evaluate the blogs, and a better relationship will be created all around.
Bloggers can get the seal on their own blogs by agreeing to the pledge, which includes these statements:
- “I will treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people. I also welcome respectful disagreement with my own ideas.”
- “I believe in intellectual property rights, providing links, citing sources, and crediting inspiration where appropriate.”
- “I will disclose my material relationships, policies, and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked.”
- “I own my words. Even if I occasionally have to eat them.”
The type of marketing that can be done by blogging and the traffic a marketer can generate with a good blog can raise the profile of a small business. But according to a recent post on a blog by Forrester Research, “You can’t buy your way into social media; you have to earn it.”
The bottom line is that marketers need to maintain the same standards online as offline.