Recent Blogosphere Happenings

In the past several weeks, some major changes and developments have occurred within the blogosphere. Both of these directly affect public relations in some way, and each problem questions the integrity of the profession. Here are the main points of each argument as well as a glass-half-full perspective of what future blogger relations could look like:

New FTC Guidelines — check out PRSA’s summary here

  • What they are: The guidelines would require bloggers to disclose any exchange of value (money, gift certificates or other freebees) that results in a post. For the full document, check out the FTC’s amendments here.
  • What they mean for public relations: If you offer freebees, pay for travel or any kind exchange that involved monetary value, it must be disclosed. Practitioners should make that clear to the blogger up front. Blogger relations is growing, yet the lines are still blurry as to what is ethical.
  • What the future might look like: Readers can trust bloggers to be honest and open when they review products or promote a company. This also will mean more self regulation for bloggers — don’t be surprised to see blogs being called out for not adhering to these principles.

Mommy Blogger PR Blackoutcheck Momdot’s summary here

  • What it is: Mommy bloggers are planning a week of not promoting anything they receive from a public relations practitioner to get back to their roots and blog about their families.
  • What it means for public relations: The integrity of the profession is questioned as these bloggers believe we are spamming them. In fact, most practitioners try to connect mommy bloggers with products to review and causes to support. However, this does bring the legitimate concern that some practitioners are mass spamming bloggers like the traditional media.
  • What the future might look like: There will be fewer “pitches” and more reaching out to smaller numbers of bloggers to promote the client. All in all, it makes for better and more effective promotion.

In both of these situations, one thing holds true: The values and principles PRSA and PRSSA champion avoid any problem in these situations. In fact, PRSA recently spoke out against “pay-for-play” demonstrating the commitment our members hold to ethics. The PRSA Code of Ethics demands honest and transparent discloser, thereby adhering to the new FTC guidelines.

On the other hand, the PR blackout was caused by public relations practitioners pitching and pushing the wrong bloggers. Public relations is based on mutually beneficial relationships, meaning if the practitioner connected with bloggers whose readers would benefit from the product, there would be no problem. While the social space is new and challenging, it’s important to go back to the basics when it comes to ethics.

What’s your take on all this? Have you encountered these situations? Why do you think the FTC and mommy bloggers are reacting to the public relations profession?

2 thoughts on “Recent Blogosphere Happenings

    • Author gravatar

      Offering an exchange of value for positive press is clearly unethical, but giving a blogger (or other reviewer) a trial or advanced-sale unit of a product to make up his/her mind about its utility does not appear wrong. First, a company’s reputation starts with its product. If its goods or services do not offer more net value than competitors’ goods/services, there is little a public relations professional can do other than to advise upper management that the organization needs to return to the drawing board. Pitching to blogger would take an unethical exchange of value to even have the hopes of generating positive press. Second, if a public relations practitioner believes that his/her organization’s product/service is (one of) the best, then there is nothing wrong (provided full disclosure by blogger and organization) with asking bloggers to test a product and develop their own opinions.

      The Federal Trade Commission is also reacting to bloggers, not just the public relations profession. And frankly, public relations practitioners should have done a better job at stressing to bloggers the need for full disclosure when they write about a company’s product, especially when this product was acquired free of charge. The PR Blackout is reaction to this somewhat negative sounding talk. These bloggers simply want to assure their readers that these blogs are not being hijacked like a hostile takeover. In other words, these blogs are still something personal that bloggers take pride in and they are not just another piece in a corporation’s marketing agenda. Additionally, the whole idea of “pitching a product” to bloggers starts to sound like it falls more toward the marketing aspect of consumer relations rather that then public relations aspect. That’s another topic: Where does public relations start and end?

      A solution to this mess would be for organizations to ask the bloggers with readers in the organization’s target audiences to help in the product development. These bloggers probably have more in depth knowledge about what a target audience might want/need out of a good/service. An organization would do well in soliciting their help from the very beginning. Organizations could proudly proclaim, “We developed this thing with our consumers in mind with the help of leading experts [or bloggers].” Bloggers could take pride in that they helped develop a product for their readers. And finally, and most importantly, readers will acknowledge that bloggers went the extra step to look out for their interests and that the organization took an extra step to improve its products.

    • Author gravatar

      Jarrett, you have some great thoughts hear. To add on what you are saying about the mom PR blackout, the problem isn’t the ethical disclosure. The problem is some blogs are turning into review powerhouses and are lacking real content (besides product reviews). However, there is always the problem of ethical disclosure, which you addressed in the FTC part. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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