Social Media Today recently carried the following piece from me, looking at how the regulatory environment in the U.S. affects bloggers and brands alike.
Every marketing or public relations executive has a story about working with an ornery or unethical blogger. Sadly, in this age of media relations, it's par for the course and it's important to understand that some actions taken by bloggers and brands are in violation of the Federal Trade Commission's Guidelines. So, whether you're dealing with fashion bloggers or mommy bloggers, or you're a blogger yourself, here are four key points to consider when striking the balance between earned and paid media.
1. A blogger must disclose material relationships with a brand. That includes everything from dinner and merchandise to special discounts or financial compensation.
2. Audiences value earned editorial the most. Sponsored content can be fantastic if developed directly with the blogger and managed by a creative marketing executive, but more often than not, it's too dry and promotional. Unfortunately, it's becoming harder and harder to get bloggers to cover brands or events for the ability to provide their audiences with exclusive behind-the-scenes content. Instead, many bloggers immediately ask for compensation. The issue? Blogs begin to lose authenticity when the majority of content appears paid, but isn't disclosed as such and far too many fashion bloggers and mommy bloggers are collaborating with brands for the handouts without disclosing that they've been paid or gifted. And, while it's understandable that bloggers would want to monetize their influence, particularly because many fashion bloggers are also models or stylists accustomed to getting paid for their fashion-related services, the standards of writing set by WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) and the FTC still remain a best practice guide for how to communicate and conduct business in an ethical manner.
3. Participating in a unique brand experience adds value to bloggers by offering the opportunity to create content alongside well-established brands. Unlike print and online journalists, it's understood that bloggers who run their own blogs don't often have the luxury of being paid to write editorial. However, blogging began as a free communication vehicle for those passionate about a particular subject. That said, for many bloggers today, the lines have become blurred and, as some become exceedingly influential, they're keen to monetize their influence beyond banner advertising. Although it's hard to determine whether it's the bloggers or the brands that are guilty of what has now become this pervasive mercenary behavior, it most certainly creates a dilemma. Therefore, it's imperative that bloggers maintain their authenticity by covering issues and brands that they don't always get paid to cover. This is how they developed their authenticity in the first place and it's also what eventually leads to paid sponsorship or advertising opportunities down the line. So, particularly if you're working with a brand the first time, bloggers should not immediately respond to event or program invitation with, "And what will my compensation be?"
4. Public relations and marketing executives talk just as much as bloggers. Bloggers and brands, beware of bad behavior. Just as brands must be aware that they are never allowed to pay for positive posts with material goods or money unless designated by proper disclosure language, bloggers must also be aware that agencies are known to circulate blacklists of bloggers. They discuss and share the names of bloggers who are aggressive, mean, and unethical. Once you are known as someone who is a 'diva', difficult, or only willing to blog for money, you will begin the slow descent into losing your blogging credibility. That's not to say there's anything wrong with being paid or acting as a spokesperson for a brand. However, when you are known to only publish for such exchanges, the value that you once developed based on your authenticity and standards begin to fade. Everyone needs to make money, but in the realm of public relations and blogging, there is always the need to maintain a level of public service that means that you will attend events and write about things that you're interested in without always asking for compensation.