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Bloggers, Are You Ready?

Monday, November 30th, 2009

blogging101

Bloggers, YouTubers, Tweeters, and Facebookers! Tomorrow is December 1st, and in the midst of all the pre-holiday craziness have you remembered that the new FTC guidelines go into effect tomorrow? Don’t worry, it’s not that scary. Some important clarification has been made that makes the whole thing much easier. The thought process behind these guidelines is to add more transparency to the internet reviews and endorsements we see almost everywhere. Have you ever seen a magazine ad with “paid advertisement” at the bottom? What about those endorsement ads with the “paid for by…” blurb at the end? That’s exactly the sort of transparency the FTC is aiming for us to have here on the internet. The “$11,000 fine” that was talked about? Does not exist. The FTC guidelines are guidelines, not laws. They do however enable the FTC to pursue charges against someone and get a court order so that someone can be fined. Don’t fret, the FTC is much more likely to go after advertisers than bloggers. Think about it from their standpoint. The internet is saturated with bloggers. It is much simpler to just make sure advertisers understand the rules and expect them to communicate them to the bloggers they work with. Since without advertisers sending things to bloggers this would be a non-issue, I feel this is the much smarter way to go. The FTC does not have the time or resources to go after everyone in the blogosphere. This is not to say that you shouldn’t make an effort to comply! Just that you should not be freaked out that the FTC is going to come knocking on your door. What needs to be disclosed:
  1. Paid posts (that includes videos). If someone gave you money to post something, you need to disclose it.
  2. Free services/product. If a company or its PR representative sent you something for the purpose of using it and then sharing it on your blog/YouTube, etc. you need to disclose it.
  3. Affiliate links. If you use affiliate marketing (ie LinkShare, Commission Junction, or are partnered with one of the many companies that do their own affiliate marketing), you need to disclose it.
What does not need to be disclosed:
  1. Free samples anyone can receive. If you bought a shampoo that had a sample size goodie taped to it and you want to review that free sample, you do not need to disclose anything.
  2. Things you bought yourself. Likewise, if you want to review the shampoo itself.  Since you bought it, you do not have to disclose anything.
  3. Gifts. If you bought the shampoo for your sister who wants to review it on her YouTube channel, she does not have to disclose anything.
I have also seen many ask if these guidelines are just for U.S. bloggers. Yes, they only apply to bloggers in the U.S. since the FTC is a U.S. entity and has no jurisdiction over bloggers from other countries. However, don’t go moving your servers to an underground bunker in the Ukraine any time soon – you are considered a U.S. blogger if your physical body is blogging from the United States. It is not determined by where your server is. One last thing that came as a huge relief to me is that these guidelines are not retroactive. You do not need to go back through hundreds of blog posts and add disclosures. Thank GOODNESS. The disclosures themselves do not have to be anything complicated. They do not have to be in legal jargon. In fact, it is best if they are not! They are meant to be read by your readers, not their attorneys. Simply putting a short blurb along the lines of “This post was paid for by _____.” at the bottom will suffice. Bottom line, just use common sense and you will be A-O-K.

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