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Beyond free diapers

Beyond free diapers published on 3 Comments on Beyond free diapers

The conversation about conflict of interest for bloggers (and other social media types) never really dies down, and flares up constantly in ways large and small.

Sometimes it’s something as major as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission going after blogger freebies. Sometimes it’s just a drive-by accusation that a blog post is “link bait”, and not a useful or genuine contribution to the conversation.

The common thread is this: What responsibility we have to our audiences, when are our own interests in conflict with theirs, and what do we do when that happens?

Transparency is one answer. Disclose your interest, and all – hopefully – will be forgiven. (Jeannine Schafer drew some great disclosure notifications on LouisGray.com.)

And a little reader due-diligence doesn’t hurt, either. Knowing that a blogger is a political activist, or a real estate agent, or a (ahem) social media strategist means you can assess what you’re reading with some knowledge of their agenda. (Even the most well-intentioned among us writes with part of our mind attuned to the potential impact on things we value – whether it’s a social cause, our social standing, or a business bottom line.)

Still, I like to suspend my skepticism once in a while. Because one of the things that makes social media so valuable is the chance to connect with genuine human beings, expressing themselves in ways that aren’t the result of careful calculations of strategic interests, sales trajectories, keyword analysis or free samples of probiotic yogurt drinks.

And digging for that conflict of interest, while it may protect me from being taken for a ride, also means approaching social interactions with a degree of suspicion… which is a shaky start to a new relationship.

Yes, maybe a blogger’s angling for trinkets or traffic. But maybe they’re expressing a deeply-held passion. And maybe it’s a little of both. Somewhere, there has to be a balance between the benefit of the doubt and a healthy skepticism.

Blogging was made possible by…

Blogging was made possible by… published on No Comments on Blogging was made possible by…

The new FTC guidelines for disclosure by bloggers have stirred up some anger among bloggers accustomed to getting free stuff and blogging about it without the heavy hand of governmental Big Brother yadda yadda Рoh, you can finish the sentence yourself.

I can respect that it might get people’s backs up to suggest that their integrity is for sale, especially for such low prices. (Although, the last time I checked the exchange rate, integrity was down sharply against the dollar… and against the free chewing gum.) Then again, I’ve seen enough obviously feigned enthusiasm in some “reviews” to convince me that at least a few bloggers are happy to rent their voices – and readers – to any marketing department with a gift card and blogger outreach program.

All easy enough for me to say, of course; I have a job and make a pretty good living (touch wood). I can imagine that I might be tempted to modify my views if money was short and a blog review could put another meal on the table for my kids. Then again, for every blogger out there who’s struggling to make ends meet, there are countless more blog readers – the people the marketers are really trying to reach. Don’t they deserve to know about the relationship between product and blogger when they assess what they’re reading?

I’m a fan of disclosure, and while I haven’t examined the FTC guidelines in detail, I support the idea in principle.

But it’s interesting that the FTC went after bloggers rather than, say, entertainment writers who don’t mention the expensive junkets that movie studios take them on. A blogger who has to disclose that she or he received a free package of hot dog weiners has every right to feel burned after dropping fifty bucks to take the family to the latest “THRILLING!” “FANTASTIC!” “SURE-FIRE WINNER!”

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