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Blogs and Advertising

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The FTC has been studying the relationship between blogging and advertising for some time and just a couple of weeks ago published their “Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials“. The FTC really has their hands full trying to deal with the scammers and spammers out there — unfortunately, there are a large number of people out there who want to invade our privacy and bombard us with advertising, much of it fraudulent. The focus of this latest announcement is on the not so subtle cases where bloggers conceal their relationships.

When I started blogging in 1998, my postings were what I called “reflections” — experiences or opinions in various hobby areas. I would say most postings back then were from bloggers who were sharing information on technical topics. What later emerged was a group of bloggers who were experts on specific products or services. We all know people who seem to know much more than average about photography or how to use Netflix or whatever. Companies mostly ignored blogging in the early years but eventually they figured out that some of the bloggers were actually subject matter experts and equally important they were “influencers”. People may not trust the company web site about XYZ digital cameras but they completely trusted “Phil’s Photography Blog”. This lead to companies paying close attention to these expert blogs and providing them with lots of information to insure the blogger had the facts. Then companies began to see the blogs as an advertising opportunity and they would put ads on the blogger site and pay the blogger for showing the ads.

Paid ads lead to paid fees or stipends to help support the blogger. Cynics might say that as the bloggers came to be dependent on this new source of income they may have lost their objectivity and independence. Perhaps their product reviews were no longer unbiased? That is the focus of the FTC — extreme cases where there is significant money flowing but no disclosure by either the company or the blogger.

Disclosure is a good thing. For many businesses, the imposition of Sarbanes-Oxley and the associated disclosures that are required has become quite a burden in time, effort, and cost. For a blogger, however, disclosure is easy. When I started patrickWeb back in 1995 I added a disclosure page about the web site with a visible link on the home page. I updated it from time to time, most recently in 2005. The patrickWeb disclosure page describes my key affiliations, information policy, and privacy policy.