Rita Arens of BlogHer posted recently on a topic that’s been filling quite a bit of my mindspace of late — that of ethical marketing and word-of-mouth advertising on blogs. And when I heard recently that the FTC was also taking up the topic with a proposal to expand endorsement fraud regulations to include blogs, I was honestly relieved that somebody was talking about it!*

To Monetize or Not to Monetize: That’s Just the First Question

The idea of monetization has always been a touchy one for me, on the one hand, most of us know the rather insidious nature of most advertising and the manner that it serves not only to inform, but sometimes to alter our own deep perceptions of who we are and who we need to be. When marketing is used to this end, it can quickly become a sickness of our culture, as I’ve hinted at in my posts on green consumerism and on frugality and simple living.

On the other hand, I know that I spend countless hours doing thorough research to support the information I provide to my readers and the online community at large, seeking background information on things like Orajel safety that don’t become clear with one quick google search. Heck, sure, I’d like to be reimbursed for my time by those that find my writing valuable! Logically speaking, that reimbursement would come from the readers themselves, but as we know the pay per use model just didn’t make it online.

This leaves three options for writing professionally online: get a job (from somebody who probably posts advertising), post advertising yourself, or put up a donate button and wish for the best. Those options may not be mutually exclusive or black and white, but the core financial funding for online content remains the same: advertising.

The Crucial Question of Transparency

But it’s not the issue of whether to monetize that drives Rita Arens’ questioning, it’s the question of how — or more precisely how not to monetize. With technologies on the net driving rapid changes in advertising norms, thousands of bloggers and advertisers adopt new methodologies before the general public can even comprehend the platform upon which they reside.

Journalistic integrity in the print world, though it may seem like ancient history to us today, has maintained clear ethical standards that protect us as readers and citizens from misleading advertising messages. Rita Arens holds that integrity up as a yardstick:

Magazines and newspapers that do product reviews comply with journalistic standards, which require full disclosure and transparency about the reviews, the relationship of the parent company of the periodical with the parent company of the product being reviewed, etc. A journalist who’s not completely transparent is a journalist who will not be working long.

She points out that Mommybloggers are valuable and they are trusted. Therefore, she concludes, if they want to retain that value they must maintain the same journalistic standards: clearly indicating all paid reviews, as well as those compensated with products or gift certificates:

Just say you’re doing a review, say you received money to attend the amusement park — say you didn’t pay your own money for whatever you’re talking about, so that other people can decide for themselves whether they want to spend theirs.

Here Comes the Law

I’ve been following this topic casually for a while now as I make my own decisions regarding hdb. In my comment on Rita’s post on BlogHer, I pointed out some of the issues that extend beyond sponsored posts into affiliate partnerships (kind of like bloggy salespeople).

As I discuss below, the interest in maintaining marketing secrecy on some blogs is so strong that they actually employ cloaking techniques to hide their affiliate links. Such cloaking services are marketed to bloggers as a way to keep their readers from “stealing” their commissions! This is not an idea I will ever subscribe to here at hippie dippie bébé.

What’s fascinating too, as I point out below, is that FTC regulations are not far behind the industry. Proposed guidelines have been drafted that support holding bloggers and their advertisers legally accountable when transparency is not maintained:

My concern has always been a) the general public is not as aware as bloggers and marketers are of the mechanisms by which a web publisher can receive compensation b) the whole concept of not only journalistic integrity but also interpersonal integrity is marred when transparency is not cultivated.

You make mention directly of “pay for post” above, but I also have concerns about affiliate marketing. Affiliate bloggers who include contextual links in their posts have even more incentive to gush about their products than pay for post-ers. Because they are paid only on commission, the money is not yet in the bag for them. Yet, they do not fall under the traditional blanket of “sponsored review” as no money has exchanged hands at the time of their writing.

In that regard, I actually decided to make use of the “(aff)” tag on my blog for full disclosure of affiliate links, even when I’m just including a quick amazon link for a book I mention briefly. Though it’s a bit wonky and waning in popularity, the “aff” standard was something I felt I needed to implement to keep it clean.

Meanwhile, I see on other blogs hints of moving in the opposite direction: implementation of link cloaking software that actually modifies link text to make an affiliate link look exactly like a non-tagged link.

Search for “affiliate link cloaking” and you’ll find the results saturated with software companies more than happy to help bloggers intentionally disguise their income stream.

The FTC has recently proposed extending its jurisdiction over endorsement fraud regulation to bloggers. Although lobbyists are scrambling to loosen the FDA’s reach, I believe the FTC’s proposed rules can help shape our conversations about transparency and WOM ethics.

Your Opinion on Affiliate Links

So what’s your opinion on affiliate links? Does knowing that a blogger is writing reviews to earn a commission irk you? Or is it only a problem when she tries to hide it? Do you feel that she should fess up, or just cut it out entirely? Please take my poll, and comment below on your thoughts.

[Edit: I realized that in writing this post, it would have been more helpful if I included the proposed text from the Federal Trade Commission that related to regulation of bloggers. Here it is:

Example 7: A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. The readers of his blog are unlikely to expect that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact would likely materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge. -- Federal Trade Commission, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising]


Mama Hope

* For the record, there are no “secret marketing links” in this post! In fact, all affiliate links on hippie dippie bébé are explicitly declared. For more on that, read my disclosure policy.

[Post to Twitter] Love this article? Give it a tweet! 

26 Responses to “On the Horizon: New FTC Disclosure Regulations For Mommybloggers?”

  1. I make money from my blog, quite a bit actually. BUT that does not mean that I don’t FULLY mean what I write or that I am not being ethical in my reviews. For each and every review or post where I recommend a product.. I have turned down 2 dozen or more similar opportunities, behind the scenes. I won’t recommend something on my blog that I wouldn’t recommend to my best friend or my mom.

    I work hard at what I do and have made it my job. I won’t be made to feel bad for doing my job and feeding my family ya know? Readers that get irked can go somewhere else. I also assume that other bloggers are trying to make money and fully support that.

    Tiffany´s last blog post..Garden Tool Sets and Gear for Children

  2. Eh, I’m actually too lazy to do affiliate links so far (tho I did sign up for an affiliate account with Amazon, I’ve yet to bother modifying any relavent existing links). I don’t really have a problem with others doing it openly (those cloaking programs are really underhanded and unethical in my opinion tho). When in doubt, I won’t make a purchase after visiting a website that looks like it might be an underhanded affiliate. But I don’t really make that many online purchases anyway so it’s not a big deal - I’m a technophile but I’m also very tactile, and I tend to prefer purchasing something that I can touch first. I’ve had an eBay account since 1999 and I make a couple purchases a year (usually in clusters, and with a lot of combined shipping going on), and a couple purchases from Amazon and a big one from Lego (in November, when they have free shipping) per year. Other than that, I look at product reviews online then buy it locally if I’m going to buy it.

    Speaking of, I have several product reviews I’ve been meaning to write up myself (one of them solicited - they sent me the product to try out - the others just because I am knowledgeable about the products and don’t write biased stuff if I can help it and I’m tired of repeating myself to people who ask about stuff they see me using, particularly my baby carriers and diapers). I’m just now finally getting back to blogging now that I can do it one-handed on my BlackBerry (my Del has a love of whacking the keyboard when I’m trying to type - this comment has required repeated use of backspace key from his “assistance”). Can’t do links well at all with mobile blogging (posts are sent via mms) so it’s a non-issue on my end at least until I go in and edit my posts from a regular computer. None of my links currently are affiliate links tho.

    Ahmie´s last blog post..Overwhelmed Juggler (original poem)

  3. Tiffany,
    You make a good point. The act of writing a review when you mean what you say is not unethical, in fact it’s actually providing a service to your readers, especially when you go through the trouble of selecting products conscientiously and you take the time to try them out personally so that you can give your honest opinion.

    But the question remains, should these fiscal relationships be explicitly disclosed, nonetheless? Apparently, the Federal Trade Commission thinks so, though they do base their position on what they consider to be a consumer’s reasonable knowledge of an advertising relationship.

    For example, under the FTC’s new rules, if they are adopted, it will continue to be permissible for a celebrity endorsement to appear in a TV commercial without disclosing sponsorship. But it will *not* be permissible for a celebrity to endorse a product on a TV talk show without explicitly stating their relationship with the advertiser, if one exists. Perhaps that differentiation can also serve as a talking point…

    Especially with the FTC regulation on the horizon, (and my being new to all this!) I’m truly curious how bloggers and non-bloggers feel about the issue!

    Thanks for stopping by! Glad to hear you’ll be getting busy. Yep, I still don’t know what happened to a couple of folders on my computer, I guess one of my D’s whacks mysteriously deleted them!

    Your mention of reviews underlies Tiffany’s point: if we’re going to do reviews anyway on our own time and give an honest opinion, what’s wrong with enterprising mama’s doing so with affiliate links?

    My original quote above from Rita at BlogHer speaks to this, and I think begs the next question. If it’s an honest review, why not disclose? “…so that other people can decide for themselves…”

  4. I am 100% with Tiffany. When I write a review or post about something it is my opinion and I’m not being paid off to say something good for a company. I often state pros and cons and just like Tiffany, I turn down more than I accept!

    Affiliate marketing has been around forever and now it’s more common so people are getting “clever” or “sneaky” whatever you want to call it. I say if you don’t trust the site then you shouldn’t be reading it and certainly not clicking on links and buying through them. Those on the internet need to not blame everyone else for being ripped off and be more protective themselves and read the privacy and disclosure policies. I really feel all mom bloggers need these to protect themselves and should update it often if changes are made.

    I made money several ways through my site. Affiliate links, partnerships, direct sales of advertising, Google Adsense and a advertising agency. I also make 80% of my income through people finding me through my website and consulting for them. All of this is ethical!

    Sommer-Green and Clean Mom´s last blog post..Ron Paul and Raw Milk

  5. The issue here is how much government is too much. The more I read the works of our founders the more I realize we are becoming what they fought a revolution against.

  6. I am probably in a minority but the sponsored Internet isn’t really one I like to participate in. At first I was pretty judgmental about it, but now I have more of a live and let live attitude.

    Just as I prefer to spend the bulk of my time in my city in non-commercial spaces (homes, libraries, parks, etc), I prefer to spend much of my online time in similarly commerce-free zones. When I am in the so-called “real world” I *know* when I am walking in to a store, I generally know when a billboard is an ad, and when a newspaper has a sponsored article in it, it has a border around it and is clearly labeled “Advertisement”. This isn’t to say that I view online commerce or the people who engage in it as bad. Sure there are some I prefer more than others (this is true online and offline) but the key is that in the real world if I can exercise conscious choice over the content I choose and its ad content. I generally *don’t* read newspapers and magazines for this reason. (I prefer to read these online with adblock on). So it is with my daily online reads. I generally don’t seek out sponsored content except when I am wanting to purchase a product then I go looking for it.

    Basically my feeling is this: If someone is sponsored I want to know about it because most likely I will know to take what is being said with a large grain of salt. If I am not told, and find out later, I am likely to feel tricked. (and wonder why they were hiding it) It’s kind of being invited over to someone’s house for dinner thinking they’re wanting to be your friend but then finding out that no, they really wanted to tell you about Amway or how your eternal soul could be saved.

    As far as your writing goes, I will first off assume that you need the money and not argue that point except to mention that once you tie your writing to money you may be forced to make some hard choices about what you say so as to not lose sponsors or “eyes on the blog.” This isn’t a problem for everyone but I really value my ability to say whatever I want regardless of who (or how many) I might offend online and a sponsor or worries about numbers of readers would kill that for me. That said, I wouldn’t completely discount the donation button. Have a look at what Whole Wheat Radio’s doing (http://wholewheatradio.org/wiki/index.php/WWR:Site_support) on that front for some ideas.

    Anyway, I realize my opinions are probably extreme and motivated by strong anti-consumerist leanings so take folks focused on monetization might want to take it with some of the grains of salt I use with your content ;-)

  7. Hey, thought I’d chime in as well!
    I agree with Tiffany and Sommer. I think that one of the reasons mommy bloggers do have trust is because we would say the same thing at a play date. Mom’s share ideas and information, plain and simple, no matter what the medium. (however, I also see there are many who promote products I wouldn’t dream of promoting, but that’s a preference thing!)

    Personally, I have mostly opted out of reviewing of products for my main blog that are sent to me from PR companies. It’s a time thing! That being said I do have a successful amazon affiliate program where I link to products that I endorse. My blog is an extension of me, so I cannot even think of recommending anything that I wouldn’t fully support! If I can’t fully endorse, I won’t do it. I also recommend products “just because” - when there is no benefit other than trying to be helpful.

    I say, disclose, why not. Say what your policy is behind your reviews. I think people can sense if they can trust a blogger or not. Moms have every right to make money off their blogs in a variety of ways, so disclose and be done with it. Whiners who don’t like the idea of someone making a extra dollars for their time and effort can go elsewhere.

    I wonder why though, so many fail to realize that they have more of a problem with a mom blogger or friend introducing a great product than they have with big marketing companies cramming their message day after day in sneaky ways?

    Speaking of disclosure?? This is a side note, but I see lots of disclosure issues in big pharma ads, doctor recommendations, product safety, recalls, politics, etc…perhaps bloggers should look at the big picture (not get too wound up about this) and continue to focus on holding companies equally accountable for their message.

    Monica´s last blog post..Forget Balance. Embrace Harmony!

  8. I’ve only been at this for a little less than three months so this was a really informational post for me. I have affiliate ads on my site that sell things that I know I would like, and think that most of my readers would like, but I have not actually tried any of them myself. I never even considered doing reviews of products until recently because I don’t really care for the blogs I see that review products everyday and I don’t want to become one of them. I know what I like, I like to keep things simple and environmentally friendly. I’m just not much of a shopper. You do what you know right? That being said I am begining to realize that if I actually want to make any sort of money on my blog I need to do reviews of the products I am advertising. I must sound like such a baby to all you seasoned bloggers but I really just never gave much thought to how advertising works. I know that any product I ever reviewed would be one that I personally would buy or recommend to friends. You couldn’t pay me enough to favorably review any thing that didn’t meet my high standards.

    Melodie´s last blog post..Poll: How Long Did You Breastfeed? (Covering Up Vs. Not Covering Up)

  9. Hope, I would say that yes we should dislose that we are using affiliate links, accepting payment for reviews, or accepting third party advertising. A simple disclosure policy is all you need and it covers your behind and helps picky people who just don’t want to read “sponsored” content. It is no skin off my nose to have one on my site. Any blog that has Adesense is also legally required to have a written privacy policy.

  10. I use cloaking on some of my affiliate links, but not really to hide them. It’s very convenient for products that I may mention more than once. No need to look the link up every time I post. For me it’s just a matter of simplification. For things I’m not likely to mention again, I don’t bother.

    Disclosure is a very simple step and doesn’t need to interfere with your posting process. A general disclaimer on the site takes care of that for those who care about such things. Your average reader, I suspect, doesn’t care that much. What they care about is that you keep it honest.

    Stephanie´s last blog post..Loving the Handmedowns

  11. I write for a personal blog and I write for About.com, which is a New York Times company. My restrictions about what I can and cannot accept through my affiliation with About.com is very strict to avoid the very thing the FTC is worried about. Then again, I highly doubt that a college student who is reading a video game review cares if the blogger received the game for free or not. A good review with pros and cons is what matters.

    While I believe that many bloggers are honest and reliable, I think that a lot of us write weak/biased reviews in order to make sure that they keep getting products. I have been on some of the review sites where the “review” is basically a quick description of the product with no more information than I could gather from looking at the package. I also think that the mentality that the free product is “payment” for writing a review is one that contributes to a lack of trust. I am not allowed to keep review products worth over $100 through About.com because of our ethical guidelines. I continue to review those types of products because they bring traffic to my site and help maintain credibility.

    I guess my opinion is that I have no problem disclosing when I have received a free product to review (not IN EXCHANGE FOR a review). At least my readers will know I have actually used it. I think affiliate links are the same thing. If you’re not doing anything shady, there’s no reason not to disclose your methods. If you are, all the more power to the FTC.

  12. Thanks to all for their comments! It’s taken me a bit to collect my thoughts; there’s a bit of inspiration from all of your comments below:

    Thanks for commenting! Your perspective truly speaks to my concerns on the issue. I had no idea About.com is a NY Times company! That actually makes me feel a bit better about them!

    I also make note of your mention that receiving free products are “in order to review” and not “in exchange for review.” This is an important distinction that I’d guess Sommer and Tiffany would also agree on. After all, it would be more unethical to review a product you hadn’t actually tried, and it seems that we are all in agreement that honest reviews in and of themselves are in no way unethical.

    On the other hand, you spoke exactly my thoughts when you said, “If you’re not doing anything shady, there’s no reason not to disclose your methods.” The question remains though, and I do believe this will become a forefront in the industry: how do we disclose. What type of disclosure is in step with the consumer so as not to be misleading?

    I wanted to respond to you first as your mention of About.com provides an excellent jumping off point for my thoughts on this.

    This straight from the About.com “Ethics Policy“:

    “Full Disclosure: Our Guides always disclose any relationship with a source that may compromise their objectivity.”

    These terse words capture a distinction that I personally make, specifically:

    “disclose any relationship”, and
    “may compromise their objectivity”.

    I’ll continue to refer to these below.

    You know, my 13-year-old son is actually studying the Constitution and our forefathers right now, I’ll ask him his thoughts on this! You and I disagree, however, if you think that dishonest business practices are no place for government. There are a lot of gray areas here, and I believe that the reason for law is to establish a clear line for when individual value systems may differ. Only as individuals can we determine what we believe is right and good, whether from a personal spirituality or a personal ethics. Yet, to maintain order in our society I believe there must be a legal authority that determines what is legal and what is not legal. The two are related but clearly not the same. But again, I’m curious where our forefather’s drew the line between total freedom (anarchy) and legal order.

    Todd and Melodie,
    I noticed that you both brought up the notion of what you personally would like in your offline worlds — whether it’s the kind of messages you’d like to receive, or the kind you’d be willing to make. That analogy cuts to the heart of this issue for me, also.

    And in fact it’s more than an analogy. Todd, do you know about WOM/Buzz agents? They are individuals who are paid to tell their friends about products, typically in person. These are not website owners. And they could be in your front room right now, lol, and you can’t turn them off with your ad filter!

    This Fast Company article tells more on Buzz agents. Not necessarily all bad, but a bit frightening in my personal opinion.

    Tiffany, Sommer, Monica and Stephanie,

    I truly respect your responding to this post as veteran bloggers with inside expertise on the issue. Being a newcomer to blogging, my thoughts in many ways seem more similar to those of a consumer than a blogger. Your perspective fills me in on things I still don’t know about — how barraged you are with offers, how your job is actually to weed through those and find products you truly respect. And the fact that you’re a part of this conversation clearly demonstrates that you are totally up front about the fact that you receive income from your blogging efforts!

    I’m very enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn from other bloggers. My zest for opinionated discussion sometimes does me a disservice in that regard! Similarly, I think that for me there are going to be areas where I may always strike out on my own — much like Todd’s comment that he is “extreme and motivated by anti-consumerism.” A fundamental aspect of my environmentalist tendencies is anti-consumerism. It’s not a black and white thing, I know, but it shapes my thinkings.

    Firstly, I am actually surprised to hear terms like “picky” and “whiners” being used for those consumers who want to distinguish for themselves the difference between advertising-driven messages and those that are not advertising driven. To me, the interest in doing so seems obvious. Perhaps those words are used lightly, in which case I use them only to highlight my point here.

    The Washington Post points out:

    “A 2005 survey of 800 consumers by market research firm Intelliseek found that 29 percent of participants age 20 to 34 and 41 percent of those age 35 to 49 said they would be unlikely to trust a recommendation again from a friend whom they later learned was compensated for making the suggestion.”

    While this is not a majority (as I’m learning!), this is also no fringe group of picky whiners going around blaming others for their own ignorance. Consumers want to know where the messages they receive are coming from. Again — to quote the original BlogHer article I mentioned — “so they can decide for themselves.”

    I think a lot of blogs — those of my “expert panel” here being some examples — do an honest job of making clear both the pro’s and con’s of products they discuss, whether for profit or otherwise. But that honestly doesn’t change the fact that financial relationships have the capacity to compromise objectivity.

    We can say that we are entirely honest, and perhaps we are, but I believe that a sizable percentage of people believe that reimbursements do alter objectivity, even in honest, good, ethical people. That’s why transparency becomes so vital. Being honest in your opinions, *and* being transparent with regard to your relationships, seems to me to be the only way to satisfy this issue completely.

    I do realize that Tiffany and Stephanie made the clear point that a general disclosure policy should be enough to handle this transparency. As I’ve thought about this, I have begun to see more of the logic in that than I once saw. Yet, I continue to feel, personally, that a general disclosure just doesn’t do it for me. As to whether it will for the FTC, the question is still open!

    To use Todd and Melanie’s analogy, here’s the basis of my opinion:

    If I were to receive money whenever a friend of mine bought something from a company I promoted, I sure as heck would tell them, yes. But once I did tell them, I think our relationship would be truly marred if I didn’t make it a point, on an ongoing basis, to distinguish when, specifically, I was speaking for a sponsor.

    • If my friend asked me, as we were driving in the car one day, where I buy my shoes, I would say, “Well, I found out through my Buzz company about XYZ shoe company. I sometimes buy from them, but I also buy from Joe’s shoes, who I’ve always bought from.”
    • If a my Buzz company asked me to spread the word about a new movie, I might say, “Hey, I heard from my Buzz company about Summer Flick and I really want to see it.”

    By making those distinctions, I would feel I was being more honest to my friend as well as protecting the health of our relationship.

    A single disclaimer wouldn’t do it for me in a hypothetical offline situation, so I can’t see myself being happy following that model online. That’s why I plan to continue to develop the use of a disclosure strategy that identifies individual links and/or posts whose “objectivity may be compromised” by advertiser relationships. This comment will likely form the basis for a “What is (aff)?” page that I will link to in each post. Or… perhaps I’ll go Todd’s route and just switch to a donate model. Who knows? Always more to learn and discover.

    These are my thoughts right now, but I can say that I do truly thank all of you for your feedback. It has been immensely helpful and thought-provoking in my quest to sort out my personal values as I move forward.

    As I said earlier, these are personal decisions we have to make. According to the Federal Trade Commission, they are also legal decisions. It may well be that a single general disclaimer will satisfy legal requirements. For me, however, it seems I’ll be happier leaning just a bit further toward journalistic transparency.

  13. Wholy smokes that’s a long comment! Sorry folks! Seemed better to comment here than start a new post!

  14. I don’ affiliate much, but will be doing more of it. And, I differentiate between reviewing product samples that are freely given (for review purposes) and affiliation. I sometimes shorten (not “mask”) affiliation links - so I can tweet them.

    I only affiliate market things I would recommend anyway - makes it easy, right?

    I just put up my first google ad sense box on my blog, and the jury’s out on that. Before it was only my own ads, to my own products.

    Due to this convo tho, I may put a sticky post at the top of my blog saying this:


    Some of the products and services I review were gifts, some were prizes I won in promotions, and some were gifted for the purpose of review.

    Some of the links you’ll find in my blog are affiliate links. I do not review all the products or gifts sent or offered to me. And, I don’t affiliate with all the products or services I recommend - though I do with most; my affiliation is my vote of confidence in a product or service I believe in!

    I don’t recommend everything that I review - I will publish a negative review when needed. However, I am more likely to publish a favorable review, and NOT publicly review a product I have issues with, unless the issues are of consequence to my readers.

    Many of the products and services I review are mom- or mom-n-pop creations, so rather than hurt another small-time company, I tend to send personal feedback to the designer/producer, instead of publicly slamming what they have to offer.

    Why? I’ve had possible reviewers of my products send AWESOME advice for improvements on my products, and then review the product after I had made the improvements suggested. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for that sort of consideration and support from another mompreneur.

    Basically, here it is; products and services I recommend, whether I affiliate or not, are products I love, use, believe in, and think are worth the investment of time, money, and energy.”

    What do you think?

    LaSara Firefox, aka @Yoga_Mama´s last blog post..Lenten Observations, then and now.

  15. This interests me greatly. Here’s a quote from Adam Singer’s blog: “Reviewing products is a completely different animal than taking cash for writing something up. Readers are more than happy to check out products that are reviewed by bloggers. When someone receives a product for review, a blogger is free to write on it however he/she wants and it is still viewed as editorial (otherwise, not a single technology/gadget magazine could even exist). But if cash is directly given up front for a post on something, no matter what is written, it is viewed by the reader as influenced by money. The reader simply cannot take it seriously.”

    You can read the entire article here: http://thefuturebuzz.com/2009/.....ersations/

    While the author’s focus is on SEO, he makes some important points about payment for product reviews. If a product review is paid for in any way, and the payment is not disclosed, it’s misleading to the audience.

    A paid for review is advertising content, not editorial content. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with advertising. But there is a difference, and consumers of content have a right to know when content is paid for and when it’s not.

  16. Simply from a viewer’s point of view: I do get tired of all the adds and ignore most of them. I am also finding myself becoming very weary and confused by all of the “green” sites explaining how to leave less of a footprint, but in the next breath telling you what to buy to do so. I appreciate a few reviews, but its becoming more the norm to see a review and nothing else. I’m glad bloggers are making money from the adds, but at what price in the long run.

  17. LaSara,
    Personally, I think your text does a great job of highlighting your honesty while also disclosing what you are doing. I’m planning on rewriting mine, so I appreciate your sharing as it brings up for me the importance of keeping it simple and focusing on the central message!

    As far as posting shortened affiliate links on Twitter, of course that’s another ethical issue that’s being brewed about. Here are some links:

    Donna Maria,
    What a great link! I’ve only just skimmed it but I plan to spend more time. I agree with your simple statement: “consumers of content have a right to know when content is paid for.” To me that includes both when content is paid outright and when we are being paid as “salespeople” by using affiliate links!

    Thank you for your sanity! I have been thinking the same thing, and in fact I am developing a clear advertising policy to guide myself and inform my readers about what I will and will not support.

    For personal reasons, I cannot call myself both a green advocate and a “product pusher” (not my term, one that a blogger used to refer to herself in a BlogHer article I read). I too am all for WAHM’s making money, including myself! But I very much agree that unless we examine these issues with an eye for the larger ramifications, they can easily move from harmless intentions to quite a slippery slope.

    Hence my desire to draw a clear line for myself in terms of both the ethics of disclosure, and the ethics of products that meet my idea of true green behavior patterns. If it means I make less money, I am willing to sacrifice that more than I am willing to sacrifice my values. Truth be told, being environmentally conscious and frugal I don’t need a lot of money anyway!

    More on these issues as I begin to write up my policies and blog mission. Thanks again for the thoughtful points!

  18. Hope,

    Thanks for taking the time to think this through and share your careful thoughts with others.

    My take on it is this:

    As a mom who blogs, and as a mere human who passes through this world and finds certain products/services that make my life better in some way, I will always give an authentic, heartfelt shout-out to the companies who provide me those products and services. I love to share a good thing whenever I find it.

    At the moment I’m an affiliate of only two companies who have both helped me tremendously with my business and my understanding of how to do business. Naturally, I believe that if they help me, then they will likely help others. In fact, I’m so stoked about how great these two companies are, I endeavored to jump through the hoops to become an affiliate for them. While I didn’t sign on as part of my intention to create passive revenue streams for myself (I just joined because I loved them, before I really even understood affiliate marketing), I now understand the power of such programs.

    I’m the type person who gives unsolicited testimonials at the grocery store to another shopper I see contemplating a product I love (or I’ll tell them to steer clear if I despise it). I love meeting other moms who do the same.

    I have no problem with a mom blogger who has earned my trust through her writing sharing what she believes is a good thing. In fact, I appreciate the mom bloggers who share their tips, shortcuts, great finds, etc. since they make my life better, too. Of course I expect full disclosure. And I’m thrilled if they are able to find a great way to make some money that supports who they are WITH INTEGRITY.

    The key is authenticity and integrity. Without it, this discussion is completely irrelevant.

    Thanks for a great discussion.

    Lara Galloway
    The Mom Biz Coach

    Lara Galloway´s last blog post..Just gimme three weeks

  19. Lara,
    I agree, it has been a great discussion! I think you make a great point about integrity. It’s one that also reminds me how we each have a responsibility to be true to ourselves, as we are the only ones who can do that!

    There’s a great quote by choreographer Merce Cunningham in that regard. He argues that we each have a special gift to contribute and we have personal responsibility to that gift. If we do not realize our personal aspirations, no one else can, because no one else has what we, uniquely, have.

    It’s something, I realize, that allows me to make my own choices while allowing others to make theirs. Something that I sometimes lose sight of… but I’m seeing now how vital that approach needs to be for me as I move forward.

    If our choices are driven by integrity and authenticity, as you say, what other choice can we make?

    Thanks, and I’ll be writing more on my revelations and decisions based on this discussion and poll in a future post!

  20. This is all so interesting to read from the perspective of a small, mommy blogger. I do write product reviews in exchange for receiving the product and I try to include some type of giveaway for my readers when a company has approached me about a product.

    When I am just reviewing a product, I make sure to let my readers know that I didn’t pay for it (some where in the review). When I am giving a product I reviewed away, I let my readers know it is a sponsored post so they know the company is providing the product I reviewed.

    Generally, I try to include the pros and cons of any given product. If I find there aren’t enough pros to make it “worth it” to the company providing the product, I let them know before I post my review and sometimes we agree not to post it.

    I don’t consider my blog a business. I make no money from my postings and only receive free products, tickets, classes, etc…

    I’d be interested to know from the more experienced, larger bloggers, if they felt I had a reasonable approach to my reviews.

    Jennifer S´s last blog post..Giveaway: Ace Ventura Pet Detective, Jr.

  21. I have recently begun offering advertising, reviews and affiliate links on my blog. For me, it’s certainly not about becoming rich or even self-supporting. It’s more a combination of a two things.

    One, I put a lot of time and energy into blogging. We’re a single-income family so it’s nice to have a little spending money, which is all it’s amounted to for me and I still have to be very frugal. So far, all I’ve done with my ad money is pay to order a custom header for my blog (which I don’t have installed yet). I plan to use a portion of the money that my blog makes to fund giveaways and pay fees related to my blog, such as my domain name.

    So far, that’s all I’ve been able to do, so I’m obviously not raking in the money. If I ever started making “real” money through advertising, I would continue to put a portion of it toward giveaways and blog upkeep; the rest would most likely go toward school expenses, since we’re a homeschooling family, and possibly one of those blog conferences that I’ve not yet been able to cost justify.

    The other thing for me is that it’s just FUN to have people willing to send me things that I’d like to try without having to shell money out of our very limited single income to pay for those things. I love for somebody to send me a free book or some homeschool curricula. So far, I’ve had a few opportunities to read a book or try a new homeschool program that I wouldn’t have been able to do outside of blog reviews.

    That said, though, I am VERY transparent about review, ads and affiliate programs. Ads and affiliates are clearly marked on my sidebar and the link to my disclosure policy is listed above those ads/affiliates. The disclosure link is also posted at the close of any review post for which I have received a free product.

    Finally, even though a product may have been given to me, I always give my honest opinions in my reviews. I’ve only tried a couple of things that I really wasn’t crazy about. For those, I have highlighted the positives and have mentioned the things that I didn’t like since those things may be the very thing that someone *does* like.

    To me, there’s nothing wrong with a blogger having ads/reviews on her blog. Just because they’re there, doesn’t mean I have to click them or read them any more than I have to watch commercials on TV. I do feel that it’s in everyone’s best interests, for there to be a high level of transparency and integrity, which is what I try to maintain on my blog.

    And I find it pretty amusing the the post that shows up in “Comment Luv” is a review post. ;-)

    Kris @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers´s last blog post..Product Review: StartWrite

  22. Excluding twitter for the moment, why not use an existing paradigm to deal with affiliate links - semantically as microformats?. Something as simple as rel=”affiliate” might be sufficient. A more complex microformat might identify the advertiser or network (a la rel=”license” microformat”).

    This way, the small percentage of people who may be concerned can download the inevitable plugin if needed, management and links to privacy and disclosure pages automated, etc. Of course, the real drivers of this may need to the actual affiliate programs - if CJ for example put this in their auto code generation tool.

    As for Twitter, the major URL shorteners like BudURL could simply set up a complementary domain for affiliate/sponsored links and maintain the disclosure on their site via a link preview function. Again, it would help if Twitter then autotagged the URL.

    A modest proposal, at least. And requires no one else’s permission to start!

  23. You precisely saved me atleast 1 hour of time. I am making a project in this particular topic and your contribute has helped me through one of the topics of my project. I will browse to the other pages now.


  1. Responding to The Case Against Breastfeeding :: hippie dippie bébé
  2. Blogging, Double Standards, and Recommendations | Jessica Knows
  3. FTC Blogola Roundup: The Jury Is Out « The SiliconANGLE

Leave a Reply