Nov 13, 2009

Off the Fence... Should bloggers have to reveal ties with brands?

Following similar moves in the US, Singapore is looking at rules that would force bloggers to disclose any links with brands. Is this a good idea?

Off the Fence... Should bloggers have to reveal ties with brands?

Nick Barham
Strategic planning director, W&K
Jeremy Woolf
Senior VP, Text 100 Public Relations
Charlie Pownall
Digital strategist, Burson-Marsteller
Victor Cheung
Hong Kong Tech Phooey





“The ambition of Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) is admirable and excellent. If you are being paid by an organisation to say nice things about it, then people should know.
Unfortunately, it’s an impractical fantasy, showing little understanding of the world it intends to police. The ways that a blogger can have links with brands are infinitely varied. Beyond hard cash, bloggers can be rewarded with products, event invites and all sorts of collateral or information that have no financial value, but give them kudos within their community. Will every blogger who posts pictures of a gig where they received free drinks acknowledge the alcohol company along with their review?
A blogger’s point of view doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s put out there as an opinion to be added to, modified or challenged. It’s easy to identify the more sycophantic bloggers.
Today’s impression of brands is formed by many different sources, of which one-sided blogs are one element. Give people credit, especially when they’re acting together, to identify the worst culprits and treat their opinions accordingly.”
“People subscribe to bloggers’ posts because they offer unique opinions on topics that matter to them. They also like the fact that bloggers speak their minds, untarnished by corporate influence.
The actions of the MDA, similar to those of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), are attempts to ensure that connections between bloggers and corporations are clear. It is simply forcing the bloggers to do what they should have done from the outset — let their audience know when a post results from a relationship with a corporation.
Bloggers must disclose. Whether their communities feel that this relationship had some bearing on their content is ultimately up to the community to decide. But the risk of non-disclosure is too great.
The blogosphere is littered with fake blogs and blogs directly influenced by corporate cash. In vain attempts to harness the undeniable power of the blogosphere, companies have resorted to paying bloggers to post on their behalf. It is a dangerous strategy, one that can at once damage the company — and the blogger’s — reputation.”
“A muddy area at best, a set of clear rules governing how organisations and commercial sponsors and endorsers between them conduct blogger programmes sounds in theory a positive move, in particular when money changes hands.
The FTC plans to hold marketers and bloggers liable for transgressions, and that sounds sensible — both parties, surely, need to be held to account, even if the blogger is not a former journalist, analyst or other professional accustomed to the rigours of objective reporting.
However, the rules are not clear in a number of respects, not least their rather fuzzy distinction between sponsorship and endorsement. There is also the apparent bias against online influencers as opposed to mainstream media, even if the divide is thinning and in some cases non-existent.
There are other strong arguments for a voluntary approach. Blogger programmes are risky for marketers, and can easily backfire. And any bloggers seriously interested in building their brand and reputation should be looking to avoid any situation in which their credibility is on the line. Let the reader decide.”
“It is true that bloggers have increasing influence over their readers and it is very likely that their readers could be swayed one way or the other according to whatever stance the blogger has chosen to take. However, readers out there will tell eventually if a certain blogger is being biased because of a link with a certain brand.
Having been a gadget blogger for over three years,
I always acknowledge my sponsors and donors. Bloggers should take the initiative when it comes to acknowledging their sponsors, disclose whatever ties they have with brands or products and their relationships with the PR firms who are increasingly becoming go-betweens or match-makers between corporations and bloggers. Bloggers should take up the responsibilities in disclosing and not be forced to do so under legislation.”

Got a view?
Email [email protected]

This article was originally published in 5 November 2009 issue of Media.

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