Disclosure on the Blogosphere

In the recent past, there’s been quite a bit of discussion around bloggers that are being paid to blog, but don’t reveal their professional connections, which may motivate them to blog. The two worse cases are PayPerPost, a service that pays bloggers to talk about products (disclosure is not required) and the Walmart Flog that was created and written by PR firm Edelman.

Chris Heuer lead a roundtable last night focused down on the topic. We had some brief conversations about this at the Social Media Club on Monday, and it’s great to see such a focused conversation on it. Michael Arrington encourages folks to talk about this as it’s an issue that could unravel the trust and intention of the free web, those damn humans. You can check out Chris’s recap of the event.

If someone promotes a product or company, and is on their payroll, disclosure is required, often a simple disclaimer at the footer of a post or in a permanent location on a blogroll is sufficient.

  • Jeremiah, I would take this statement a bit further:
    If someone promotes a product or company, and is on their payroll, disclosure is required, often a simple disclaimer at the footer of a post or in a permanent location on a blogroll is sufficient.

    I think that if someone takes money/goods/favors for a post even if they are not part of that company’s payroll, it should be noted.

  • Allen

    You’re right, any compensation, including goods makes sense.

    But what about links? Does that count?

  • Allen,

    What we were trying to come up with at the meeting last night was the start of a set of guidelines that can be applied to all bloggers about disclosure. It’s very clear if you’re being employed by a company and you blog about something that could materially affect them, you need to disclose somehow. We didn’t want to even start on the specifics of how that disclosure should work and this point.

    The problem with the situation is coming up with guidelines that encompass the entire spectrum of bloggers, from the small site where someone blogs once or twice a month to the corporate blogs that make a living off of their blogs. How do we create a code of ethics that’s simple and covers both ends of the spectrum and everything in between?

  • Martin,

    I think it’s easier than you might be making it out to be. And there is no difference btw corporate blogs, personal blogs, 1-2x a month bloggers and the techcrunch’s of the world.

    I really wish I could have been there. As I told Jeremiah on the phone a bit ago, I love this topic. I used to be a public auditor for Fortune 100 companies and this type of thing came up all the time. It’s too bad I live in an area that has nothing for web activity 🙂

  • …and the bigger problem will be how to educate those people to do the right thing. In the past 24 hours I have read several blog posts written by ‘posties’ (aka Pay Per Post users) who don’t understand what the big fuss is about. Even a few who do, but think that because they are honest about their opinion on the product/service they are getting paid to promote that it does not matter if they make a disclsoure.

  • I’m glad to see this getting more attention. I’m in the Washington DC area and would be very interested in chatting about the topic. I’ve tried to address it on my own blog (http://www.ddmcd.com/truth.html) but would like to discuss it further. The topic of how you promote “trust and confidence” in the world of social networking is imprtant to me and I’m eager to pursue it. Skype me to chat.

  • Chris – why do we need to educate people? Do we need to teach people not to steal? I think providing guidelines is fine, but people should be ethical and do the right thing always.

  • Chris: OK, I’ll bite. In one paragraph or less, why do you think a blogger should disclose in the following case: a Z-list blog that is read mostly by friends & family, and the blogger writes their honest opinion about the product or service.

    Allen: how is writing an honest post equivalent to stealing?

    Caveat: don’t make assumptions about my position on the issue from the above questions.

  • Scott,

    We’re not saying the Z-list blogger needs to disclose anything unless he has some relationship with the manufacturer of Product X. If they gave him the product or he works for a competitor, he should disclose. Especially since today’s Z-list blogger can be tomorrow’s A-list blogger, even if only for a few days.


  • Hey Scott, that’s a good question. Here’s a quick take on your question.

    A Z-list blogger, regardless of the audience, writes for a public, potentially global forum (key words, tags, etc.)

    He’s absolutely more than welcome to write his honest opinions about a product or service. In fact, that’s encouraged.

    But let’s just say that company X provided him with either product and or money to blog about it (which might be unlikely because he’s a zlister). If he wrote favorably about it without disclosing that he was compensated somehow, it could be deemed as deceptive. Why, he may be less likely to bash it if it was free and people might make a purchase decision based on the post. But most importantly, his credibility will take a dramatic loss of points if it’s uncovered that he rec’d the product in exchange for the post.

    As always, it’s up to the reader to use their best judgement…but this is one small take on your question Scott. I could go into it deeper if you’d like. Hope this helps.

  • Martin: My scenario assumed the topic of the thread, i.e. that the Z-list blogger was getting paid for the post, e.g. by PayPerPost.

    Brian typed: “his credibility will take a dramatic loss of points if it’s uncovered that he rec’d the product in exchange for the post”

    It seems to be that you’re *assuming* that money is a problem rather than explaining WHY money is a problem. Just so my scenario is clear, let’s say that all the objective evidence supports the blogger’s assertion that their post was honest. (Pick whatever evidence you want: they own the product and bought a bunch as gifts, were known to have praised it long before they got $ from PayPerPost, etc.) So, a month after a totally honest review, someone points out that they got paid for the review. And, lots of people point out that the person has been a fan for eons. Where’s the loss of credibility?

    As always, it’s up to the reader to use their best judgement

    I think the PayPerPost bloggers would say it’s up to the reader AND BLOGGER to use their best judgement. The PPP bloggers claim they are being honest, hence no need for disclosure.

    Lots of people are uncomfortable with this viewpoint, but if there’s a strong argument against it, I haven’t seen it.

    Many people might argue that if ANY blogger gets paid per post, then it reflects poorly on ALL bloggers. But, doesn’t that deny that “it’s up to readers to use their best judgement”? And, while it’s a good reason for A-list bloggers (who are earning lots of advertising $) to want everyone else not to get paid per post, I’m not sure why people think that a Z-list blogger who is getting little or no ad $ should find this answer so compelling.

    (Again, in case anyone cares, I don’t have a real blog, haven’t used PayPerPost and don’t know the folks, understand the discomfort, etc.)

  • Wow, great conversations here.

    I called Martin last night, he pretty much nailed it, when one starts to impact business decisions by using social media to talk about a product and is benefiting in a financial or other manner disclosure is mandatory.

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