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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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I provide disclosure statements at the end of any sponsored blog post (and even sometimes when they are not just so there are no questions). I also have a Terms of Use page that lays everything out. On top of that, I provide all of my information on how I stand on product reviews on the sponsor/advertiser page.— Anonymous B, from interview Although they used many different methods, all but one of the 15 “Mom Approved” blogs included a disclosure statement in the blog post for sponsored posts or free products (see Table 1 for a summary of techniques.) Only on the blog Mayhem & Moxie was it difficult to determine whether free products had been provided for reviews. The two bloggers who write Mayhem & Moxie did, however, disclose products provided free for contest giveaways.

Some bloggers organize blog content with a separate tab for reviews. Nine blogs use a separate tab, while six do not (see Table 1).

Table 1: Blog disclosure techniques

–  –  –

Reviews of free products/services. Bloggers have a number of options when confronted with the situation where they do not like a product or service they have been asked to review. One approach is to avoid posting a review if it would be a negative one. Piera Jolly of Jolly Mom described how she contacts the company to describe her concerns and provide suggestions. She offers to send the product back and explains that she will not be blogging about it. She explains

her reasoning:

–  –  –

Others also avoid posting negative reviews.

Here at From Dates to Diapers, we only write about products that work well for us (our family), or make family life fun. I have yet to waste the time, space, and energy writing about products that do not resonate well with us or may not benefit my friends (aka readers). This is not to say that you will not find me talking about what may not be so great about an almost perfect product, but I will not focus on the negative, nor will I advertise products we do not use or like. My readers know this about me.—Christine Young, From Dates to Diapers, from blog I don’t post about it and I let the company know my reasons why so that they can have the feedback.—Anonymous B, from interview Some bloggers inform the company about the possibility of posting a negative review, allowing corporate representatives the opportunity to decide whether the post will be published.

In the past I have directly contacted the company to let them know what I did not like and some will pull the review and others have said to go ahead and post. I give them that right because I am here to review not tear down a company, unless of course it was a life or death situation which has never happened.—Jennifer Leet, The Dirty Shirt, from interview I write the company and give them options. I can write a negative review, I can post an advertorial for them which includes no personal opinions, or I can just scratch the review and not post anything at all.—Anonymous A, from interview Another approach is to post a completely honest review, describing the positive and negative aspects of the product or service. Piera Jolly of Jolly Mom discussed how it might be appropriate to offer constructive criticism or suggestions for improvement. Describing how the product might be appropriate for one group, but not another, is another tactic she employs. Many bloggers describe an honest approach to reviews.

And I want to stress that I am honest in my reviews and compensation does not change that.—Jennifer Leet, The Dirty Shirt, from blog In all these cases I never endorse, recommend, or otherwise promote anything that I am not personally comfortable with. Regardless of how I am compensated I am honest with you all. If you have read enough of my reviews you know that I have both negative and positive things to say about things. If you met me in real life you would see I am the same way – I’ve almost always got an opinion and I am willing to share it! —Robyn Wright, Robyn’s Online World, from blog The point is to never, ever tell your readers that you like something when you don’t.—Piera Jolly, Jolly Mom, from blog

–  –  –

review, but now I will post regardless. —Robyn, Robyn’s Online World, from interview Some bloggers may present the product or service in the most positive light, highlighting the good points and avoiding discussion of the bad points.

I am an honest person, but even when I don’t like something it comes across as it’s still a good product. My opinion is a half glass full.—Louise Bishop, Mom Start, from blog Christine Young of From Dates to Diapers offered suggestions for making an accurate assessment of a product and discussed the extent of claims that can be made.

If you received an item for review, test it out for a significant period of time, have your kids test it out – and only after you’ve actually used the product – offer your thoughts. Parents want to hear the real opinions of parents…Do not tout a product as being a cure-all, or make promises that a certain item will produce certain results. Only write about products from your perspective – “XYZ worked for me,” or “I noticed that XYZ benefited me and my family in such-and-such a way.” — Christine, From Dates to Diapers, from blog Another recommendation is for bloggers to decline to do reviews of products or services that they do not believe their readers will like. Although it is sometimes hard to know before a test-drive, bloggers are encouraged to research the product before accepting it or asking if the product can be previewed before the blogger commits to the review.

Yes, it does mean that you will have to say NO to a lot of pitches that pr reps and companies send you. That’s ok. I say no to more than 50-60% of the pitches that I receive. I am comfortable with the words No, thank you and you should be too.

Companies and pr reps are not going to stop working with you because you say no. Thank them (the company or pr rep) for the opportunity, but let them know that you will have to pass this time. Reassure them that you would like to work with them on future campaigns that are a better fit for your blog. It’s as easy as that.—Piera Jolly, Jolly Mom, from blog

Recommendations for the public relations industry

The central recommendation for the public relations industry centers on the relationship between the blogger and the public relations practitioner or marketer. Others also suggested allowing the blogger the autonomy to conduct business on her blog in her own manner. Finally, mom bloggers have noticed that product samples are less likely to be provided for review since the revised FTC guidelines were approved.

–  –  –

for free samples or the trial of a product or service. Bloggers will also incorporate posts that are sponsored by a company. This relationship may be compromised if the marketer or PR practitioner does not want the blogger to reveal that they paid for the post.

I do get paid for posts, I don’t always mention it in the post. Some of the companies that I work for do not want a blatant statement that they paid for this post. So, I just wanted you to know that I do accept money.—Louise Bishop, Mom Start, from blog Another recommendation for PR practitioners is that they should not allow a bad review to destroy a relationship.

One thing that I want to stress is to not be afraid to tell a company or pr rep that you dislike the product. Some bloggers fear that the company or pr rep will stop working with them or take them off their “list”. Yes, a few may get upset, but the truth is that most companies or pr reps will really appreciate your honesty.—Piera Jolly, Jolly Mom, from blog When asked in the interviews for recommendations for marketers or public relations practitioners, all respondents emphasized the importance of building a relationship with the blogger.

My advice would be to know the blogger before you approach them. You don’t have to be best friends but approach us how you would want to be approached. By name, maybe tell us a little something about us, make your pitch and see where it goes. I personally am tired of the “Post this on your blog now” and the “Hello Ms….”—Jennifer Leet, The Dirty Shirt, from interview Please be clear in what you want. Have a request, and don’t just send me a PR release. Build a relationship with me first.—Louise Bishop, Mom Start, from interview Be very clear about what you want us to do for you up front, don’t beat around the bush. Also, don’t rely on blanket emails to insert names because you often have it wrong. Take a moment to read our blogs, or at least our PR page before contacting us.—Robyn Wright, Robyn’s Online World, from interview Keep in mind working with bloggers is different than working with other types of companies. We need you to treat us as a business but also as a customer. We consider our blogs businesses, but we have to review you as a company. It makes it tricky.—Anonymous A, from interview

–  –  –

They need to cover their butts so they are a little bit overboard about the rules and the wording of what they want me to say on my blog.—Louise Bishop, Mom Start, from interview It made me rethink what items I will accept. I won’t do as many low cost items because it is much more work for much smaller payoff.—Anonymous A, from interview Providing free products. A noticeable shift in the relationship between PR practitioners and bloggers is that some companies are less likely to send free products for review.

Additionally, some have been more insistent about disclosure regarding the free products that are provided.

Not too much, I have had a few companies back off from sending samples, but my regular brands have stuck with me.—Jennifer Leet, The Dirty Shirt, from interview They seem less likely to initially offer items – now they just send a press release and you need to ask them directly for samples.—Robyn Wright, Robyn’s Online World, from interview The only difference is that they generally always make sure to remind me to disclose.—Anonymous B, from interview

–  –  –

Only one-third of the 15 “Mom Approved” blogs on Nielsen’s Power Mom 50 list specifically addressed the revised FTC guidelines on their blogs. Most expressed support for the guidelines, believing that they had always followed these general rules. Some were prompted by the new guidelines to educate their readers or to discuss items of concern.

The bloggers in this study are committed to building trust and credibility among readers, and see transparency as a way to maintain a good relationship with readers. The bloggers feel an ethical responsibility to readers. Although they have different approaches to disclosure and conducting reviews of free products, the bloggers see themselves as acting ethically.

Finally, participants emphasized the importance of the relationship between a blogger and a public relations practitioner. Similar to media relations recommendations, the PR practitioner should build a relationship by learning about the blog and the blogger before making a pitch.

Company representatives should allow bloggers to write in their own voice and not be as wary about providing free products, given the commitment of bloggers to transparency and honesty.

This study examined 15 bloggers that were recognized by Nielsen Online as being the leading product reviewers among mom bloggers. The primary limitation of this study was the lack of blogs in the sample of 15 that discussed the FTC guidelines and the low response rate to the interview request. Further research could expand the pool to bloggers who do not attract or conduct as many product reviews, but are still approached by marketers or public relations practitioners. These bloggers may have a different understanding of the FTC rules or a different approach to interpreting them.


–  –  –

Interview questions

1. How would you describe your personal guidelines or ethical responsibility to your readers in terms of discussing products and services on your blog?

2. How do you assure your readers that you blog in an ethical manner?

3. What do you do when you are provided a free product or service that you don’t particularly like?

In October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission approved guidelines that address the practice of blogging about products and services.

4. Were you aware of these guidelines?

If you were aware of the FTC guidelines, please answer the following questions:

5. Describe your understanding of when these guidelines apply.

6. What was your initial reaction to the guidelines?

7. Did you discuss the guidelines on your blog? If yes, why did you do this?

8. Did the ruling change the way you blog or any content on your blog? If so, how?

9. Do you see any potential problems with the guidelines? If so, what?

10. How have these guidelines changed your relationship with marketers?

11. Do you think the guidelines will create a backlash toward marketers or bloggers? If yes, please describe why this might occur.

12. If you could provide some advice to marketers or PR practitioners to guide them in working with bloggers, what would it be?

13. Have you noticed a change in practices by marketers or PR practitioners since the FTC guidelines were approved? Do you still see some behavior you could consider to be questionable? Please describe.

–  –  –

Anonymous (2009, Aug. 14). Liberty Mutual Group: New survey reveals insights on responsible blogging and sponsored product reviews. Economics Week.

Austin, E. W., & Pinkleton, B. E. (2006). Strategic public relations management: Planning and managing effective communication campaigns (2nd ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Baker, S., & Green, H. (2005, May 2). Blogs will change your business. Business Week.

Barbaro, M. (2006, March 7). Wal-Mart enlists bloggers in PR campaign. The New York Times.

from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/07/technology/07blog.html?_r=1 Broom, G. M., Casey, S., & Ritchey, J. (1997). Toward a concept and theory of organizationpublic relationships. Journal of Public Relations Research, 9, 83-98.

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