Terry Corbell, The Biz Coach
By Terry Corbell
Business Consultant

Is the FTC’s Blogger-Payola Crackdown Working?



Few businesspeople like big-brother government imposing its will unnecessarily. But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) crackdown on blogger payola was a necessity.

That’s true even though the FTC rules are hard to enforce on the massive Internet.

Blogging is an ever-increasing occurrence — for example, see B2B marketers especially like content marketing.

The FTC’s rules had been unchanged for 29 years.

These are rules for the digital age – now that consumers get information from sources other than print, radio or TV.

Three decades ago, advertisers propagated their own messages.

But now, the rules are necessary (you’ll see a couple of examples later).

As a result of the FTC action, there are at least three salient points to keep in mind:

  • Make certain you disclose if you have any material relationship with an advertiser or company. This means you can’t accept any form of cash or goods for reviewing or plugging a product or service – unless you make a disclosure.
  • Be honest. No ridiculous claims to entice a reader to buy a product or service. You can only state what readers can “generally expect.”
  • It’s not a requirement, but you might wish to consider taking legal steps to protect your personal assets if you’re sued. Forming an LLC, S Corp or C Corp shield your assets from a possible judgment.

Regarding celebrity endorsers: They’re being held accountable if they make false statements. Their endorsements, too, must state what consumers can “generally expect.” Previously, the phrase, “results not typical,” was sufficient.

FTC fines are $11,000 per violation. The change was effective Dec. 1, 2009.

The FTC update was a year in the making. It was consistent with the tenets under which the FTC has long been operating.

So the FTC rules are clear: It must be disclosed if a blogger’s opinion has been materially persuaded and any opinions must be based on the writer’s experiences.

The 81-page rule addition includes nine conjectural examples to explain what is OK and what isn’t.

Unethical request

Actually, government rules and regulations are often onerous, but deceptive blogging can be detrimental to consumers.

For an example, here’s an unethical e-mail request to this portal on July 1o, 2013:

From: Kyle

Position:

Email: advertising@clearwebsolutions.org

Phone:

Address:

Contact Preference: Phone

Subject: advertising

 Message:

Hello, I am Kyle with Clear Web Solutions. My company represents a leading provider of online degrees. They would like to purchase ad space on your site’s page, www.bizcoachinfo.com/archives/8426.

 Ideally, we’d like to mention our client in a sentence on your site, which would link to our client’s site.  We could pay you via PayPal for your time and efforts as soon as an agreement is made.

 Please let me know if you are interested so we can discuss the details. Thanks for your time and consideration.

 Kyle

Advertising Representative

Clear Web Solutions

www.clearwebsolutions.org

In other words, Kyle, with his unethical inquiry asking me to insert a plug for his client in my article, 10 Key Differences between Leaders and Managers, was a two-fold insult.

Firstly, he wanted me to violate an FTC rule. Secondly, he wanted me to tarnish an article about leadership. This was his ad agency’s third request. I didn’t bother to respond this time, but I sent a scathing response after the first request. Unbelievable.

Mobile banking blogger

In another case, a blogger disagreed with my quoting a nationally recognized Internet security expert, Stan Stahl, Ph.D.

The article drew criticism because Dr. Stahl strongly advised consumers not to do any mobile banking. The blogger published crass comments on his blog, and he replied to me sarcastically on this portal.

However, I did not allow the blogger to insert his assertions on this site for three reasons:

  1. His introductory comment about the gist of my article was rude.
  2. A review of his blog indicated he was heavily biased in favor of mobile banking, but my sense was he had no credentials in Internet security.
  3. His blog also indicated his whole purpose in life seemed to heavily promote mobile banking – but he did not disclose why.

Then, it was hard not to chortle about our ostensibly disingenuous blogger, when I was able to write this follow-up article: Our Mobile-Banking Warnings about Security Prove Prophetic. And yes, you guessed it — the blogger didn’t dare challenge the details in the second column on mobile banking.

If you’re not a paid blogger for mobile banking or spammer, feel free to respond. Let’s hope the FTC crackdown is going to work. I’m delighted by the rules.

From the Coach’s Corner, for writing tips, here are related resources:

Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”

– Brian Clark

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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.