The FTC And Mommy Bloggers: Tech Talk Tuesday

I’d planned a post about E911 and the need to keep your land line. But today’s headlines have me changing course.

BusinessWeek wrote a short article about the “influence” that’s both paid, and unpaid in the blogging world. Naturally, they focused on the Mommy Blogging World, and naturally they focused on Jessica Smith. There is an 86 page PDF on the site that serves as proposed guidelines to bloggers. I recommend reading the PDF and then taking the the article as commentary.

Jessica Smith puts herself out there. She was one of the original Wal Mart Eleven Moms (I forgive her for that), she’s accepted a Ford for a year after writing a very complimentary review of their car, and she has been paid by just about every company a Mommy Blogger would hope to woo. I want to tell you two things about Jessica.

Jessica Smith isn’t a Mommy Blogger. I’ve scoured Jessica’s site and I can’t find anywhere that she calls herself a Mommy Blogger. Jessica refers to herself as a PR person and a marketer, and I totally respect her as such. Jessica has a blog. But a Mommy Blogger? No, is she a friend of the Mommy Bloggers? Yes. Jessica Smith might be the best friend a Mommy Blogger has. She’s a Mom and she’s a marketer with a blog that appears to be well compensated.

Secondly, within this space I’d consider Jessica Smith a friend. We’ve certainly had our go-rounds, but from my perspective she is completely up front and just working hard to support her own lifestyle. Jessica often recruits Mom Bloggers for paid work. I respect that. She’s introduced me to some pretty terrific women, and her reputation is stellar. She’s an honest woman. I give you honesty and demand it from the people in my life. Honest is good.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking to make some changes. According to these documents the the FTC will be attempting to hold bloggers to some of the journalistic standards that real journalists are held to. If the FTC has it’s way there will be no more eczema cures from hand creams or reviews of car seats that magically appear at people’s homes. I welcome this change.

I’m pitched every day. I have a filter set up for press releases, and for the most part I file them away, never to be seen again. I have a few publicists I’m happy to hear from. There’s one lady out of New York that always has a great small business to introduce me to. I desperately want to point y’all to small businesses and organic practices. I typically keep reviews or mentions of specific products off this blog, I write at a number of other places, and I like to keep my reviews there, where I’m paid, so I don’t have to worry about the messiness of accepting free crap, I can simply write.

Would I accept a laptop from Microsoft (as others have)? Maybe, if I needed one. Let’s be clear though, the price of free is high. Is my blog now a Microsoft Sponsored blog? Do you care what I have to say about a product if it’s been given to me? What if my policy is to only write nice reviews? How would I be taxed on that “free” laptop?

My promise to you is to be honest when I talk about a product. If it is given to me, I will tell you. Things do not just appear in my home. It is not acceptable (in my mind) for a blogger to say, “Occasionally I enjoy featuring something that I really like (sometimes it’s given to me, sometimes I buy it myself).

I’m not the one making the rules. I love the blogosphere, I love that we’re writing the rules as we go along. Publicists will need to be more careful, perhaps asking bloggers for free reviews and then giving them eight pages of “product detail” will cease to be the norm. I doubt it.  As one of my favorite publicists once said, “there are legions of 23 year olds in fake Louboutins screwing this up for everyone.”

I’m sad for Jessica that she’s once again being held up as the standard of a blogger on the take. I could easily direct you to a dozen “mommy blogs” that call themselves Mommy Bloggers and haven’t a lick of original (or literate) content. I’m not really into giving them traffic though.

The advertising firms and the PR firms will need to choose their bloggers wisely. Thus far, the selections have been mind-boggling. I’d rather have no mention of me than a mention from ____.  I’ll give you a hint, the lists suck. I’m just going to grab a handful of popcorn, sit back, and watch the show.

Facebook Comments

  • Why do you think it is not acceptable to say that? If it has been given to me, I always let my readers know up front. I think that is fair- I don’t want them to assume that it was something I bought when I didn’t. And I want to be able to blog about whatever I want and feature whatever I want- and that might include a nice baby carrier that I was sent, or one that I bought on my own. What should I be saying instead?

    Steph

    • If it was given to you, you should be saying that it was given to you.

      It’s important to differentiate between the two.

  • I do. I always say that it was given to me. In my blog post I was just explaining that I like to feature cool things on my blog. Sometimes the product will be given to me, sometimes it will be bought myself. And I ALWAYS say when it has been given to me.

    Steph

  • It would be nice if the FTC and other federal agencies would go after some people who are truly big offenders and law violators. Why are they targetting bloggers and “mommy” bloggers? I have no inside information, but having worked at a federal law enforcement agency, I would suggest three words — Low. Hanging. Fruit.

  • Great post Jessica. I feel bad for for JessicaKnows.com too for all the attacks. What bothers me the most isn’t mom bloggers, being called a mom blogger, being target as a mom blogger or even writing that I’m a mom blogger but how some “mom bloggers” act. Like frickin’ high school wanting attention, fame and free stuff but hello you said it “free” comes with a cost.

    Like everything in life there is good and bad and for some reason when something is negative all the good people out there get lumped into this negative category. Bullshit. I’m grabbing some popcorn with you!

  • @Stephanie you should probably make that much more clear, because what I read was murky, at best.

    @PunditMom if advertorials were ever targeted the glossies would close their doors.

    @Sommer you and I have been in parallel spaces for quite some time. Yes, it can be an extension of high school drama. Yes, it’s sad, but those women do fizzle fast.

  • Did you read my original post that he referred to? I think I was very clear.

  • The FTC has absolutely no business in trying to regulate bloggers. They are an out of date agency searching for a reason to keep existing. The only thing they understand about the digital world is it putting traditional media outlets out of business and unless they can start regulating the multitudes of individuals out there they have no business continuing to exist.

    There are plenty of laws on the books now to protect consumers and maintain taxable records. We do not need a great big federal bureaucracy that will in the end only squeeze the small bloggers. If we allow the FTC into our industry, then we might as well invite the FCC in to tell us what we can and can not say on our own personal soap boxes.

    As far as you personal opinion on the subject of what we should and shouldn’t do as bloggers, you too are living in an outdated world of standards, that aren’t feasibly applied to tens of millions of come and go blogs. Blogs as with all other social media only have the power of the bloggers reputation. If I get a free laptop and tell you it is good, you will either trust my opinion or you won’t. If you buy it and it isn’t all I said it was, then my reputation goes down in your eyes. Pretty soon people quit listening to the disreputable. It is that simple we don’t need a federal bureaucracy stepping in to tell bloggers what to say or to let consumers off the hook for not doing their homework on the subject.

  • Uh no? I didn’t seem “very clear” to me at all. Maybe I should re-read.

  • KTP

    “…the journalistic standards that real journalists are held to”

    I am not a journalist. I’m a blogger. I don’t think the standards should be the same, necessarily. I’m looking forward to reading that PDF – thank you for sharing.

  • I guess I just don’t get it. I read Stephanie’s post when she first posted it and it was quite clear to me that she got it free of charge. Yeah, it might not be FREE in that she “had” to blog about it. But still…why wouldn’t Stephanie post positively about a BABY CARRIER?! That’s what her whole blog is about!

    Now if Stephanie received tickets to movie and she blogged about how great it was—that might be weird. Because she never blogs about movies.

    But if her blog is about HER LIFE, then THIS IS HER LIFE. She can blog about a gift, a bribe or a purchase if she wants to.

    I thought the whole blogger-PR combo was a new wave of companies trying to be authentic. Instead of having an actor wearing a doctor’s coat on a commercial, they can have a REAL person try out their brand and give their readers the skinny.

    And I’ve very rarely read a review that didn’t disclose that the product was given as a “gift”. If I did…well, they were a dang good writer b/c they got me hook line & sinker.

  • Trisha

    What kills me is that us moms supposedly trust each other…and we trust that when a fellow mom says she LOVES a product, that she truly is sharing info on something great. Then to find out that she is sponsored by this product is so dis-heartening.

    I would love to see a blogger disclose they were give a month’s supply of Hot Pockets for review, and then tell it like it is — Hot Pockets are disgusting. Then perhaps my trust would be restored.

    But the question remains — can the FTC be the keeper of consumer trust?

  • KTP

    After participating in a conference call with Katie Couric this morning about telling the stories of children affected by the recession, my feeling is that less money should go toward the FTC’s efforts to crack down on the lowly mommy blogger. Instead, keep that money for healthcare, education, and the safety nets that catch the kids who fall through the cracks. #fester

  • Echoing Brad, why does the FTC care–unless this part of their master scheme on sponsored blogging.

    I’d rather see the FCC care. Send a tweet to http://twitter.com/fcckitz

  • I have no problem whatsoever with bloggers being required to disclose when they are given products from companies, paid or not. I would think any reputable blogger would welcome this as well.

    I also think Oh Amanda had a good point about reviewing products, if it’s a product that you use or that your readers could see you (or them) using, then IMO it creates value for the reader.

    But if you have a gardening blog and suddenly you’re reviewing the new Corvette that Chevy loaned you (and you drive a minivan), then it might seem a tad odd to your readers.

    Interesting debate. In the end, for bloggers, the more disclosure, the better.

  • I read the entire 68 page document this morning and to be clear, the FTC never mention mom blogs. Not once.

    The businesweek article does, but the gist of the proposed legislation is making sure that bloggers are expressing their own opinions and not passing off marketing claims (lose weight fast! get rich quick! eliminate wrinkles for life!) as their own while taking compensation under the table.

    This is not really about whether Steph or anyone else got a diaper bag for review. And frankly, it wouldn’t matter. She has spent enough time building up credibility with her audience that she could testify to the FTC and they’d all nod along with her.

    After a while, you’ve got to assume she has all the baby carriers she needs and that she’s not in it for the graft.

  • HOT POCKETS! :) Love that Jim Gaffigan rant!

    I think Jessica and Steph are both upfront, clear and fabulous. I think that Businessweek piece was not as clear as it could have been. More homework should have been done by the author.

    I agree with PunditMom- What is with all the (mommy) blogger hate?

    Yes, disclosure is important.

    If all of a sudden I started blogging about how I love to clean with swiffers (I don’t clean unless forced) or posting my favorite recipes with Spam- it would look “sleazy.” Because spam is gross and I don’t cook. heh. Anyhoo.

    On my personal site I tell PR peeps they are free to offer a product for review. If it sounds unique or would be interesting for readers, I will take it. If I like it, I will blog about it, but if I don’t- it goes to Goodwill.

    I am still learning all the dos & don’ts as we figure out the online landscape. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and try to be as transparent as possible with everything I do.

    {whispers} h-o-t p-o-c-k-e-t-s {whispers}

  • KTP

    Alli,

    I’d love to see you blog about the products you don’t like, too. That would help steer people away from crappy stuff.

  • The FTC is doing a review of its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials. That’s part of its job — to protect the consumer from deceptive advertising practices.

    In the process, new media got added to the mix because word of mouth marketing whether done by guerrilla marketing agencies or bloggers is a new form of endorsement.

    The question then becomes is it a commercial endorsement or not. If commercial, if it qualifies as advertising, then the guidelines may apply.

    Why is this an issue for mom bloggers? Not because the FTC is targeting them. *It is not.* However, consumer products companies are, big time. Therefore it just makes sense to take a look at your disclosure policies and be sure you are on the side of the angels.

    If you are, and I think both Jessica Knows and Steph have been very upfront about their situations, you’ve got nothing to worry about. The FTC isn’t interested in honest endorsements by parent bloggers.It just wants consumers to have the facts so we can make up our minds.

  • When completing a product review I usually will say “given to me” if the product was given to me. If I bought it I normally say “I bough this at..” or “I got this last weekend…”..

  • I have to agree with Jessica on Stephanie’s blog – comments like “I was sent…” or “Ergo sent me…” does not explicitly say that you received something for free. Amazon sends me stuff all the time – after we place an order. I get sent a lot of stuff that I pay for. I get sent junk mail for free. That’s about it.

    To be truly authentic and transparent one needs to be careful and cautious with their words. That builds trust.

  • Do I think the FTC should regulate bloggers? Yes!

    Blogs are the modern day tv! Why? Because, even my 75 year old mother reads blogs. The difference between me and mom reading the same blog is that I actually don’t believe half of the stuff I’m reading. Mom on the other hand, isn’t used to marketing garbage tossed her way and she actually thinks the bloggers are giving an unpaid opin. It’s taken me months to actually convince her that what she is reading is nothing more than a marketing schtick for some marketing product put out by internet marketers!

    Being of a generation who grew up with tv ads like “I’m creamy, a la Farrah Fawcett,” I believe any sort of dissemination of information has to be truthful. If a blogger pitches a product and has been comp’d, she should be honest and say so.

    I most care about any garbage pitch which promises that the buyer will earn fortunes, even if it just hints at it. I think all pitches for internet marketers have to include an earning disclaimer, even if they come in a blog post format. If a blogger tells you she has a million dollar food business, do your readers have info or know-how to actually go check out her claim? What is a million dollar business anyway? Does it mean the blogger makes a million per year? NOPE! It means he thinks by making your think he has a million dollar business, you will buy his product.

    Trust is built with truth not with PR marketing!

  • I wish someone would send *me* free stuff.

    Sigh!

    The problem with written communication is that sometimes we try to be funny and cute and unfortunately, it doesn’t always come across that way.

    Unless I know you personally, I will take your opinion on a product with a grain of salt. If you happen to review something I’m interested in, I will add your opinion to the rest. It’s just like reading a review on Amazon.com.

  • Sending an AP reporter your way to discuss this right now.

  • Gina, with all due respect – give me a break.

    When you order something from amazon you say “I ordered a clown wig from amazon” or “I got my Xaviera Hollander book from Amazon today.” You do not say “Amazon sent me a book” which implies proactivity on Amazon’s part.

    To be truly authentic, you speak like a person speaks, not like a legal disclaimer, even while being honest about the relationship. I’d say 99% of people with a decent understanding of English know what “Ergo sent me a carrier” means.

  • In Stephanie’s comment, she says “I always say that it was given to me”. To be sent something and to be given something are different. She feels she’s being explicit and I would disagree.

    “Ergo gave me a carrier” is a different statement from “Ergo sent me a carrier” and could easily be taken for the wrong meaning from readers not familiar with the business side of mommy bloggers.

    I believe in 100% transparency – maybe even 110%.

  • I’ve mostly stayed out of all of this because my feelings don’t run that strongly. I have a separate review blog. I review things there. I’m honest, I state whether or not I was paid, if the product was free, etc. I’ve been doing that all along, because it seems like the logical thing to do, so I have a hard time seeing how this is all going to affect me.

    I’ll be interested to see how it affects the rest of the blogosphere.

  • I blog about products a lot. Some of them are given to me by the companies and some are just products that I love and use and pay for myself. I have (what I think is) a good disclosure page on my blog, and I always mention when something was given to me the first time I talk about it. Usually a few times after that too. But beyond that it sounds to start forced. I’ve been using a free Casio camera for six months now. It sounds awkward at this point to mention that it was sent to me by Casio every time I mention it. I run into this a lot so I’m thinking of adding an exhaustive list to my site of every company that has ever sent me a product. That should cover it.

    Then there are the companies that I loved before I had any relationship with them. I’ve loved Disney my whole life and would have continued loving them if I hadn’t been sent on a free Disney Cruise this year. So if I make vacation plans at Disney World, do I have to mention that I have a relationship with Disney? This is getting a little ridiculous. I work hard to stay honest and I think I’ve developed trust with my readers, and that’s between me and them.

    I think we’re all going way too easy on consumers. I don’t know who these bloggers are who talk about products without making any mention that they were free (and please, saying that something was sent to you is fine, any reasonable person knows what that means), but that’s just wrong, and people have to be suspicious and look after themselves, then the market will take care of these bloggers.

  • Jessica Gottlieb

    Well? SM “So if I make vacation plans at Disney World, do I have to mention that I have a relationship with Disney?”

    Yeah, you really do, because a week at Disney World would cost my family a minimum of $6,000. If it’s free, or heavily discounted I would sure enjoy it a lot more. Having a “relationship” with Disney if you are having a vacation there is the absolute definition of what needs to be disclosed.

    According to the FTC anyhow.

  • Sorry Jessica, apparently I wasn’t clear. What I meant was, if I make Disney World vacation plans on my own, which I plan to do in the next few months, with no discounts from Disney, and I talk about that on my blog, would I need to disclose my prior relationship with Disney? I say no, but may anyway, just to cover my ass.

  • BTW Jessica, reading over what I wrote and what you wrote, and what Stephanie wrote in her original post and what you wrote about that, I think you do have a tendency not to read closely, or to jump to the worst possible conclusions. At some point the burden has to be shifted to the reader/consumer.

  • Well, this discussion somehow moved over to Twitter between Jessica and myself and took a turn I didn’t see coming. I was just pointing out that if a blogger (or commenter, in this case) writes something and it’s taken in a way not meant, at what point is it the writer’s fault and at what point is it the reader’s fault? Didn’t mean it as a personal attack and I’m sorry if it was taken that way.

  • This whole situation is getting out of hand and has my hackles up. We’re trying to go camping in Utah this summer. Do I need to say that the Utah Tourism Board has no idea we’re coming and that we’ll be paying for the trip with the last of our tax refund?

    If they only way I’ll enjoy a vacation is for it to be free, deeply discounted or sponsored I’d rethink my travel destinations.

  • Mom-O

    Greetings, I started following JessicaKnows on Twitter because she’s listed as one of the top “whatever”. However, I must be missing something. I just don’t get the attraction or understand the accolades. For the life of me, I can’t see what she actually adds to the blogging world. Her incessant solicitations of “what do you think of me….” whether it’s her hairstyle or the color of her blog comes off as either completely insecure or delusionally narcissistic (are our worlds so small that we really care about your hairstyle dujour?). Her tweets on Twitter constantly highlight all the “who’s who” and “so and so’s” that she’s with which makes me question her authenticity. And every association is peppered with some product affiliation. I have to completely agree that she is not a “mommy” blogger but a paid show pony.

  • Wow Mom-O. That was harsh. I think that both sides of this debate has merit, but the good points get lost when things turn into personal attacks.

    As women/moms – can’t we disagree without being disagreeable?!

  • Trisha

    It’s all a game. I don’t know if disclosure is the answer. I don’t need the FTC to tell me when I am being manipulated. These are tweets from some people I follow:

    “Just used new Colgate sonic power brush. Oh my, that is like having a party in your mouth! Think I am hooked”

    “Tried Bumble Bee Tuna’s Lemon & Pepper Sensations® on United flight. Totally hooked. No mayo – Love it!”

    “about to order Kindle 2.0 and will be selling my Kindle 1.0 after I receive it. So excited…I love my Kindle!”

    Give me a break — those are sponsored tweets! I know that, and all it does is make me question the person’s general sincerity.

    But then again, I’m an avowed cynic.

  • Trisha, I’ve written Tweets and posts like that for many products that I have absolutely no connection to. Just stuff I love and use and they’ve earned my free PR by being good products. Not to say that the ones you mention aren’t paid Tweets, but there’s just no way to tell. If you know the blogger or Tweeter then you might be able to figure it out, but otherwise they could be real.

    I used two new products yesterday and today, in fact, that I’m going to review over the weekend. I have absolutely no relationship with either company. Found the products on my own because I needed them, bought them myself. I just like reviewing stuff and talking about products.

    I think Tweets are more problematic than blog posts, since there’s no room for explanation and context and disclosure pages. Perhaps the answer is a voluntary, opt-in code for sponsored Tweets, something like #ST, and #NST for something authentic and not connected to a company.

  • Great discussion.

    Trisha, I love that you think my Kindle 2.0 Tweet was a sponsored one! I WISH!

    I guess you missed the tweet later where I decided not to get the Kindle 2.0 and buys some new clothes instead (which I’m still not sure where I’m going to shop, still looking).

    Yes, marketing is my thing. I pay my student loan every month for the college degree that contributed to my 10 year career. My readers like to read what I write about marketing – so I’m going to keep on writing.

    I also love a ton of mommy blogs, including a lot of people that weighed in here. I’m grateful that there are so many blogs to choose from, if we were all the same, how boring would that be?

    And yeah, Mom O’s comment was harsh, that’s ok though…she’s never met me and clearly made a snap judgement. She’s human. I’m human. We’re all human. Let’s not forget that.

  • It makes me batshit crazy that I can’t say I like ______ on Twitter anymore without people jumping to the conclusion that someone paid me to say it.

  • For the record, that trisha up there is NOT me!!

    trisha
    momdot.com

  • I saw that tweet Jessica. You are a sweetie and anyone who thinks any different doesn’t interact with you.

  • And to add to the conversation since I am here now, I am all for paid anything you are good at.

    Rock on mamas!

    trisha

  • Wow. This is a pretty intense discussion in here! I can tell Mom-O (who is the only one that didn’t link to a blog or twitter page lol) is just venting or jealous. I’ve met and know Jessica and she is beautiful, wonderful and has positively GREAT hair.

  • I agree, people should say if they are getting paid or not to review a product in their disclosure policy. If you get the product for free, then say that in your post because some readers don’t have a clue as to what a disclosure policy is.

  • Ok, maybe its just me, but who gives a shit if a mom got a product for free or not. I certainly dont give a shit. Its COMMON KNOWLEDGE at this point that mom bloggers are used in marketing. I dont need someone to spell out the obvious to me.

    I am for FTC whatever. I already blogged that I would back it and am a fan because I know bloggers that suck ass, take advantage of companies, and F it up for everyone legitimately doing a business.

    My take is….you don’t want to read about reviews, stay out of blogs or stay off bloggers that do reviews. The reason i don’t care if a blogger received something for free or not is because I will make up my own mind in the end if its something iw ant to purchase…and if i make up my mind based on one bloggers opinion I am a freaking moron and deserve it if it sucks.

    What I am an advocate of is stopping all the whiny baby crap w/ who is disclosing, blah blah…dude. If your in the discussion at all, you KNOW they are getting free shit, so lets just move on. Its like beating a dead horse. Over and over and over.

    I think jessica has every right to charge 5 million dollars for whatever she does and I dont expect her to tell me unless she is flat out LYING about something (which i dont suspect she would do as it was). At the same time, I dont expect Stephanie to dumb down her sentences to be any more clear then she was, I will always assume her products are free and to be perfectly honest, it doesnt really change how I would feel about her opinion. Free or Not, I trust her or I dont, kwim?

    I dont think she goes from the stephanie, or the jessica, that is getting paid or getting a free product that is now lying to me because of that….

    Truth be told, I dont actually read blogger reviews. Or amazon reviews. If i want something, I buy it. If i dont like it, I take it back.

    I think all the moms that have figured out how to work with companies for product or cash are far far ahead of everyone else. I think the product girls need to catch up with the cash girls soon though…but thats a whole other load of soapbox.

    ~Trisha
    momdot.com

  • Pingback: Are Bloggers Publishers or Editors (and why it matters) « PR MAMA by Stephanie Smirnov()

  • Trisha (@momdot) I am so sorry I thought it was you! Mea culpa.

    (I apologized on Twitter too).

    The fact of the matter is, that we’re going to see more blogging and marketing driven partnerships. That’s why it’s important that those who are getting those opportunities are maintaining integrity, transparency, and authenticity.

    Again, great conversation.

  • Mom-O

    Yeah, my comments may have been harsh, but sometimes you have to be antagonistic to get someone’s attention and to evoke change. I have no time, patience or tolerance for anyone who is constantly saying “Oh look at me!!! Watch what I do, See what I did…” blah, blah, blah If the bulk of what you have to offer is self-indulgent communications, be they tweets, blogs or otherwise then you are not engaging your readers. I think it’s good that people are miffed by my comments. Perhaps it will give them pause before they engage in a one way discussion with their audience. What narcissists always fail to realize is that narcissism offers no constructive contribution to the world except in their own mind.

  • How much it will cost me to employ the FTC to regulate hundreds of thousands of amateur hobby bloggers? Next they’ll be silencing waitresses when you ask them what do you recommend on the menu … “I like the petrale sole but government regulations require me to tell you that I get my meals at a 50% discount.”

    or the Pottery Barn employee. “I think these candles are of excellent quality but I receive a 40% discount on all non sale items.”

    The blogosphere should remain a free speech zone.

  • Juliemarg

    That makes sense about the 50% off the meals, etc. That part is annoying that they are cracking down on bloggers when there are so many other ways this is happening, but at the same time I have no issues with disclosure. To be honest when I go to someones blog and they are doing a giveaway or review, most of the time it is a given to me that they are getting the product for free, whether they are getting paid or not I would never know, but you assume they owned this before or it was given to them, for the most part I am thinking it was given and that is fine. The blogs that I pay attention to I personally trust enough to feel that they would not be lying about a review.

  • You know, sometimes I watch this argument over paid blogging or blogger freebies and wonder when the “No You Are” comments are going to start coming out.

    I mean, really? Since when haven’t journalists, tv shows, newspapers and magazines been given free products for review? Save Consumer Reports, finding one that hasn’t taken free stuff to review is pretty hard.

    This whole argument boils down to you have to disclose. Okay, I think we’ve all gotten that by now. But then the discussion digresses into pretty dumb territory. “You didn’t say ‘give,’ you said ‘send.’ Two different things.” Really? We’re going to spend weeks of stress and anger on semantics over the difference between ‘give’ and ‘send’? Do people just not have enough to do?

    Almost all blogs with some sort of following get pitched. Whether or not you take it is up to you. We should all disclose. Point made, now lets move on.

    By the way, Jessica interacts with her readers. She makes a world of difference to us. I know, I’m one of her readers who’s gotten to know her as a friend as well. Jess, you keep going!!

  • monique

    Also, Jessica Smith probably does not exist and being used to discredit an individual who may be associated to that name or used it as an alias at some time.
    The internet is increasingly a place for vindictive people to the point fake websites are created etc. etc.
    Please lets not be easily attracted to trouble makers and trivial stuff, and Twitter is full of it. The word itself is suggesting how to be. Like watching TV, I think we have to become more discerning with what we are taking notice of, what we are filling our minds with.

  • I am not even sure if Mom-O or Monique deserve the 1 minute that I am going to spend on saying this, but, really? For one I would not be surprised if you are the same person, for another if you have an issue with someone the best place to address them is in private, it is pretty classless to do it on a public forum, it amazes me that you judge someone so strongly that you do not know.

    Your last comment is so insane, I did not even get it at first, I thought ‘No, there is no way she is stating that Jessica Smith is not real.’ You cast a lot of stones, but you are obviously not the most congenial person around.

  • Good God! Where to start!? I review the stuff I get because I say I will before they send it. If it shows up unsolicited, it goes back out just as unceremoniously. That’s where I draw my line, but that’s just for me. Just like I don’t expect anyone else to think my husband’s hot or not be bothered by my dirty house, I don’t expect everyone to blog like me. We’re. All. Individuals. While we ALL need to disclose to not feel the wrath of The Man, we’re going to do it in different ways! It is what it is! I do it with a button that says “Product Provided” in every post when, well, it has been. I also give positives and negatives in every review. Again – just ME.

    As for Jessica Smith – wow, what a crazy comment from Mom-O-No-You-Didn’t and Monique – one in the same? Jessica writes about her physical transformation because that’s who she is – a mom becoming a powerhouse before our eyes and sharing her story. And is she real? I’ve fought with her, laughed with her, cried with her, and snorted with her. And watched our kids play together lovingly. Yeah, she’s real.

    Loving when this all blows over….

  • Um, I just want to say…if Disney is reading this, I would love a free vacation for my family of 4 to Disney World. I have a decorating on a budget blog, so I guess I could stay in one of your really fancy suites (for free, of course) and then I could write a blog post on how I could get that expensive look by shopping at garage sales.

    Then, we could move on to landscaping on a budget…I could write about how to make Mickey Mouse topiaries out of recycled newspapers and green spray paint.

    Really, the possibilities are endless and I think you’d better snap me up quick before Dollywood does ;)

    (Peace to all bloggers, xoxo)

  • Sue

    Jessica Smith is a real, live human being. I went to middle school and high school with her, and I was on poms with her. Too funny that something thinks she’s not real!

  • Interesting discussion. I have a blanket disclosure, and if I’m writing about a company that pays me money to consult, I write that. The only product I’ve written about on my blog has been provided for giveaways, and I say what company gave it.

    While I understand the discussion about the FTC regulating, I think the discussion is being driven more by a fear of new media from old than actual issues in the blogosphere. Because really, so many of the mommy blogger policies people are scrutinizing are in widespread practice in male dominated tech blogs. I would rather err on the side of overdisclosure than under, and let people draw their conclusions accordingly. But do I want to see Government resources wasted on yet another impossible task? No thanks, we have the war on drugs, let’s just stick with that- It’s going so well.

    And for all you crazy bitch haters up there- Jess G and Jess S are both real life people with real life kids and real dinner tables where I’ve been a guest. And they both kick ass. Why don’t you focus on the CIA detail that’s following you and leave the discussion to the folks whose meds are properly adjusted, and who aren’t too pussified to leave a link?

  • Mom-O

    I see Jessica Knows has assigned the marching orders to all her minions who have rallied to her defense. How sad that “the troops” are incapable of actually processing what I’ve written to acknowledge what part of the message is true. You would have to admit, I’ve gotten your attention, otherwise, why would so many of you spend your precious time addressing someone you deem so unworthy. Perhaps I can recommend “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Dr. Jean M. Twenge or “Generation Me” by the same author, or “The Mirror Effect” by Dr. Drew Pinsky. They can provide a more clinical perspective that would help the readers of this forum actually process what narcissism is. What I have failed to realize is that people who possess no ability to be introspective and self-analytical will never “get it” which is disappointing. I would hope that we, as educated women, would utilize our intelligence a little better. And no, I am not Monique.

  • Oh, gracious. As “educated women”, I would hope we’d understand the difference between discussion of an issue and repeated harping on one person’s perceived personal shortcomings. If you don’t like how someone blogs, tweets, or vlogs about their pearly whites, pay them no mind-don’t give them your traffic, which is part of how they gain influence and get paid. Certainly don’t expect to effect change by mocking everything about them ANONYMOUSLY in a public forum.
    Thanks for the narcissm recs- I’ve actually read quite a bit about it, thanks to a crazy neighbor. I would also recommend “Children of the Self Absorbed”.
    And with that, I will take my own advice and stop trying to change someone who only hears
    her own voice.

  • it’s a shame people have to turn a worthwhile discussion into a circus freakshow *mom-o and monique*…enjoying the debate otherwise. let’s get back on topic!

    Let’s call out the real offenders, the “make a million dollars in 24 hours” and “lose 50 lbs in 10 days” and leave bloggers alone who just give an opinion on how much they like the movie “Hotel for Dogs”. If reviews seem skewed and positive, maybe it’s because we keep it upbeat and don’t review what we can’t endorse. I don’t get into bashing anything on my blog, so if something stinks, I’m not going to review it. I do agree that some pr people get a little icky with their pitches. Bloggers have to pick and choose wisely. I think it’s a good time for us all to take a look at ourselves and our blogging ethics. Even the good ones. Never hurts to re-evaluate from time to time.

  • Littlemissknowitall

    I learned long ago a lesson I’ll share with everyone here.

    Don’t feed the trolls.

    You won’t ever ‘win’ the argument and all you do is give them a stage and audience. They are self important in their own minds and will not care one bit about anything we have to say.

  • Deb

    “I was on poms with her.” That is the funniest thing I’ve read in months. This thread is classic.

  • I’ve taken to dropping product names into blog posts that make it seem like the post is sponsored by those companies if you are inclined to assume every brand mention in a post implies free stuff. Because I’m raging against the machine, yo. Unsurprisingly I actually received e-mails harshing me for selling out. So they thought, not only did this guy sell out, but he isn’t even disclosing that he sold out! So he’s a snake oil salesman AND a liar.

    And THAT is what the murkiness of product reviews has done to the relationships between bloggers and readers.

    At the other extreme I’ve also done a mini-review of a product (The Bissell OneSpot) without any compensation and made the EXTRA effort to say that I received no compensation, because people really do assume that if you mention a product you got it for free. And then Bissell offered me free product in appreciation. And, well fuck, now I HAVE to tell people about that because I wouldn’t like the world in which bloggers do free reviews because that’s how you get products under the table.

    As Trisha (MomDot) says, it seems like everyone just knows bloggers get free stuff. But taking a step back from the mist that surrounds bloggers, out into the real world where people are jumping on and offline and reading a website here and there…those people don’t know anything of the sort. Not all of them. The role of government has always been to legistlate for the lowest common denominator. (Maybe I can safely drive 90 on the freeway, but that person over there in the beater can’t, so the speed limit is 65 so that he doesn’t run over my grandma.) And in this case that means making sure that if there is a professional relationship between a company and a blogger and the blogger is shilling the product they need to tell everyone about their sponsor.

    However, I grow confused. Is there a disclosure somewhere in the movie credits that discloses the relationship between a product and the film producers? Like when Subway is plastered all over “Happy Gilmore”? I don’t remember seeing any, but I’ve also never looked. If not, then maybe there are two federal standards and bloggers are weirdly falling between them at the moment, and the FTC just needs to figure out whether bloggers are like movie producers or like television shows (brought to you by….) Or maybe there are disclosures even in movies, in which case I don’t see any reason for bloggers to hope to exist in some disclosure-limbo when it comes to free products or paid reviews.

    Assuming that everyone knows already is disingenuous. Everyone knows that Coldplay sucks, but those bastards keep selling albums to SOMEBODY.

  • Stacy

    Jessica Knows uses twitter to make money for her family. She is pretty clear that she is there to monetize the social network. Her tweets are rarely personal and talk about the product she is endorsing, whether it be a truck or a Wii game.

    The disclosure policy needs to be posted on sites like hers because she could be claiming the Ford Flex is terrific, but she never discusses it’s poor gas milage. It’s not environmentally friendly at 17-24 mpg, yet the Jessica Knows blog has made many statements in the past about how important “becoming more green is.”

    Mom reviews are great when they are honest and the Mom knows what she is standing for. Moms who flip back and forth between values for free items can’t always be believed. New internet users need see blogs as people’s journals and don’t question their validity.

  • Stacy, with all due respect I have always said that people should do whatever they can to be green because every little bit counts. So while I don’t drive a hybrid, I do a lot to be more environmentally friendly including but not limited to: recycling paper, plastic, glass & aluminum, using cloth napkins instead of paper, growing our own vegetables, buying locally whenever possible, and using eco-friendly cleansers.

    But back on the real subject of this blog post: agreed on the disclosure policies. I don’t do as many reviews as I used to but will still always have the disclosure policy on every page so there’s no confusion. I also disclose whether or not a post is sponsored (meaning I received a check) or if I received product for free in the individual posts as well. I recommend others do the same as it’s so simple and clarifies for both new and veteran readers of our blogs.

  • W-O-W! How VERY ironic that I just included Jessica [Smith] on my latest blog post on Are We There Yet.
    While, I’ve never “met” Jessica in real life, I honestly could care less if she was in fact, not a real person. As long as I am enjoying what I’m reading and/or getting valuable information, I am all good. I commend Jessica for her marketing campaigns, and am happy that she is doing something that makes HER happy. While I love her blog and PR campaigns, who knows whether or not I would like a Ford Flex whether it was given to me or not. I am not going to rave over it because Jessica says so-her tastes are different from mine. My best friend of 23 years has totally different taste from mine, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t listen to her if she gave me her opinion on a product or service.

    No man is the Gospel. I would be a fool if I followed anyone blindly. And I would also be a fool if I knocked anyone else for following their dreams. I do not think the FTC should have to tell fully grown people how to form an opinion. While marketing is a great way to find out info on new products and services, we still have to be responsible for forming our own opinions.

  • Stacy

    Jessica,

    First, you don’t mean with the cheap line “with all due respect.” You came here and instead of reading and acknowledging the truth, you fluff over it so it doesn’t sound so terrible. Having respect means you are truthful to people.

    If you look through your blog, I am sure you can find a dozen or more posts about “being green” or “becoming green.: I know you tweeted away about it. Yet, you can’t then hold your credibility “on being green” when you choose to drive a gas guzzling auto. Not using paper napkins doesn’t cancel out the fact that you aren’t being conscious about your car choice and the emissions. You simply weren’t green because it was free.

    On Twitter, you have no disclosure policy – there’s no room for it OR IS THERE? Your profile could contain a link to your disclosure page, but it doesn’t. So all we see is a lot of tweets about Ford this and Ford that. Most people know about the current status of the Ford Corp.

    Just state the truth, the truck uses a lot of gas and you don’t get the same mpg that you get with many other cars.

    Ford needs to fix that – we all know it. Luckily for us the president is going to get car companies onboard with paying more attention to our environment. Seeing Mom Bloggers flip flop from “being green” to “selling out for free” doesn’t bring credibility.

  • I feel ” to each their own” honestly. Every review I have read I usually see the words “I received” or “This was given to me” etc etc. I rarely have read a blogger that reviews a product without a mention that they received it. I usually say I was honored to receive or something like that. I only accept items that pertain to my audience interest and/or topic of conversation. I personally would rather host a giveaway than do a review lately, because it’s fun to give items away and make ppl happy – hence the name “Happily Blended”.

    I love Jessica Smith – she does so much good for people. She is honest, she is out spoken and she tells everyone how it is. She is not hiding behind anything and she has never referred to herself as a mommy blogger, nor have I ever thought of her that way. She is more of a marketing PRO and she talks marketing campaigns – like really cool fantasy campaigns and she is GREAT at what she does. I enjoy reading her blog and calling her my friend. I wish everyone would stop picking on her, and those who do call themselves mommy bloggers!

  • In an effort to stay on topic, I’ll say this. Stacy, you’re just as bad as the Business Week reporter in that you clearly didn’t check your facts.

    I wrote that I fell in love with the Ford Flex and blogged it MONTHS before I got it to drive for a year (just picked it up last month). Oh, and by the way, I paid my airline ticket to pitch the Ford team and paid for my family to fly out to pick it up.

    I don’t proclaim to be a “green” blog…what I do is encourage people to do what they can and that means different actions for different people. I’d rather see people take small steps than be indifferent.

    Bottom line: My blog is my own and my Twitter stream is my own. You don’t like it? Don’t read it and unfollow me. I don’t have time for anonymous commenters.

    Any other nasty comments on this post can read http://outspokenmedia.com/vzgg – because it expresses how I feel about all of this and @lisabarone says it so well.

  • Stacy

    Brandy,

    Look what we have come down to! You said, “I feel ” to each his/her own” honestly.” That’s why the FDA is stepping in! Because it’s not called honesty when each do their own style of honesty

  • Stacy, I’m pretty sure you mean the FTC not the FDA. You’ll be glad to know that I called the FTC personally and invited them to come check every nook and cranny of my blog after the Wall Street Journal article came out. I had a great conversation with an FTC agent on the phone.

    Thanks for your concern but I’m covered.

  • Stacy

    ***** This comment has been deleted by JG. The IP address was forged and the email address bounced.

    I welcome (and delight) in conversations and pseudonyms are fine, but this is my space, and if you are forging both email and IP address, then I can’t give you a voice. ******

  • Stacy

    Yes, Jessia I did mean the FTC. Thanks for the laugh.

  • Stacy, I think I’m very clear about everything I write. I even disclose in my sidebar who I am currently working with. I also disclose on a post by post basis when a post is sponsored and when I receive product. If a Tweet is paid, I add #spon to the end of the Tweet.

    I also always encourage my readers to do the same.

    If you still think I’m advertising “secretly” after all that, then I’m afraid there’s not much I can do. I stand behind what I write and I will continue to do it ethically and honestly with full transparency.

    And again, if that’s not enough…stop reading my blog. Stop following me on Twitter. Because again, the FTC and I have already had a conversation about this, that I initiated, and of course everything checked out.

  • Stacy

    Jessica,

    You DO NOT always use the #spon. Anytime you speak of the Ford Flex or that EAS Wii related item, you have not used the #spon. You have been advertising the item just as the company planned.

    I referring to consumers being protected by this type of sneaky pitching. I don’t care if you say that you talked on the phone with the FTC rep., anyone can say that. I’m pretty sure the FTC hasn’t even set up the protocols for this type of social media. But I am glad that the FTC will be monitoring and putting this type of advertising on notice.

    I explained why I haven’t stopped following you on twitter above.

  • Stacy, really?

    I don’t put #spon on Tweets that aren’t paid. I do not receive a check from EA SPORTS Active or Ford for my tweets. There is no agreement with them that I will tweet on their behalf. My tweets are my own, unless indicated by the #spon tag.

    I do use hashtags for those tweets: #EASactive and #Ford.

    And considering I don’t even know you who are because you won’t DISCLOSE your identity here, this isn’t even a discussion.

    Trust me, I won’t get mad if you drop me from your Twitter stream. I probably won’t even notice since I have no idea who you are from your first name.

  • Also, I spoke with the FTC on April 28, 2009 at 11:42am EST. I have a case number on file and the specific compliance department for my records.

    The fact that you’re even implying I would make that up kinda makes me question whether you’re just saying things because they sound good to you and not out of anything you know as fact.

  • Jessica Knows, I just got finished putting a Twitter disclosure on my blog’s disclosure page stating that I would put a disclaimer [ST] on any Tweet about a free item. But you’re right, I’m not being paid to Tweet about those items. I accept them for review and once I review them, my obligation to the company is done. I only Tweet about them if I keep using them and loving them. [ST] only belongs on Tweets I’m actually getting paid for. Thanks for being so experienced with this, I’m off to change my disclosure page again…

  • @SelfishMom You make a good point though about adding a statement to the disclosure policy…I will add a note about a tweet with a #spon indicates a paid tweet.

    The fact of the matter is, there is this notion that bloggers are getting paid, cold hard cash, in addition to these blogger trips & product reviews. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case for me. However, you can bet that when I do get paid it will be disclosed clearly (just like the few posts I’ve done).

  • Stacy

    ***** This comment has been deleted by JG. The IP address was forged and the email address bounced.

    I welcome (and delight) in conversations and pseudonyms are fine, but this is my space, and if you are forging both email and IP address, then I can’t give you a voice. ******

  • EA SPORTS is NOT paying anyone (except the employees of EA) to do anything. All of the 12 challengers are tweeting because we stand behind the product. I’ve been blogging about the Wii Fit (that I paid for with my own money) and Nintendo hasn’t ever given me a DIME. Does that mean I need to slap a huge “I PAID FOR THIS MYSELF” note next to my before and after shots because people are going psycho over something that should’ve blown over by now? What about actors? We don’t believe anything they say because they were given something to endorse in a commercial? What’s the point of commercials? This stream has simply turned into an attack on Jessica and it’s pointless. Don’t hate on someone you don’t know. It’s all Blama (Blog Drama). Blama, I say.

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  • Stacy

    Julie,

    So you are saying that EA Sports spent about $2000 wooing you just to get you to try their game. I mean they did pay for a few nights at the Four Seasons, meals, limo, transportation there, correct. That’s payment in the real world – cash doesn’t always get exchanged. They are not your friends inviting you to their resort to hang out with you. It’s business and you received something for something.

    It’s great that you are blogging about Wii Fit and that it works, but in this conversation we are talking about disclosure in blogging. If someone receives free items of course they are going to be swayed to promote that item.

    This type of advertising is different than a commercial or product placement in a movie. Many people who read “Mom type” blogs believe that other moms are being as honest as they are and wouldn’t lie or “create his or her own truth” as Brandy stated above.

    I haven’t hated on anyone or attacked anyone’s personality, but rather discussed blogging style. I support the FTC’s policy because it protects consumers. You may not be able to distinguish what’s wrong with this type of advertising because you are in the middle of it as a blogger. Yet, non-bloggers would not realize that they were being advertised to by “their friend” who writes a blog.

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  • Which bloggers will the FTC target first? All bloggers accepting advertising? Only those working with PayPerBlab advertising dollars?

  • I have a *very* small mommy-blog. Just today I received a gift in the mail as a “thank you” for a review I did of a product (not a review I was asked to do – most of us review products to educate other moms, not to get free swag)… Granted, the woman who sent me the gift e-mailed me first and said she had read some other of my writings on the web and sent it to “brighten my day” so I don’t feel it was bribery to continue to endorse her product (although I will probably continue to, since I had positive things to say about it without prompting so why would that change?).
    I also make it clear to those who contact me about reviews that if I’m not happy with the product, I will contact them before publishing a review but that I will never lie on my blog. Not all mom blogers accept “bribes”…

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