FTC Ruling RE Bloggers A Long Time Coming

In the June 11th PI Window on Business broadcast I asked a guest panel the question “Has Blogging Crossed The Threshold of Legitimacy?”  Use the following LINK to access the broadcast in its entirety.

As the segment description will tell you, the basis for asking the question in the first place was an AdAge.com article from April 13, 2009 titled “Bloggers Be Warned: FTC May Monitor What You Say, ” in which writer Michael Bush reported that “As part of its review of its advertising guidelines, the FTC is proposing that word-of-mouth marketers and bloggers, as well as people on social-media sites such as Facebook, be held liable for any false statements they make about a product they are promoting.”

While many bloggers are just now tuning into this reality, the FTC move has been a long time coming.  While I personally welcome the involvement as a necessary progression in legitimizing what is truly an important and relevant medium, these same sentiments are not necessarily universal in our profession.

The challenge the FTC faces with many bloggers rests in the commission’s definition of a promotional blog post versus an information or unbiased post.

For example, is a non-promotional post determined by both its accuracy and balance of reporting?  What role does the level of sponsorship in terms of dollar value play in the equation?  The questions are of course as diverse as they are important.

From my perspective there is no secret that we offer a sponsorship package which includes two profile articles as well as a Sponsor Profile Page.   The blog of course covers non-sponsor related events as well.

However, and unlike traditional sponsorship programs in which a sponsor will pay up to $3,000 per month or quarter, The PI Social Media Network only charges a one time annual fee of $250 US.

While delivering tremendous value to our Sponsors, the real motive behind the price is that such a nominal amount accomplishes a number of key objectives.

The first of course is that for $250 per year no one can legitimately accuse me or our coverage of being biased towards a paying sponsor.  The fact that there is no financial relationship in terms of sales that are derived from being a sponsor for any of the venues associated with the PI Social Media Network is simply the exclamation point to this statement.  In short, we are not paid to write posts but to provide information that has been well researched and therefore has value for our readership and listeners.

Conversely, having sponsors that pay several thousands of dollars per month or per quarter may cause the FTC to focus more on these blogs.  This would be based on the fact that if Procurement Insights loses a sponsor because they do not agree with my position, $250 will not hurt as much as $12,000 US.

While I understand the motives behind looking more closely at blogs whose sponsorship programs are highly (and some would suggest) unreasonably priced given the advent of social media, the dollar amount should not be the determining factor.

What should be the primary if not sole measuring stick is the caliber of the content.  Is it well researched, does the blogger have an in depth grasp of the facts and prerequisite understanding of the subject matter about which he or she is writing?  Most important of all, is the subject matter being represented in a fair and honest light . . . in short does the blogger truly believe in what he or she is writing?

This of course opens up an entirely different avenue of thinking . . . what happens if the blogger, despite adhering to the highest standards gets it wrong.

In my October 2nd post titled “Emptoris Version 8 and the 10% Solution (An Empower 2009 Commentary)” I highlighted the importance of being able to agree to disagree.  Specifically, the chastising I received from one long-time blogger suggesting that my coverage of Emptoris’ acquisition of Click Commerce was somehow skewed by the fact that Emptoris was a sponsor.

Discounting the fact of an absence of influence associated with a $250 annual sponsorship fee, and the fact that no one can hit the bulls eye all of the time, this past week clearly indicated that I got it right.

Even the blogger in question, despite some lingering concerns with the Click Commerce acquisition, acknowledged the fact that he is slowly being won over.

This of course is a perfect example of why the total amount paid to sponsor a blog should not warrant either greater or less scrutiny.  The blogger whose opinion was completely critical of my original post happens to charge a considerably higher sponsorship rate than we do.  The fact that he missed the mark, or that his opinion is softening has nothing to do which what he charges.

I also believe that in his original criticism, although someone will have to tell me what exactly a Fenimore Cooper is, was motivated by a sincere difference of opinion.  This leads to the second point, personal opinion and getting it wrong.

In another example the same blogger, as well as another fellow blogger questioned the validity of the term Spend Intelligence.

With the former, the blogger stated his opinion that “Aberdeen’s use and definition of the phrase, “spend intelligence,” which at this point feels dangerous to me, just as overly political language feels dangerous to Orwell,” was simply “an attempt to shoot some Botox into a segment of the Spend Management market.”

The second blogger was more forceful and direct in his criticism expressing the opinion that the term Spend Intelligence “is misleading.”

As you will note from my September 23rd post titled “Tomorrow’s PI Window on Business Panel Discussion on Spend Intelligence Inspires Debate,” while there was disagreement in how Spend Intelligence is defined, neither the respondents or expert panel expressed the opinion that the term was more “jargon than substance” or “misleading.”

Now here is the thing, the PI Window on Business segment was sponsored by Zycus.  Even though there were sponsorship dollars paid to the PI Social Media Network for the show and related articles, we posted all views on the subject on the Procurement Insights Blog, and discussed the matter in a live on-air forum (Use the On-Demand Player below to access the broadcast).

Given the above scenario, who delivered a more accurate and balanced picture to the market?  This of course is the point.

Now even though the two bloggers to which I had referred missed the mark, they did express an honest opinion.  However they did get it wrong, so in this instance the sponsorship paid venue delivered an insightful and accurate assessment.

Based on the above, I stand by my earlier statement that the true measure of a blog must always come down to the caliber or quality of its content – plain and simple.  This is the only true way in which any blog content should be vetted.

In this way, I agree with Ecademy co-founder and author Penny Power who in the June 4th PI Window on Business Show indicated that the market re readers, listeners, social networking connections are the best ones to filter content.  If the substance isn’t there, or the accuracy of reporting is left wanting or even for that matter the honest opinion of the writer fails to deliver meaningful and accurate insight, the community will ultimately tune them out.

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