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MNB took note last week of a Wall Street Journal story about Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consideration of new rules that would regulate how these mommy bloggers are endorsing products on their sites. At issue is whether the women are being compensated for their endorsements, and how transparent those payments should be to readers.

The heightened scrutiny comes as more and more companies – both retailers and manufacturers – have realized that the blogs can be an effective marketing tool and have trained their considerable marketing resources on the women who write them. The general consensus seems to be that the mommy bloggers ought to regulate themselves and understand how not to cross the line into crass commercialism…and that if they don't, people probably will stop reading them.

My comment: Speaking as someone who some folks would define as a blogger (though I’ve been doing this since before the term was invented), this doesn’t seem to me to be that big an issue, and one where self-regulation is the best approach.

My position on this here at MNB is fairly simple. I’m in this to make money. I like doing it, but not enough to continue doing it if I can't make a living at it. I also think that I need to be transparent about who sponsors are, which is why I go out of my way to disclose any business relationships that could even be perceived as influencing my opinion; that’s the only way to be fair to you.

I’ve also been pretty lucky, though. Over the years, pretty much every sponsor I’ve had has either made a product that I enjoy using or provided a service that I think is a positive one for the industry. (I’ve turned down a couple where I thought I’d have trouble looking in the mirror in the morning.)

As in pretty much all cases, transparency is the key. Just try to be honest, and it’s hard for people or governments to be too critical or too regulatory.

One MNB user responded:

I've come to expect a fair amount of contradiction in your commentary but this really takes the cake. Just last week you were bemoaning the “wrong people” consuming the wrong sort of beverage (Alcohol & Caffeine Beverages Under Scrutiny and cheering on the crusading AG's that will right those wrongs.

This week you want the FTC to leave you poor bloggers alone and let you use the honor system. Make up your mind; does the government get to interfere with everyone's business or just the ones that sell "inappropriate" products?

To be clear – and I’m not sure I was when I wrote that about alcohol and caffeine beverages – when I wrote about the “wrong people,” I was referring to young people who think they are bulletproof and consume gallons of this crap without any worry about what it might be doing to their bodies. Somehow, I think we owe them better than that.

Some things ought to be regulated, some don't need it. But I concede that I have a conflict of interest here…which is why I go out of my way to point those conflicts and self-interests out whenever appropriate on MNB.

And sure, I contradict myself sometimes. I’m human.

MNB user Heather Leacy wrote:

Perspective from a younger generation… I understand that in some cases the FTC probably is concerned about bloggers giving, say, nutritional advice when they are not trained in nutrition, but on the other hand there are a lot of people who are as knowledgeable (or more) in a subject to the equivalent of a college education. They just don’t have the degree to hang on their wall. It should be made clear in their blogging that they are not traditionally trained in the subject (they shouldn’t be calling themselves a nutritionist if they’re not) but should be very free to express their point of view and experiences they’ve had with products. Now if they’re advertising Twinkies in a recipe as a great healthy after school snack, that may raise some legitimacy questions.

I agree that it ultimately it comes down to honesty and transparency. I don’t think bloggers need to disclose how much of a paycheck they’re getting from their sponsors (why??? I would be more interested in finding out how much employees at the FTC make to investigate these kinds of things.), but it’s good to mention who their sponsors are and when they are advertising a product. That usually gives the product even more substantiality because the person is saying, “Yes, I’m being paid to talk about this, but it really was a great product! This is how I used it.” That would mean more to me than just, “Try this product! It’s great!”

When it comes down to it, most people are going to try to get sponsors for things they enjoy and would advertise via word of mouth anyway. And blogs that are purely advertisement will not do well. Who really wants to go out of their way to read ads or watch commercials (unless they’re funny)? We want ideas, reviews, and recommendations from people like us when we’re looking for a solution, trying to come up with a good gift, or just looking for a new thing to try or learn.

There is an interest sentiment expressed in this email – that bloggers are more reputable than the FTC. (Except for me, of course. I’m thoroughly disreputable.)

Not sure how widespread this may be, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
KC's View: