Why Are Mom Blogs Getting So Much Attention from the FTC?

A post over on Jessica Knows about her experience with some reporters misreporting how she discloses on her blog got me thinking about how mom blogs in general seem to be the ones getting an awful lot of the attention when it comes to disclosure issues and advertising. There’s been a lot of talk lately about more regulation of social media marketing and how bloggers disclose. For some reason, mom bloggers seem to be a popular focus of attention.

This drives me nuts. Mom bloggers are far from the only ones getting merchandise to try in order to review it. That’s something that has been going on for a long time in many other areas, as commenter Crunchy Carpets pointed out, and as I’ve been wondering as well. I’ll quote her, as she has it right:

What I am curious about is why the ‘mom’ bloggers seem to be getting more heat about reviews than other areas on the blogosphere. Are the male tech writers getting scrutinized by mainstream media and the FTC? They all get sent free stuff. Are the video game or movie sites getting grilled for their ‘promotional’ efforts. They all get sent free stuff.
Movie sites get sent to sets and on press junkets and given all sorts of freebies in return for ‘good reviews. Their morals have been argued about for years. It is all nothing new.

All this doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with appropriate disclosure. It just means that I don’t see why it’s suddenly a big deal when mom bloggers get the things other sites have long been getting.

It strikes me as sexist too.

Momblebee makes similar points, as do some of the other commenters.

Free samples have been given in exchange for review for a long time, longer than blogging has been around. It’s nothing new. Perhaps the only new thing about it is that just about anyone can start a blog, and not have the costs associated with starting a print magazine or newspaper. It’s very open.

Yes, that means some people will lie about the products because they think only a good review should be posted. Yes, some people will be fooled into buying things they wouldn’t have if an honest review had been posted. Goodness knows that dishonest reviews are common enough in the work at home arena!

But does that mean we need special disclosure rules?

I tend to think not. I would expect the standard rules on making false advertising claims should be sufficient. Best aimed at the blogger, and at the advertiser more if there seems to be a pattern of encouraging false claims. It’s awfully hard for advertisers to control what bloggers say, after all, and still keep things honest in both positive and negative comments about the product.

There’s no doubt that the internet is very much a wild frontier in many ways as of yet. It’s much harder to control what goes on when it’s so easy for content to be created. That’s not a call for speedy, harsh regulation. There’s an advantage to the wild growth and free flow of information that the internet provides.

Should buyers beware when they read online reviews? Absolutely.

Should reviewers disclose if they got products free or have a relationship with the business whose product they are reviewing? Of course.

But no matter how the disclosure is done, it comes down to a matter of trust. A good source will be trusted with or without the disclosure.

A bad one may be trusted once or twice, but if they share false information people will learn. Certainly not as quickly as the FTC would like, but that’s going to happen even with regulation, as new sites and blogs will pop up faster than they can be reviewed… not to mention everything that is based from outside the United States.

Much as one might like all reviews to be honest, it’s not going to happen.

As a blogger or business owner, all you can do is keep yourself honest. Being transparent about when you get something for free is a generally good idea. If nothing else, it will help you if the FTC does keep getting serious about this. It also makes it clearer why you’re talking about a product that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise. Say what you really feel, even when it’s not 100% positive.

Of course, the focus on mom bloggers may in large part be simply due to the media. And if you think the disclosure issues are going to be a problem, you’ll also want to pay attention to the part about “atypical results”. Lynn Terry has a really good post on this issue. The FTC doesn’t even want atypical results to be used, even if they’re your own experience. They only want typical results, which strikes me as beyond problematic. How can you discuss your own experience then? How do you know what’s typical?

If you review products, whether you’re paid to do so or just receive them free, or even if you’re hoping to get an affiliate commission for sales through your links, it’s really going to pay to think about what you’re saying. Have a disclosure policy and stick strictly to it.

And, of course, keep paying attention to the story as it develops. It doesn’t matter what kind of blog or site you have, if you’re talking about products you need to know what’s might impact your business.

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6 Responses

  1. Powerful, Stephanie. I agree with every word.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Thanks. Seeing all this go on drives me nuts some ways. It’s not just the mom bloggers doing this, but moms are the ones getting the criticism in the media.

  3. The Mother says:

    I have only been peripherally watching this issue, as I do not do product reviews (at least not positive ones. I do seem to have developed a habit of debunking).

    I have two thoughts on the matter, though.

    First, I agree that mom blogs seem to be under more scrutiny than, say, tech writers. The “why” may be in a sexist view of mom blog readership–moms are more impressionable, more trusting, easier to dupe. Therefore, those doing the impressioning require careful watching.

    Secondly, I have recently found myself unhappy with mom blog product plugging, in re: the 23-and-me promotion. I find myself wondering how many of these mom bloggers who were plugging this service TRULY understand the implications of what we do and don’t know about gene mapping and how to use the information. There are serious medical and ethical questions here, and ethical questions both for the bloggers and the company that hired them. Although I am not sure of the time line, it is entirely possible that this is the one that pushed the FTC to act.

  4. One would hope that faux blogger reviews would work on the free-market theory. The bloggers who coddle and cajole for free products will, with untrue reviews, fall flat. One would hope, anyway.

    I am concerned that mom bloggers are targets over other categories of bloggers (like the technical review guys) because there’s a perception we have fewer resources with which to fight back. And unfortunately, this might be true — which definitely makes this a topic to keep our eyes on.

  5. Stephanie says:

    A part of the challenge here is that the FTC can only regulate sites that are in some way in the United States. We need shoppers to be savvy enough to tell a fake review from a real one.

    And most people are pretty smart. However, I think a lot of people tend to suspend common sense when they get their hopes up, which is why I expect the FTC’s greatest impact will be in the weight loss and home business industries, as those two areas are notorious for misleading and/or downright false advertising.

    Certainly your average mom blogger doesn’t have a lot to fight back with. Many other bloggers won’t either, if the surveys I’ve seen on blogger income are remotely accurate. Most bloggers don’t make all that much with their blogs.

    I haven’t paid much attention to the 23 and me promotions, but The Mother is right in that it looks to be a potential mess. But I’ve heard a lot of people talking about acai berry being one of the things that the FTC will be or is looking at. It’s those wild, unproven health claims that really seem to get them going.

  6. The Mother says:

    “It’s those wild, unproven health claims that really seem to get them going.”

    As well it should be.

    I won’t even go there. I’d fill volumes.