What the OFT ruling means for bloggers and Tweeters

Update: This post and what the OFT’s ruling means for blogs has generated a lot of debate! It’s obvious that the issue of how to handle commercial relationships and transparency is one that engenders a lot of opinions (and emotions) in bloggers.

Our idea of creating badges/icons/visual elements that immediately convey has drawn praise and criticism, which you can see in the attached comments. The idea is that it’s a way for bloggers – in individual posts – to include an easily recognisable element that tells the reader exactly what kind of commercial connections that post has.

Our idea was to create simple, easy-to-grab elements that don’t mess with the overall design and feel of a blog – “badge” is probably the wrong word since it connotes a big box that goes in the right-hand column rather than a smaller logo in the text. But it would get the point across and meet the OFT’s guidelines.

It wouldn’t be the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval or be policed. The point is for blogger themselves to divulge the origins of their posts, and for readers not to have to read through several paragraphs before they know the bloggers’ relationship with the company or product they’re writing about.

It’s a work in progress. What’s inspiring is the depth of feeling and thought that everyone is giving this issue, by considering how it reflects on them, on their peers and on blogs in general.

This discussion is just part of a larger conversation and will continue to grow and change. If you haven’t already, jump in and tell us what you think!

***

In December we blogged about the ruling from the OFT regarding consumer protection laws. The OFT is enforcing these laws with bloggers, to ensure that any content promoting a product or service where the content has been paid for is clearly marked.

Now, in a new Q&A on its site, the OFT says it will NOT be monitoring the Internet and going after individual bloggers. (It considered the action with Handpicked Media appropriate because Handpicked is a blogging network.) This is not a witch hunt. But it will be taking appropriate and proportionate action to ensure the laws are followed.

That means more than ever it’s important for all of us – as upstanding bloggers focussed on creating quality content – to get out in front of this ruling and be transparent and ethical in all we do.

But what does it mean for the day-to-day on our blogs?

We think that labelling every blog post as “sponsored” doesn’t quite cover it. Getting a free DVD to review isn’t the same as going to a press event isn’t the same as being a long-standing ambassador with a multitude of perks.

That’s why we’re coming up with some badges to help your readers understand the origination of the content without lumping all of it into one group. You can grab these and pop them into your posts to show your blog stands for quality and trustworthiness.

This is a work in progress that we’re all part of. So jump in with your thoughts on how to be transparent and blog with integrity.

Undoubtedly these won’t fit every situation, so let us know what we’ve overlooked.

To start, what are your thoughts on how to connote sponsorship on Twitter? Some people use #ad. #Sponsored works but can be long. Another possibility: #sp.

What do you think?

Photo credit: IXQUICK

 

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About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at Jenography.net, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.

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28 Responses to What the OFT ruling means for bloggers and Tweeters

  1. Liz (LivingwithKids) 04 February 2011 at 12:51 #

    None of my tweets are sponsored, but if I tweet about a brand or something I like I have started using the hashtag notasponsoredtweet, which I know Davina McCall and celebs use too.

  2. Rachael (Tales from the Village) 04 February 2011 at 13:04 #

    Is it just me that wants to scream slightly at all of this? I use #notasponsoredtweet as a joke more than anything, but tbh it just seems that all the fun is being taken out of blogging. I’ve made a decision not to do advertising, sponsored posts or any PR stuff on my blog. Maybe I need a disclaimer somewhere to that effect?

  3. Rosie Scribble 04 February 2011 at 14:17 #

    I think there needs to be more clarification when it comes to tweets. If I tweet about a sponsored post (which I don’t do that often), is that a sponsored tweet? The tweet hasn’t been paid for but the blog content is clearly marked sponsored post. ???

  4. grit 04 February 2011 at 14:30 #

    i fear bmb is now the sales arm of the blogging world! you’re using the words ‘blogging’ and ‘all of us’, and i feel quite excluded. i’m not after a market share and i don’t see that my blog must necessarily give itself up to a market discourse, ‘appropriate’ disclosure, and maybe some badges. i bet there are thousands of bloggers who do not expect to enter into this framework. i will have to say, three cheers for non-sponsored driven blogging. is bmb now a network to come only for those interested in marketing?

  5. Abby 04 February 2011 at 15:09 #

    I also don’t want adverts or sponsored posts on my blog and it’s so refreshing to hear other bloggers say the same.
    I knew the issue of transparency was a hot one and so I recently put a little something at the end of one of my posts clarifying that none of my posts had ever been sponsored in any way whatsoever, but really? I guess I just feel like if you don’t think a certain blogger is being transparent or ethical in regards to PR related things, stop reading their blog. Maybe that’s too simplistic?
    And from a purely aesthetic point of view, from someone who loves simple, clean, clutter-free blogs, I’m not overly excited about the idea of more badges.

  6. Rachael (Tales from the Village) 04 February 2011 at 15:51 #

    Further to my comment, I found this: http://www.adfreeblog.org/ – I’ve seen the little logo on several of my favourite blogs, and whilst I don’t necessarily agree with the sentiment (if you want to have corporate advertising on your blog, that’s your choice) it does the trick.

  7. LauraCYMFT 04 February 2011 at 16:31 #

    I think if you choose to use sponsored content on your blog then it should be enough to have some sort of disclosure policy and then in the title of the post the word review or whatever and then labels such as review, sponsored post etc. I have a separate review blog where I make it clear that my content is sponsored however if it hasn’t been sponsored then I’ll make this clear too. If I tweet something about a review I’ve done I don’t hashtag it to say it’s sponsored or not sponsored, it’s clear enough if a person chooses to read the post.

    • AngelaC 08 December 2011 at 16:15 #

      I agree with Laura, if you have put a disclosure of some sort on ur blog post that it’s sponsored, then there isn’t a point to complicate things by adding # on tweets as well.

      Initially I thought a disclosure image would be nice on the post, but it just doesnt fit and make the posts look horrible. So I chose to write a sentence at the end of the post like:

      Disclosure: I was given/ paid with bla bla bla; all opinions are honest and my own.

      If it contains sponsored materials (something the PR wants u to put on thats more than just embedded links) then I’d say so at the beginning of the post.

      I think as long as you have a disclosure message of some sort, anything that suit you, on your post, you have done your bit.

  8. Expat Mum 04 February 2011 at 20:59 #

    @Rosie – I would say that a Tweet about a spnsored blog is still promoting the product and thus should be designated the #sp (which I think is a great hastag BTW). Better safe than sorry.

  9. Expat Mum 04 February 2011 at 21:03 #

    The law has been like this for some time over here, PLUS you’re supposed to declare all the freebies as taxable income.
    I can’t be bothered with all that so I tend to be a review free blog.

  10. Rosie Scribble 04 February 2011 at 22:33 #

    Yes, I agree with you. But I wonder if companies realise this. I’ve been encouraged to tweet sponsored posts but including #sp or similar has never been mentioned.

  11. Jennifer Howze 05 February 2011 at 09:49 #

    Laura, I agree that if you’re just tweeting a link to a review, you wouldn’t necessarily need a #sp. Rather, the ones that have been flagged in the past are the ones where the tweet itself is the endorsement msg. Eg, “Love the new widget from Company X”.

  12. Ellen Arnison 05 February 2011 at 18:21 #

    Oh dear. This all seems to get a bit boggy, doesn’t it?
    I clearly mark my posts with whatever it’s appropriate, ie. this is a sponsored post, I was given an x to review or whatever. If I review something I paid for, i say so too. (I take my lead from print media where advertorials are marked as such and everything provided for review is provided free – including pretty much everything on the travel pages!)
    I don’t tend to tweet about sponsored posts thereby solving the problem.
    However, I think readers are pretty savvy about when they are seeing an advert or not. It’s usually fairly obvious. I don’t think we need to get too tangled up about this.

  13. not a notting hill mum 06 February 2011 at 00:39 #

    I rarely review ( twice so far I think) but I occasionally recommend things I think are great and tend to point out in an unnecessarily long paragraph at the end of the post the minute details of my involvement ( Or I should say lack of) with the company. FOr me the badge is unneccessary because I would rather be absolutely clear and specific – but could be useful for review sites

  14. Helen Grounds 06 February 2011 at 10:24 #

    I tend to put in my post that the product I’ve reviewed was provided to me and a link to the company’s website.

  15. Victoria Sorzano 07 February 2011 at 12:45 #

    I think the badges sound great – I do mostly unsponsored reviews of local places/products but as I’ve got better known, some people are offering me free tryouts to write reviews. A visual badge would be a quick and easy way to let readers know exactly what they’re getting with each review. Thanks so much for doing this.

  16. Hot Cross Mum 07 February 2011 at 14:25 #

    Flippin’ heck. I think I need a sponsored coffee and some reviewed biscuits to take this all in.

  17. Jennifer Howze 07 February 2011 at 14:32 #

    How much do you charge for sponsoring your coffee?

  18. Alex 07 February 2011 at 14:38 #

    I don’t see what difference a badge will make unless BMB polices the sites registered with it, which with the best will in the world they have neither the time nor the inclination to do.
    The ills of the world are seldom mitigated with the use of a jpg or GIF 🙂

  19. Jennifer Howze 07 February 2011 at 14:44 #

    Alex, you’re absolutely right. The idea, however, is to make it easier for readers to tell at a glance where content falls on the spectrum – whether it came out of a blogger buying a product or receiving it free to review, whether they are working with a company or just an ardent fan of it, and so on.
    When more and more blogs start displaying this type of info, it becomes industry standard, and aids everyone by showing where the blog and reader stands in relationship to the content.

  20. Alex 07 February 2011 at 16:04 #

    Take a blog that shows both the badges I can see to my right,the membership badge and the integrity badge. If this hypothetical blog is not disclosing transactions properly at the moment with the integrity badge on their blog, why is having a selection of new badges for actual posts going to make any difference?
    Personally I think the integrity badge just gives a false sense of security and people that are honest and upfront already wont need any new badges but people who are a little dishonest at times and are the ones who need policing wont be affected.
    IMHO BMB should have a shop a blogger form, with a two strikes and you’re out policy for people that flout disclosure guidelines. That’s more likely to work in my book because it disassociates people from BMB who don’t uphold the ethical side of things, rather than giving badges with empty promises.

  21. anonymous 08 February 2011 at 07:44 #

    A ‘shop a blogger’ form? Where are we, Salem?

  22. Jennifer Howze 08 February 2011 at 10:02 #

    The thing about these badges is that you use them within posts (not in the right-hand column) and the badge itself is disclosure. By it being there it tells the reader “this was a press trip” or “I received this product free” or whatever, depending on which badge you use. So there’s no need for enforcement of compliance if people use them, because the badge demonstrates compliance. We’re working on creating some – it will be easier to understand when you see them.
    In any case, these aren’t rules we’re laying down as part of BMB membership; these are regulations the OFT is enforcing. We want to encourage BMB members to get educated about them and comply voluntarily.

  23. Alex 08 February 2011 at 11:13 #

    Hi anonymous blogger, I’ll reply to you, despite the fact you lack the courage to use your real ID 🙂
    It’s hardly Salem, self policing is nothing new. Why on earth wouldn’t you want to be behind a scheme that would stop a naughty few bringing the rest of us in to disrepute?

  24. Alex 08 February 2011 at 11:14 #

    I thought the OFT had explicitly said they weren’t enforcing the regulations against individual bloggers or have I misread their commentary?
    Either way I look forward with interest to seeing more badges 🙂

  25. Sally Whittle 08 February 2011 at 16:41 #

    While I support any attempt to improve disclosure and I have often commented in the past year that ‘sponsored post’ is not a catch-all disclosure statement, I’m not sure about this.
    The reality is that if, as a network, BMB sets itself up as a ‘mark of integrity’ then it risks being caught in the fallout if anyone who displays that badge demonstrates a lack of integrity. And what is the value of a BMB ‘mark’ if the mark isn’t monitored, audited or subject to any kind of checks and balances?
    Personally, I’d suggest bloggers who want to use in-post disclosure use CMP.ly badges (http://cmp.ly/), which are independent, not tied to any specific brand or organisation, and are easily recognised outside of a single network or community.
    I tend to find a clear disclosure statement at the end of a post is enough for me, though, as I rarely do sponsored content.

  26. Natalie 09 February 2011 at 10:39 #

    I think, that while badges are well intentioned, they miss the point. A lot. The purpose of marking content and making clear what your blog is about is for the reader. Putting aside blogs for a moment, when a magazine marks content as an advertorial, it isn’t for the benefit of other magazines. It is also clear when you pick up that magazine that it is a commercial vehicle hence the person who reads it expects advertising – they just want to be clear that when something is in the editorial, that is unbiased and if it is commercial, it is marked.
    That is why badges miss the point. Unless you have shag all readers, you don’t just have bloggers reading your blog and really, the only people who ever look at badges, are yes, other bloggers. I don’t write my blogs for bloggers – I write for my readers and in anything I do, I think about how that affects or can be interpreted by my audience.
    The issue here presents itself because there are people who are writing ‘personal blogs’ but trying to mix commercial but not being upfront about it. The OFT issue with Handpicked was of course right because they are not only a network that is running commercial content, but at times, when they run that content, it appears on blogs that are not immediately obvious that there is a commercial aspect.
    It is time for bloggers who mix commercial aspects with their personal blogs to decide what they are doing.
    There is nothing wrong with not running ads, comps, sponsored content, whatever, Equally there is nothing wrong *with* running ads etc. Where I take issue is that people want to have it every which way and be disingenuous. They want to play ‘personal’ and run a shake down like a money maker. They want to take vouchers for a post and then expect people not to realise that 50 other blogs are doing exactly the same post and a handful of them are disclosing.
    The fact that people feel a need to put a badge on their blog instead of leading through *actual* transparency – disclosure page, clearly marked sponsor post, reviews etc – speaks volumes.
    I agree with Rachel – all this stuff either makes me want to scream or grind my teeth. What the hell has happened to common sense? Why do people have to talk the nth degree out of stuff and look down on those who do/those who don’t? Talk about trying to suck the life out of something!
    It’s very simple – if you are writing the post because you accepted payment or there was some direct or indirect agreement that in exchange for taking something, you would write the post, it’s a sponsored post. It’s also as simple as saying in the post ‘I recently received X from Y to check out’. I mean seriously, it’s not rocket science!
    And if your only motivation to write about product is based primarily on the receipt of goods from others (i.e you wouldn’t write about product otherwise), your content is commercial and it *is* influenced.

  27. New Mummy 09 February 2011 at 16:14 #

    This is all so depressing. I am honest with my posts, I put if its a review or a sponsored post. I don’t see why I then have to add badges as well, its just getting overcomplicated. Badges and disclosures will only work if everyone is doing the same thing.
    I find this is all getting a bit witch hunty with purist bloggers ready with the pitch forks waiting for those you decided that they want to write reviews or sponsored posts to fall down.