WOMMA Webinar – Ethics, Endorsements & Disclosure

September 15th, 2009
Author: John Ratcliffe-Lee
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Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen-in on a webinar being presented by WOMMA about Ethics and Endorsements on today’s web.  Specifically, discussion surrounding best practices for disclosure (summary of reactions).  With the FTC’s regulations pending, the panel kicked-off WOMMA’s efforts to create an industry-wide set of standards and defenitions for marketers and communication professionals when it comes to disclosing brand involvement, affiliation, compensation, etc.

It was a solid panel and discussion presented by several big voices – John Bell, Jory Des Jardin, Sean Corcoran, Tom Collinger and Anthony DiResta.  Most of the discussion surrounded how different parties would approach disclosure – mainly marketers & brands vs. publishers.  Each panelist was able to offer unique perspective in relation to their background – especially POV from Mr. Collinger & DiResta, who spoke about the actual definitions and legal fortitude of disclosure.  Building legal language standards and definite explicit points of view for disclosure can help clarify confusion – especially for the consumer who, often, don’t have the history and background about a relationship a marketer or publisher has when they first click on that link.

John Bell was able to kick-off the panel with several practical points of advice for brands and influencers to work with whenever entering into a relationship where editorial opinion could be affected:

  • Create terms of engagement for both parties – being clear and explicit about the terms of the program, make them public as well.
  • Official agreement promising true opinion – to protect both the publisher, brand and most importantly, the reader.
  • Disclosure execution – explicit explanations per post and on the greater property (i.e. blog, Twitter, etc.)
  • Stick to your guns – show your readers that these set of ethics permeate throughout by adding notes in bio sections and aligning with organizations like Blog With Integrity or WOMMA

Jory and BlogHer’s standards for disclosure represented the best tactical examples on the panel but I think the true publisher voice was missing.  What about the people writing these posts and running these blogs?  Their perspective would’ve added valuable context to this discussion.  Certainly, how an author wants to and does handle affiliation on their property is a necessary piece to include when discussing relationships between brands and those whom they’re trying to influence (both the publisher and the publisher’s audience).

Since the webinar and sitting down to write this post I’ve had several healthy discussions with people who are both close and far from this subject.  With signs pointing towards sponsored conversations, how does that affect the value of engagement?  My colleague Laura and I would argue that outright sponsorship, even with proper disclosure, devalues a brand’s participation ROI.  In theory, an influencer’s audience is engaged for reasons that a sponsored conversation can’t support.  I’m most likely reading someone else’s blog because I value their opinion or perspective.  When I find out that they’re being paid to express such – credibility is lost (regardless of negative or positive opinion).

A full summary will eventually be live on WOMMA’s Ethics Review blog but, in the meantime, how do you feel about disclosure?  What are your standards?

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