Posts Tagged ‘blogs’

FTC Crashes Ann Taylor’s Party

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Clothing retailer LOFT – an Ann Taylor brand – has come under fire by the FTC for offering gift cards as an incentive for bloggers to post about a January 2010 preview event. Bloggers who posted within 24 hours of the event were eligible to win as gift cards valued between $10 and $500.

The press surrounding the FTC action, which has consisted of mostly blog coverage, has seen mixed reactions from those familiar with the fashion industry. FTC guidelines demand that bloggers make clear to readers when they receive complimentary services or products – a guideline that does not officially exist for the magazine industry, although it is understood that journalists should not accept gifts for coverage. Although this is understood by the industry, “fashion payola” happens on a regular basis with brands offering clothing, product or services to be used in magazine spreads and often purchasing advertising space adjacent to the spread featuring their product.

Similarly, the Ann Taylor event offered a preview of their upcoming Spring 2010 line and the chance to win gift cards valued up to $500. This in itself would comply by the FTC rules however the brand proceeded to add the stipulation that bloggers must post within 24 hours to be eligible for the chance to win:

“Please note all bloggers must post coverage from our event to their blog within 24 hours in order to be eligible. Links to post must be sent to [address], along with the code on the back of your gift card distributed to you at the event. You will be notified of your gift card amount by February 2. Gift card amounts will vary from $10 to $500.”

While traditional media holds its fair share of back-scratching, this notice is not one that would be issued to print media journalists. The LA Times states: “…there’s a tacit understanding between clothing brands and fashion journalists that editorial coverage isn’t something you can buy or barter for.”

However, bloggers are a whole new ball game when it comes to brand coverage. From a PR perspective, putting on “preview” parties and other such events are a gamble. Sometimes they receive a flurry of attention and other times they’re a waste of time and resources. Ironically enough, the lack of coverage is what will save Ann Taylor from receiving a hefty fine from the FTC. In a statement released April 20th, the FTC decided to not pursue “enforcement action” against the brand due to the fact that this was the first event of its kind, the lack of actual blogger coverage and a company-wide rule that was enacted in early February forbidding any other contests of this kind.

This is certainly an interesting case study for retailers. Apparently, the FTC was not joking when they created these guidelines and brands who are attempting to gain blogger coverage, such as Ann Taylor, need to carefully consider the potential legal entanglement that may come from offering complimentary products and services with a posting requirement.

A Day In The Internet

Friday, December 18th, 2009

This graphic tells a compelling story about just how central the internet is to communication and content development on a daily basis.  The numbers are amazing – and it looks pretty too.

A Day in the Internet
Created by Online Education

Reactions to FTC Blogger Guidelines

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

As we reported on Monday, the Federal Trade Commission updated their compliance guidelines for the FTC Act, the first such update in 29 years.  While the changes do affect a few outdated rules the main goal of the document was to cleanly define what bloggers can and can’t do online.  The guidelines state:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

The need for these rules is clear and somewhat past due. As marketing becomes more conversation oriented, we need to protect consumers from unfair and unethical claims.  It is why we believe in transparency and the Blog with Integrity movement. Unfortunately I’m hesitant to embrace the guidelines as fully as blogs like Mashable have done. Specifically, I’m having trouble with three big issues:

  1. Scope- The term blogger is being used very loosely here.  Under these guidelines blogs, Twitter, even Facebook fan pages could be under the discretion of the FTC. While I understand the need to tackle many web properties at once (since updates are infrequent), I don’t know if the best way to lump everyone in together.  Considering that anything that is considered a “material connection” could be scrutinized, how is everyone supposed to comply? How many people even know about these guidelines in the first place? And where do rating sites like Amazon or Yelp fit into all of this?
  2. A Double Standard? –  Why are bloggers being singled out? As Jeff Jarvis points out, “The FTC also concedes that it treats critics at publications differently – less stringently – than bloggers.” Most bloggers don’t consider themselves journalists and don’t make their living reviewing things like some journalists do, but why compound the point and have two sets of rules. It just doesn’t make sense.
  3. Enforcement- Eleven thousand dollars is a lot of money to most people and makes it seem like the FTC might be the “new” RIAA. Some fines will be covered by brands, but considering that these fines will be judged on a “case by case” basis, it is hard to guess where the first strike will land. Will a Twitter mention receive the same discretion as a blog post? Will the little guy get hit with large fines as much as the big fish?   With the FTC ‘s Richard Cleland telling book blogs to return books after reviews, how much will people need to disclose to avoid a potential fine? As much as this guy?

I think that the new guidelines are clearly a step in the right direction. With some additional edits and clarifications, this document could protect many consumers without hurting the online conversation.  However considering that this is the first update in almost 30 years, I think that the FTC should re-evaluate how their perception on how social media works.  Who knows maybe at the next update in 2038, we will see some real progress!

What do you think of the recent guidelines? Will it change how you blog?

Photo Courtsey of Robyn Gallagher.

Speed Kills: Why Being the First to Break News Means You Aren’t the Last

Monday, July 20th, 2009
Meme Curve

Meme Curve | Zachary M. Seward, The Nieman Journalism Lab

Last week, Zachary M. Seward at The Nieman Journalism Lab put together an interesting post about breaking news, the origins of memes and how the influence of news orginzations (blogs included) fit into the big picture of information dissemination on the web.  From the post:

Another way of looking at the data is that influential blogs hanging out on the far-left tail are more likely to report on iterative developments as they happen, while mainstream news outlets feel compelled to fit memes into a broader narrative. The study lists several phrases that were first “discovered” by blogs more than a week before peaking, like when Sarah Palin quoted Ronald Reagan at the end of a debate. That immediately raised flags among bloggers who identified the quote’s origins in a 1961 Reagan speech opposing Medicare, but it didn’t gain traction until more than a week later, when Medicare briefly became an issue in the 2008 campaign.

However you view the chart, it feels like each news organization has situated itself quite intentionally along the curve, staking out a role in the political news cycle. With the meme-tracking technique demonstrated in Kleinberg’s study, news outlets could themselves keep track of where they stand and adjust their reporting strategy if they prefer another spot on the cure. They might consider, for instance, whether they add anything at all to the political discourse by reporting on a meme so close to its peak.

This falls in line pretty succintly with the constant argument surrounding networks like Twitter vs. networks like CNN when it comes to “breaking news.”  Lots of critics cry that major news networks are far behind the “8 ball” when it comes to this capacity.  While that might be true when it comes to event-reporting, I’m often seeing too many people make blind arguments/sweeping generalizations about news outlets for other types of reporting.  It’s pretty tough for 140 characters to give you all the context you’ll ever need about current events and, according to Zach’s research, it looks like news organizations large and small are appropriately finding their place in line vs. constantly fueling an arms race that will likely never end.

An Open Dialogue with Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of BlogHer

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009


Elisa Camahort Page is one of the co-founders of the women blogging organization, BlogHer, along with Lisa Stone and Jory Des Jardins. Elisa has been a marketing executive for 18 years in Silicon Valley, and currently leads all events, marketing and public relations for BlogHer.

Prior to BlogHer, Elisa ran Worker Bees, a marketing consultancy company. Elisa can be found on several blog, including: Worker Bees Blog, where she writes about marketing, social media, customer service and web 2.0 initiatives; Healthy Concerns, where she writes about health 2.0 and healthcare from the patient’s point of view; and Elisa’s Green Scene, a collection of green news in areas from design to cooking to politics.

In addition to the BlogHer events, Elisa is also a frequent speaker, having made recent appearances at SXSW and Fem2.0.


DM: BlogHer’s fourth annual conference is coming up in less than two months. What’s new on the agenda that attendees can look forward to?

ECP: Every year we try to mix it up, so there are indeed new topics on the agenda, such as:
• A travelblogging session
• Sessions around healthcare and medblogging
• A mini-writing workshop from Katie Orenstein of the Op-Ed Project
• An ongoing Geek Lab with presentations, tutorials and the opportunity to just informally connect and hack solutions all day long

When creating the schedule for the conference, what are your goals? What do you hope bloggers get out of the conference?

Our goal is truly to have something for everyone, to feature new, fresh, diverse voices, and to highlight the true diversity and quality to be found at every corner of the blogosphere. We hope bloggers walk away from every session with something they want to do, to try, to talk about, to tell someone about or to share.

Last year, the New York Times story became a bit of a scandal, but I was intrigued by the title of the piece, “Blogging’s Glass Ceiling.” Do you think BlogHer and women have broken a ceiling by blogging? If so, how?

Blogging provides the opportunity for every person to have their own personal platform to use as they wish. Some people use it purely for personal expression and connecting with friends and family. Others use it to promote their ideas and their work. Still others want to parlay their blogs into businesses. Blogging is just the tool. A very accessible and powerful tool. It’s your intent that defines what you can do with it. So yes, many women have had breakthrough facilitated, even precipitated by their blogs! Still others have simply discovered they are not alone with whatever issues they’re dealing with. It’s all good.

What do you think is the biggest barrier for women bloggers or for women who want to become bloggers?

Well, again, it entirely depends on what they want to achieve. There is certainly no barrier to get started. Many tools are even free, so you could start a blog on the computers at your local library. From there, this question could be answered many different ways. Certainly there are more blogs than ever, so finding a way to stand out is a challenge for us all. Often the best blogs reflect a lot of work on the part of the blogger, so our time-impoverished lives are another challenge. The biggest barrier is probably misconceptions about how much it costs, or how hard it is, or how scary the Internet is. To which I always just say: Start a blog and give it a shot. You’ve got to do it to get it sometimes! Certainly true with Twitter ;)

Why do you think it’s important for the companies to get involved with BlogHer?

Because BlogHer is the leading participatory news, entertainment and information network for women online today. The women in our network are hard to find via other channels, and yet they are your customers…and influencing your customers. We now reach over 14MM unique visitors per month…most of whom report being influenced by blogs to make purchases. As a commercial power, women bloggers are hard to beat! BlogHer is deeply invested and engaged in this community. We are part of this community. We know what makes this community tick. That being said, we also have business and professional journalism in our backgrounds, so we are out there figuring out the best practices for this blogger outreach. It’s a great combination of broad reach, deep engagement and best practices!

Women bloggers are mostly known for mommybloggers, because of their influence in the family and buying power. Do you see any other up-and-coming niches of women?

I don’t know if I agree that women bloggers are mostly known for mommybloggers. I would agree that consumer companies certainly recognize that buying power. But the media and political infrastructure pays a lot more attention to other segments of the blogosphere. What I see is that many women hate to be nichified at all. At BlogHer we don’t silo a woman’s interest. Our conference and our web community cover every topic under the sun…and women can hop from commenting about politics to commenting about parenting. We encourage companies to see that women who blog are influential and powerful consumers, whether they’re mom, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, daughters…

Graduation day is right around the corner for many public relations students. If you were professors at the University of BlogHer, what would be your closing remarks to your students?

It’s our mantra regarding best practices:

• Ask, don’t tell
• Listen before speaking
• Be transparent and fully disclose
• Forget about “the A-List”, find YOUR A-List, the bloggers out there who already care about the same values you care about and products or services you represent
Remember, we’re doing fine out here in the blogosphere without you. We’re building trusted community and finding empowerment. What are you doing to be trustworthy? How can you empower us?

Everyone talks about the A-list mommybloggers, like Heather Armstrong at Dooce, but who are three up-and-coming women bloggers that you think we should keep on our RSS feed so we can say “we knew them when…”?

There isn’t one blogosphere, there are many. There are three, four, ten up-and-coming women who blog in every blogging topic there is. I couldn’t possibly choose just three :)