Social Media and Full Disclosure

One great benefit of social media is its ability to gives the average consumer a real voice regarding a product or service. You may or may not like that new gizmo, or think it’s great but too expensive. Whatever your thoughts, you can easily find an Internet outlet to share them. And now, thanks to the professional blogger, it seems that’s become a bit of a problem.

You see, some professional bloggers receive free products in exchange for reviews. It’s not uncommon or an inherently bad thing. But the FTC has decided that it could cause confusion, and has put new guidelines in place to address that confusion. So if you provide online reviews and receive free products or compensation for a product review or endorsement, you are now required to disclose that.

I can understand the FTC’s reasoning. My review of a new television that I’ve just purchased down the street surely carries more credibility than the review from someone who was just paid for a review of that same TV (or given the TV, for that matter).

My only issue with this new guideline: the same rules don’t apply to traditional media. If a travel writer receives a free vacation when they write a travel magazine story on that trip, the FTC says there’s no need to disclose that… so long as the review goes in a print magazine. The FTC claims that people understand that these writers receive free stuff, so it doesn’t need to be stated.

I disagree. I can think of any number of technology magazines that consistently provide glowing reviews for the products of those who advertise with them, while those same products receive sub-par reviews throughout the rest of the print media. I realize that in a perfect world, editorial content will be completely separated from advertising. But it’s not a perfect world.

So let’s be consistent. Why not make a policy that’s fair across the board? If one media needs to make these types of disclosures, why shouldn’t it apply to all? Seems like we’re still having a hard time keeping up with technology as it continues to touch our daily lives. We really need to stop treating new media as an exception, bring it into the fold of all media, and be consistent with our rules.

Or at least that’s my opinion.