Posted on | June 1, 2009 | 6 Comments
Summary: Marketing departments are doing their best to figure out how to leverage social media and thatâ€™s putting major strain on ethics in an age where influential bloggers, tweeters and the like can be bought. Ultimately, good companies want independent and ethical b.s. filters for their messages. Really.
It’s an old story: Reporter-writer accepts free travel, meals and lodging and turns in a favorable review of a product made by the company that footed the bill. Itâ€™s a story that repeats itself time after time. Most recently, The Wall Street Journal called out Robert M. Parkerâ€™s Wine Advocate for supposed ethical lapses among its writers.
â€œLast September, when critic Jay Miller visited Australia to review various makers’ wines, an industry group, Wine Australia, paid about $25,000 for his air travel, hotel accommodations and meals, says James Gosper, the group’s director for North America. The trip was one of more than a half-dozen instances of such paid-for travel by writers for the newsletter in recent years. The trips haven’t been disclosed in the newsletter.â€
The source for the hubbub originally came from Tyler Colmanâ€™s Dr. Vino site, which published a response from Parkerâ€”who personally adheres to some solid ethical guidelines. Parker was none too pleased.
This is case of an established publication with established ethical guidelines having classical ethical breakdowns.
In a world in which traditional media is struggling to cover its world, free trips to conferences and the like are increasingly common (heck, in one sense companies used to foot the bill indirectly through advertising support, but no more).
Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread
Now extend that to an emerge world of journalism, the blogo-twitter-sphere, where few of the participants have experience with journalismâ€™s ethos. Free swag? What the heck not?? Review your product and get a yearâ€™s supply? Whatâ€™s not to like?
PR 2.0 guy Brian Solis had a thorough overview of the situation recently on TechCrunch: This is Not a Sponsored Post.
â€œUnder new guidelines proposed by the Federal Trade Commission, brands and bloggers both may be held liable should either the FTC or scorned consumers deem that their actions or claims misguided them, or misrepresented the actual performance or efficacy of the product or service in question.
According to the FTC, theability for a consumer to exercise better judgment and common sense is indefensible when a glaring absence of disclosure is pervasive.â€
Hereâ€™s a link to those FTC ethics guidelines.
Amid all the change in media today, itâ€™s still clear to me that companies, even those dabbling in these swag-for-coverage plays, still want their products and services vetted by impartial reviewers.
Traditional media has guidelines because to put food on the table they have to appear impartial. Thatâ€™s a big value add (still). An emerging class of citizen journalist-pitchmen puts food on the table by helping sell product.
I can only hope that soon people will begin to view these reports and reviews they respond to multilevel marketing pitches: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.