Many bloggers publish sponsored reviews on their blogs where they review products for payment or simply in return for being allowed to test drive a product or service. For years, the practice of writing sponsored reviews has been the subject of debate across the blogosphere. Sure, it’s nice to get free products and it’s even nicer to get paid to write a review, but doing so can bring negative backlash, most commonly in the form of decreased Google search rankings if bloggers don’t disclose that they’re writing reviews in return for free products or payment (and if they don’t use the “NoFollow” HTML tag in links).
More recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken notice, and according to a post on TechCrunch, the era of publishing sponsored reviews without full disclosure appears to be at its end. The FTC isn’t trying to put an end to sponsored reviews entirely. They just want full disclosure, so consumers can make purchasing decisions with all the facts in hand.
It’s also important to understand that, according to Business Week, the new guidelines that the FTC is creating for release sometime later this year are not laws. They’re “more guidelines really” — kind of like “the code” in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. However, they can be used to sue someone in an attempt to enforce the FTC guidelines. The FTC also points out that advertisers should have some responsiblity for controlling the bloggers that publish sponsored reviews for them to ensure the guidelines are followed.
There are many kinds of sponsored reviews, from the sponsored review sites that don’t always require disclosure such as PayPerPost.com and ReviewMe.com to the slightly more transparent SocialSpark.com or the direct-to-blogger sponsored review where a company contacts a blogger directly with an offer. Regardless of which method a blogger participates in, the FTC guidelines will still apply. Bloggers beware.