The recently published Federal Trade Commissions "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (16 CFR Part 255)" addressing blogging and social media has received a good deal of attention lately. These rules largely codify marketing best practices of ethical marketers, PR professionals and bloggers. That said, there are a good deal of companies, even at the Fortune 500 level, where PR and marketing departments give, for instance, bloggers free products, travel, cash and gifts in return for influence or to outright ensure certain messaging occurs. It is due to these practices that I believe the FTC guidelines are necessary and beneficial for both consumers and ethical marketers who compete against marketers who choose to take the low road.
The reality of social media today is that it is still largely the wild West. Unlike traditional journalists, bloggers are not brought up in a profession where a code of ethics is critical to one's professional reputation and livelihood. All too often, marketers and PR professionals emerge who are eager to buy the influence of a blogger or social media user, even in small markets. I have witnessed it with both large and small companies and markets. Social media has changed the way companies market and it is clear that new, uniform rules must be put into place to ensure fair play.
The guidelines really will not have much impact on the way the ethical practitioners operate, except for their requiring monitoring postings to ensure compliance. While I think the monitoring posts will be difficult to police, I do think it is a sound idea that should be a component for managing this area for any marketing department.