Gwen Bell Interviews Stephanie Precourt About Blogging for Money
The world's more ambitious bloggers like to call themselves 'citizen journalists.' The government is trying to make sure these heralds don't turn into citizen advertisers. - Douglas MacMillan today at BusinessWeek.com
Today, Stephanie Precourt, a stay-at-home-mom with a teething baby, who runs the blog Adventures in Babywearing, is doing the laundry and getting her family ready for her to participate in #gno, Girls Night Out, on Twitter this evening. So it came as a surprise to her that she was suddenly in the middle of a blogger storm after she was included in today's BusinessWeek piece, "Blogola: The FTC Takes On Paid Posts."
I emailed and followed up with a call to Stephanie to find out her take on the article, paid blogging and the FTC.
Q: Stephanie, you were cited today in an article in BusinessWeek, "Blogola: The FTC Takes on Paid Posts." The article, in short, references your recent piece covering/endorsing ERGOBaby and goes on to say that the FTC will be cracking down this summer on bloggers who are paid, or encouraged through incentives, to blog about a company. What's your response to the article?
Stephanie: I think it is nothing new- we've been hearing about the FTC's plans lately, and I feel like I have been honest all along by letting my readers know when I am writing about a trip or item I have been sent.
Q: You say in your response to the piece (on your own blog, to which BusinessWeek, notably, did not link):
If it had not been sent to me for free, I probably wouldn't have been able to purchase it and try it. Especially with having so many carriers already, I just wouldn't have been able to justify it. But I get many emails from first time babywearers wanting to know what to purchase early on, or if they have the money, would such an item be worth it? It is also a popular search term in my search box in my sidebar. So I am thankful to have the opportunity to try it out and compare, and then let you know what I think about it.
I think this is a great point. You say, "I have the opportunity to try it out," and I approach these offerings in a similar way. Do you think the company is getting the better end of the deal here? At the end of the day, we are promoting them in an authentic, trust-building way. We become experts on branding/whatever product we are covering. But beyond that? Is the reward worth it for us - for the coverage and goodwill it creates for them? Can you put a price tag on creating a trusting base of consumers?
Stephanie: I don't really think you can put a price tag on it. I do think the company is getting the better end of the deal, because I have established a relationship with my readers and have their trusting attention. But at the same time, I find this is fair to my readers, whom I consider my friends. And I could never put a price tag on them. I have just gone with the flow and feel like once I start putting a price on it then it might not be worth as much.
Q: Do you think the FTC will have any success in enforcing these new requirements if they go through? Do you believe there is any way to regulate the blogger community? Further, should it be regulated? Should we be required to disclose endorsements?
Stephanie: I think it is important to disclose endorsements and I prefer to see it somewhere near the beginning of the post rather than at the very end. But as long as it's there, I think it avoids any misunderstanding. I don't know how the FTC will go about the new requirements- apparently as is happening now, the bloggers will probably regulate each other. (By turning each other in, maybe?) And it will probably get uglier than it is now. Because what is clear to some is not clear to others. Who draws that line? Should anyone, including the FTC draw that line? I am afraid it will do more harm than good.
Q: When we see a ball player, a country music singer or actress wearing this brand of sunglasses or that brand of shirt because they were paid X number of dollars to wear it (or given it for free), do you feel we're being marketed to or manipulated? Do you think they should say, during their interview at the Grammy's reception, "by the way, ----------- paid me ----------- to wear this dress?" Is there any difference in this situation than for us as social media consumer/producers?
Stephanie: I feel the same way sometimes, but would not want to suggest I am some kind of celebrity. If a celebrity I think is fashionable is wearing something that I like, I don't care if they paid for it or it was given to them. If they chose to wear it, then I think that is enough influence. I think my readers know me well enough that if I choose to talk about something, it's because I actually think it's cool and it's not only because I got it for free. It's something I will allow in my life or to reflect on me no matter who paid for it.
I think it will get really old if I have to post a picture of my baby and say: I bought this outfit for her with my own money! But I think it's honest, and a plug for the company, if I was sent something she is wearing and in the post I mention that. That's just how I feel and want to continue to be honest. In the social media/blogging setting I think we're going to have to be up front about what is sponsored or given to us at all times in order for our other words to be taken seriously by our peers. And vice versa.
Q: What are you going to take away from this experience? Will you continue to review products? Will it change any of your behaviors (either towards new or "old" media - as BusinessWeek is for all intents and purposes is in this instance - you can't go in and edit to show what you said/wanted reflected in the story)?
Stephanie: I will continue to be extra careful to disclose to my readers about anything that was given to me to post about. And I will be very cautious when talking to journalists. I am already extra picky about what I choose to accept and write about. I just want to blog! My readers know me and "get me." I think that's why I have a hard time when I am misunderstood. Clearly if someone thinks I am misleading them by talking about a free product, then they should not read my blog.
To his credit, Douglas MacMillan went back and clarified, in his comments on his piece, "that we've made a correction per feedback from Stephanie Precourt, one of the bloggers discussed in this story. Previously, we incorrectly published that in a recent blog post, she disclosed the fact that she received a baby carrier product free from the company after making certain positive comments about it. In fact, she was upfront with her readers that she received the carrier at no charge. In any case, the proposed FTC guidelines for blog endorsements do not specify where in an entry these disclosures need to be made, and from what I've seen of Stephanie's blog, Adventures in Babywearing, she meets the criteria that's been outlined by the government agency. By using her as an example, I was trying to illustrate that relationships with bloggers are becoming an increasingly valuable tool for some advertisers."
What's your take on this? Please share your thoughts in the comments here, "@" Stephanie or me (she's @babysteph and I'm @gwenbell on Twitter) or let us know tonight using the hash tag #gno. See you there to continue the discussion!