I’ve been watching the blog/twitter/email conversations about the new FTC ruling regarding disclosure of freebies, paid blogging, and endorsements. My thoughts about this are:
- Rarely does anyone send me something free to review. (But I love books! If anyone wants to send me books to review, feel free! I’ll totally disclose that you gave it to me free. No problem. )
- I’m not going to stop recommending things I like. That would just take the fun out of, well, everything.
- I have paid blogging assignments, for businesses.
Where do company bloggers fit in?
One aspect of this ruling I’ve thought about a lot is the fact that I write/blog/create content for a lot of businesses and individuals, and, yes, I’m paid for it. However, I consider myself more of a contract copywriter than anything else. So, even though the medium I’m using is a blog or twitter or whatever, the message is sort of similar to any other company-generated marketing pieces, only I write it from my own point of view. That’s where the line gets BLURRY. For some people.
When I first started writing for the Queensboro Blog, a little over a year ago, my first thought wasn’t, “How can I cover up all of the junk that goes on at work?” (because there really ISN’T that much junk that goes on, not compared to my other previous workplaces). Honestly, my first thought was “How in the HECK am I going to write about SHIRTS every day, or even every few days?” You can judge how successful I’ve been if you visit the blog.
But, when I first started, and put up my bio on the blog, one of my co-workers accused me of writing smarmy, fake, bullcrap as my bio. He said I sounded like a FAKE PERSON. (He’s running for City Council this fall, but that’s an entirely different subject.) After a giant email war, lots of whispered screaming, and a few weeks of blogging, he, and the rest of my co-workers, learned that I REALLY AM that person in my bio. Like the quote from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s in reference to Audrey Hepburn’s character “She’s a phony, but she’s a real phony,” I may be a phony, but I’m a real phony.
I’m relentlessly enthusiastic, I really do like Queensboro stuff (If you multiply the amount I’ve spent there by 2, to factor in the employee discount, it is truly alarming!), and I work hard to stay on the positive side of things. I really am Queensboro’s cheerleader. And, if something is getting in my way of cheer leading, I find a way to take care of the problem. And, the second I stop believing in the products and services that we provide to our customers, I’ll have to stop being the cheerleader, because I can’t fake it. So, they pay me a little salary, to do their social media, and it is a perfect job for me-I’m social, I like Queensboro’s products, I believe in our service to customers and for customers, and I’m creative. And, unless it is some damage or return I have scavenged from the goodwill pile, if I talk about a product that I love, and I use the word “I,” I’ve bought it. I didn’t get it free.
What about paid bloggers?
I write for a variety of clients, some as a ghostwriter, some with a byline. I write mostly garden content, though I do have a spa client (LOVE THEM!), and some business-related clients. I’m a writer, a copy writer, but I write mostly online. In addition to typical web copy, e-newsletters, press releases, print brochures, and the occasional magazine or journal article, I write blogs. I love writing blogs-they are less formal, more creative, and let me create or write in the voice of a business. I help them sound less like robots and more like people, because they ARE PEOPLE.
Some of my clients make money through affiliate marketing. That’s great, because they can pay me to write what I want, on topics I love. The organic gardening blog is a good example. I get paid a few bucks per post, and I get to write about whatever I want. Beats the HECK out of writing on my own blog, the exact same stuff, and not getting paid. The site editor needs content. I enjoy writing about gardening, including my garden, my garden travels, and my various experiences. As a blogger, I get to use everything I’ve ever read, done, learned and experienced to create interesting and useful content for my clients. What other job lets a person use an entire life’s worth of experience? I can’t think of one. I can relate anything to anything else. Some people think that makes me weird. I think it makes me versatile.
But, all of the bloggers running their own blogs are chatting, and I’ve heard nothing from people who write company blogs. I’m guessing that we fall somewhere along the lines of newspaper columnists? Paid copy writers. Writing in first person. There’s the blur.
There have been studies about what makes a good company blog, and whether consumers trust what they read on company blogs. In general, people seem to have a dim view of corporate blogs, because they think they are fake. I try to put a voice on the blogs I write-whether my own or for a client. Nobody wants to read a blog without a voice. But, few businesses can get by without some kind of social media presence.
Free Stuff? What free stuff?
99% of the products I write about, I’ve bought myself. The books I review, I’ve bought myself. If I paid for them, and I use them for my business, I can write them off my taxes. So, in addition to using them for references, I review them. Because I can. (SHAMELESS PLUG-if you WANT to send me books to review, I’ll totally do it, and disclose it!) Some people-bloggers, newspaper writers, magazine writers and TV personalities–do get samples sent for review. I’m not against that, and occasionally, I get some free stuff. But, I always have and always will say if I got something for free. Most ethical bloggers already do that.
The point? If we are so concerned about “paid shilling” and unethical plugging–where do company bloggers fall? Is a company blog a blog?