Though it may be obvious to most everybody, I must reiterate that it is all possible that anybody can see any public Web site or blog. When I say public, I am speaking of any Web page which is not password-protected or is in a “walled garden” like a company Intranet or Facebook. In other words, if it’s out there, it’s out there.
In the early days of the Web, most everybody who was putting information on the Web was putting too much information out there. Present company included! We all got wise as to how to structure and craft content to meet the needs of the Web visitor as well as ourselves and became more strategic about what was put out there for all to see. But with the proliferation of Web platforms where anyone could publish content, you would start to see more and more go out there than was required or necessary. It started with sites like Geocities and has continued to blogging platforms like WordPress, where anyone can publish a blog for free.
Believe it or not, much thought goes into what I write, namely as I write it in Word before I post it. But I continue to read people’s blogs and Web sites where they put too much information out there. What do I mean? Everything from family photos to vacation schedules to start qualify as too much information. I have talked to some people about this and they tell me nobody but close friends know the link to the blog or Web site. Where that may be the case, it is still a public link, and anybody has the potential to see it, and use it to your disadvantage.
Think strategically when you put information on the Web. If it is information for everybody to see, craft the message and create a Web design to make it easy to do so. But if it is private information, consider password-protection on the Web page, or just don’t post it at all. For if it is out there, it’s out there.Blogging • Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
Bloggers are all in a tizzy over updated guidelines on product endorsements and testimonials by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As The Hot Iron frequently talks about companies, products and services, my interest in these guidelines has been high. This led me to reading the complete text of the Q&A process over the guidelines as well as the revised guidelines themself. These are linked from one page on the FTC’s Web site on the guidelines which now includes videos.
These guidelines do not only pertain to bloggers, and also includes traditional media – TV, radio, print – with regards to any testimonials and celebrity endorsements. Part of this pertains to advertisements that make claims that are not typical for the average user, and now must state what the average user would experience. If you think pharmaceutical ads are annoying as hell, just wait to see how every other commercial out there will be complying with these guidelines.
As you may infer by tone, I am not in favor of this. I am not alone, as many trade industries and law firms submitted opinions against it, namely for bloggers. As traditional advertisements has been around for thousands of years – from the snake oil salesman to digital billboards – and blogging can probably be traced back about 10 years, many opinions felt these guidelines are premature. But the bureaucrats at the FTC disagree, and here we are.
After reviewing all of this material, I am presenting my conclusions on this, as well as a list of questions not addressed in the guidelines. This is all my opinion from my very own head. I am not an attorney, rather someone who understands the power of social media and the reality of the world.
The following are my conclusions from the FTC guidelines.
Disclose Either Way in Each and Every Blog Post – The guidelines state that if there is not a relationship between the blogger and a company, no disclosure needs to be made. But what if, after reading a post, the FTC thinks there is a relationship there? The last thing you want is federal bureaucrats subpoenaing you. It is better to state this in anything you write.
When in Doubt, Lie and State There is a Relationship – Let’s face it folks, the business world is complicated, and business deals are happening every minute of every day. One minute you may write something favorable about a company, the next minute the manager of a mutual fund you own may buy shares of that company. You wouldn’t know this, but the FTC’s investigators would. Plus, there does not appear to be a penalty for stating there is any type of relationship when there really isn’t one.
Get a Good Lawyer – In this litigious society, everybody should have a lawyer. Every small businessperson should have one already, and if not, there’s no time like the present.
Where the language used in the FTC documents is relatively easy to read, as least for me it was, it left many unanswered questions for me. These are reflected in my conclusions above, but I feel they need to be addressed here, namely to identify the gaps I found in these guidelines.
How Will These Guidelines Be Enforced? – Is the FTC filling rooms with computers and people to search for product and service blog posts and dig through them for endorsements or testimonials without disclosure? Thinking about it more, that will probably be the case.
The FTC even skirts the issue if they will sue bloggers in this video which is on their Web site – it is embedded below, or click this link to watch the video.
Clearly not following these guidelines has penalties, and they should simply say it.
How is this Different from Movie Reviewers or Journalists – This is not an argument about bloggers being journalists, as some are and some are not. I do not consider myself a journalist. In conversations with real journalists, they have said they never typically disclose any freebies given to them. I have never heard Roger Ebert mention he goes to the movies for free, yet it is my guess he does. Yet these guidelines do not apply to journalists.
What if Someone is a Poor Writer? – Someone could have bought a product off the shelf and then wrote about it in their blog, using language like, “this is the bestest video game in the world... if Michael Jordan made video games he would have made this one… if you don’t buy this game you are a fool… everybody should own this game,” which could clearly be considered a testimonial and could even be inferred the writer has a tie to the video game.
Is There a Difference Between Free and Loaned Products for Reviews? – Say you get a product to keep vs. getting one to use for a few weeks, is there a difference there? It could be inferred you profited by having the product’s use during that time.
What about Negative Reviews? – The guidelines appear to address endorsements, but what about a negative review of a product, even if a company gave you that product? My guess is you still need to disclose this, even if the blog post discourages people from buying it.
Who Defines An Expert Blogger? – There’s mention in the guidelines about “expert” bloggers. Who makes this determination? Ask any blogger and I am sure they will say they are one. But if it means they are a close target of the FTC, I am sure they will shun the title.
Does a Disclaimer Have to be Within the Blog Post or Just Somewhere on the Blog? – Many people read blog posts from the Web pages of the blog, others by RSS feed and even others by email. Must the disclaimer be written within the post itself, or is it sufficient for it to be somewhere on the Web page?
What about Blog Comments? – An endorsement or testimonial could be added to a blog in the comments. Who then would be responsible, especially if the comments were posted anonymously or the blogger did not know the person and could not verify if they were a real person or not?
What about Microblogging? – Microblogging, or tweets on Twitter for many people, doesn’t give you much room to make an opinion as well as disclaim any relationship. Does this mean you will have to write text elsewhere stating the relationship and include a short URL in the tweet?
What about Forums? – At the end of one of the FTC documents it mentions forums. Maybe if you post to a forum you should put your disclaimer in the post signature area?
What about Old Blog Posts? – Will I and every other blogger out there have to edit all of our past blog posts to indicate any business relationships?
Are there Geographical Boundaries to This? – What if the writer of a product review is outside of the US, but his Web server is inside the US? What if the opposite? What if both are outside the US but the company being reviewed is inside the US?
What about My Trip to Nokia OpenLab? – As I mentioned in a previous post, Nokia flew me halfway around the world and wined and dined me when I participated in OpenLab. Must I always reference this each and every time I make a reference to a Nokia product in any capacity?
Final, Chilling Thought
When I read one of the documents, one word stuck out to me – chill. It is used as a term to describe the change in activity as a result of these guidelines, as in a freezing of blogging activity as a result. I wasn’t aware “chill” was a legal term. Nonetheless, I don’t think these guidelines will chill or stop any word-of-mouth or personal thoughts on companies, products and services. If anything, it will spark a new wave of ways for people to talk about products without fear of The Man coming down on them. This is the entrepreneurial resourcefulness here in the US, and it isn’t dead yet!
So what do you think? Any help in analyzing this is most appreciated. But make sure you identify who you are and any business relationship you may have with me, ok?Blogging • Technology • (0) Comments • Permalink
For many bloggers, creativity can ebb and flow when it comes time to put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard. I have experienced this myself, where I can sit down one day and write 3 or 4 posts at once, and the next day I can’t think of a topic for anything. This is where I found a feature of the blog engine coming in handy – write a post ahead of time and set its live date for sometime in the future.
Depending on your blog, some of your posts may be very timely and topical, where others may be reference or opinion. As a result, writing these ahead of time, or whenever creativity strikes you, makes perfect sense. Prior to pressing the publish button in your blog engine of choice, you should change the post date and time to a point in the future. This comes in handy when you’re on vacation or away for a long weekend, yet you find you have readership at those times, so why not keep them happy?
Benefits readers as well as publishers
At first thought, post-dating a post may seem solely selfish to the author, but that is hardly the case. Not all of your readers may be in the same time zone as you, let alone same continent. By adjusting the time a post appears in your blog and RSS feed can benefit all readers. Using Web analytics you can find when the preferential time of day to have posts appear. For The Hot Iron, I typically have my posts appear at 4am Central US Time, which has it appearing in someone’s feed reader in the US first thing in the morning and late morning for someone in Europe.
Do you post-date blog entries? How has it worked for you? If you try it, let me know how it works for you. Or if you are adamantly against it, please share that as well.Blogging • Business • (0) Comments • Permalink
The Hot Iron is participating in NaBloPoMo, are you? What, you don’t know what NaBloPoMo is? No worries, as it stands for National Blog Posting Month. The idea is bloggers write a post every day for the entire month of November.
Easy, right? Well, maybe. As many bloggers have other projects or lives to balance with their blogging, it can be a challenge. I have decided to take on this challenge, namely as it fits well with a business goal I have for myself before the end of the year.
Where an idea like NaBloPoMo can be cliché, it can also be a motivator as well. Here’s to a month of wisdom, thoughts and ideas!Announcements • Blogging • (0) Comments • Permalink
Mobile devices are the next frontier of the Internet. Where companies and even governments are now battling it out over the desktop, it is the device you can fit in your pocket that will be the next place they will be after. Where those reading this who live outside of the US are very in tune with this, folks here are not so much aware of this, namely as mobile devices are now crossing over from being simple phones to smartphones.
Now I will step off my soapbox and talk about practical applications, which is the path to the success of conquering the mobile frontier. When I recently happened upon Mippin, a service that will format your blog to display on a mobile device, I had to try it out. By creating a free account and entering my blog’s URL, it created an optimized version of The Hot Iron for a mobile device. You can see this for yourself by clicking the widget above or click this link. You are sent to a page to display it on your device, whether by entering a URL manually of scanning a QR code. As it is a Web page, you can display it in a standard Web browser as well.
Eventually I plan to build my own mobile-optimized version of The Hot Iron, but for now this is a good stand-in for it. I welcome your input on how this mobile format looks and works for you.Blogging • Mobile Technology • QR Codes • (1) Comments • Permalink
One of the great features of blogging is comments. Getting feedback from people who read what you write, where not always on your side, is important to having a conversation. Not all blogs allow comments, though, for whatever reason. One reason often mentioned is content spamming, where people who don’t care what you write and are only interested in getting links on your site is their reason for leaving a comment. Where spam is a reality of life, it is unfortunate if it stifles a dialog on your blog. But do methods to prevent spam also stifle conversations?
A medium for some blog owners is to require someone to log into their blog to post a comment. By doing so, the commenter has identified themselves which “legitimizes” the comments they post. The login account a commenter creates may be specifically to that particular site or to a particular blog platform, such as WordPress. There are also many third-party authentication and blog comment services, such as OpenID and Disqus, which some blogs use. And in some cases, you can even use your Twitter or Facebook login to identify yourself prior to posting a comment.
Any type of login or authentication, in general, will prevent people from interacting with you. This doesn’t apply to blogs only, but any other Web application including eCommerce. If you take a look at adding a login to a blog from the user’s perspective, you could be in essence blocking people from commenting on your blog. The need to create yet another login account to add to the burgeoning list they already have will prevent some people from doing so to leave a comment, especially if they are reading your blog for the first time. Even using the third-party services I mentioned previously, some users don’t understand how those work, and by creating an account with them is adding to that burgeoning list even more.
By requiring people to log in, you are blocking anonymous comments. Some people may wish to contribute something to the conversation on your blog, but they may not want to identify themselves. Whether they simply choose not to identify themselves or are concerned with their name being attached to what they are saying, anonymous comments can be legitimate comments. Think in real-life how you may have a chat with someone in passing, whether at a bar or on a subway car? You may never know who they are, but what they had to say was a contribution.
I present this opinion not only to initiate a conversation, but also to easily pass along my opinions on requiring blog login the next time I run into one. Comments are open, no login required.Blogging • Technology • (3) Comments • Permalink
Virtual Hosting has compiled a list of 100 blog posts on the topic of domain names and domaining. They have organized them under the category of Parking, Buying and Selling, Value and Appraisal, For Beginners, Questionable Practices, Making Money, Management, Search Engines and Traffic and Miscellaneous. I am proud to have 2 posts on the list - Know Who Manages Your Domain Name (#74) and Who Should Own a Domain Name? (#96).
I am still going through the list, but the people represented are the leaders in this area. The list also shows the breadth and depth of aspects and issues with regards to domain names. I recommend this list to fellow entrepreneurs as well as those in the domain name business.
Updated 9/5/2017 - Changed links to their new site at HTML.com
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
Announcements • Blogging • Domain Names • Strategize • (3) Comments • Permalink