This blog is not for sale

The Federal Trade Commission is taking on bloggers who’ve been paid for their posts or wooed with freebies from companies that they cover. Personally, this sounds like a great idea to me. If a company sends you a product and you tell readers it’s the best thing since sliced bread, your readers deserve to know how you acquired that product and how you came to that conclusion, so they can gauge your credibility.

What I find far more troubling is that some companies are able to buy space on blogs and pay for positive coverage. Trailspace readers should know that we have never been paid or in any way compensated for a blog or article on our site (though we’ve had some offers, to which I reply, our blog is not for sale).

Trailspace’s editorial team decides what outdoor subjects and gear we cover on the basis of newsworthiness, potential reader interest and needs, and the time we have to devote. Our editorial and advertising functions remain separate. (I’ve also had disgruntled people threaten not to advertise on the site if I didn’t let them break our forums’ community rules. Too bad, I say.)

Full disclosure: we occasionally get samples of products for gear testing, but it is our policy to always divulge when a product has been provided by the manufacturer for that purpose.

Our mission at Trailspace is to help consumers find the right outdoor gear for them through gear coverage, reviews, and information. I strongly believe that getting greedy for the sake of some extra money or gear would destroy our credibility and trustworthiness, completely undermining that mission. It would be like shooting ourselves in the foot.

So, what makes a source trustworthy (or not) to you? Do you think it’s evident when a source is shilling a product? Tell us below.

Back to the FTC's new guidelines, while the FTC’s intentions sound good, apparently the 81 pages of rules are drawing many, many protests, specifically for being overly broad, inconsistent, confusing, and far more severe to bloggers than traditional print journalists (hey, how about disclosing the entire travel industry?).

I’m going to start reading the guidelines now to see how they might apply.

 

For more info:

FTC Announcement: FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials

FTC Guide (PDF)

 

Some coverage:

FTC Blogging Rules Draw Online Protests (CBS News)

FTC: Bloggers, testimonials need better disclosure (AOL Money and Finance)

Why the FTC's truth in blogging guidelines are truly terrible (Daily Finance)


Filed under: Trailspace News

Comments

Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
501 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts
October 14, 2009 at 12:08 p.m. (EDT)

So far in reading this PDF I'm struck by one thing, specifying that you must have full disclose only in a positive review. So, if you review a product and say something negative or have both positive and negative points, do the rules not apply? Is a review of pros and cons not also of value?

Explorer Robby
141 reviewer rep
218 forum posts
October 14, 2009 at 10:03 p.m. (EDT)

I am always suspect of government regulation. As well, I am suspect of others opinions.

Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
501 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts
October 15, 2009 at 7:29 a.m. (EDT)

This reminds me of unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an excellent book I think everyone should read.

tommangan
0 reviewer rep
415 forum posts
October 15, 2009 at 9:31 p.m. (EDT)

So if you only have to disclose on positive reviews, couldn't a company's competitors hire bloggers to trash their stuff and nobody'd be the wiser?

Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
501 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts
October 15, 2009 at 9:55 p.m. (EDT)

Ah hah, a loophole for evildoers...

CoyotePacker
12 reviewer rep
133 forum posts
October 20, 2009 at 12:39 p.m. (EDT)

So if you only have to disclose on positive reviews, couldn't a company's competitors hire bloggers to trash their stuff and nobody'd be the wiser?

It would be interesting to see how this would pan out ... especially if a blogger was hired to write bad reviews about every competitor of a given company.

friend
33 reviewer rep
40 forum posts
October 20, 2009 at 7:22 p.m. (EDT)

It is quite evident that blogs- forums etc are full of schills that degrade some products and give Kudos to others. The posters can use remailers- fake IDs etc- nobody can police this- it is the INTERNET. The worldwide web of OPINIONS- SHILLS-LIES and DECEPTION. I am not knocking Trailspace Alicia.......just stating a known fact. Anybody that enters a forum etc- or believes all that is said on the web is in serious trouble IMO. When I review something I know darn well how it performed for ME under the PROTOCOL stated. I have seen reviews where folks just bought a product and basically used it in their living room and gave it a BIG THUMBS UP !!I am also awre of large companies that implant shills into forums to downgrade some products and not say anything bad about others and are VERY clever at it. Some companies even own the forum !! The government does not have the time or money to sort this out. Just my 2 cents-Thanks

Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
501 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts
October 20, 2009 at 8:11 p.m. (EDT)

I agree that, except for egregious problems, there aren't good ways to police it and I wouldn't expect the government to be on top of it.

I would much prefer that people be clued in to how to weigh information better anyway, both online and off (I think it's a declining skill): evaluate the source, what does the poster have to win or lose, look at what else they poster has posted about, etc.

For example, did they write one glowing review about something they bought last week, or are they a reliable, regular member of a community who has taken the time to evaluate the pros and cons of multiple pieces of gear, etc... (hey, this sounds like a good article). Did they pop up briefly just to talk about one topic, then drop off the face of the earth? Do they show biases toward a certain brands? Do they seem to really use their gear before having an opinion? What's their background?

And even if they appear credible, does their experience have anything to do with yours?

We'd like to add ways to rate community members and their posts and reviews, so there's another measure of credibility.

While there are some clever shillers out there, you might also be surprised by how many are bad at it. As a moderated forum we (mainly me) eventually read every review and post on the site. So you get a feel for when something is off and we've caught a number of folks at it.

Anyway, it's an interesting topic. If members have suggestions of ways to rate or better gauge someone's credibility, let us know. I'd be interested in hearing them.

What makes you trust, or at least give the time to listen to, one person's online opinion over another?

By the way, for anyone who wants to write really good reviews (and I hope that's all of you):

How To Write a Killer Gear Review

friend
33 reviewer rep
40 forum posts
October 20, 2009 at 9:10 p.m. (EDT)

Well said Alicia and its DOES sound and LOOK like you are on top of things at Trailspace !! Probably what makes this a great site. Thanks for the link on how to do a killer review. I do my best- but I tend not to be very good at it. I DO come back on a review if I have more input. I like the way this site allows for that as opinion can change for better or worse as you are using a product-Thanks

Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
501 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts
October 21, 2009 at 7:57 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks, friend. It's definitely an issue we all need to consider, whether we're the publisher, reader, or writer.

Tom D
MODERATOR
38 reviewer rep
1,757 forum posts
October 21, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. (EDT)

I find a lot of reviews suspect because the reviewer says something like "I just got this thing and it's terrific." Well, how do they really know? www.backpackgeartest.org is one of the few sites that I look at fairly regularly for reviews that has a whole protocol for identifying the reviewer, who gives a mini bio along with the review. I have met one of their reviewers and know him from two other sites he is active on, so I trust his opinion and by extension, other reviews I read there as well. I do so because of the thought that goes into them.

The reviews there usually go into great detail about the product, how it was used and they have long-term test reports along with short-term reports, sometimes by different reviewers.

Other than doing it that way, there is no way I can think of to distinguish qualified opinions from shills or people who just don't know any better. My guess is there are far more of the latter than the other two.

I could review every piece of gear I have, but am not really qualified to review my skis for example since they are the only pair I have ever owned. Other than saying I like the color and they work okay for me, that's about all I know about them. Not exactly useful for anyone else. I do know that in deep fluffy snow, they really aren't wide enough, but that's not a knock on them, just a fact that would apply to any narrow ski.

On the other hand, I have a Columbia fleece jacket that I have worn for probably 300 days over the years, since I wear it almost daily in cool weather and can absolutely attest to how well it works for me and how well-made it is.

Bill S
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,329 reviewer rep
5,251 forum posts
October 22, 2009 at 2:06 p.m. (EDT)

There was an article on the blogger investigation in the Wall Street Journal about the first of Oct. I was going to comment on it here, but didn't get around to it (I have a collection of "Round Tuits", but never seem to have one when needed {;=D).

Over the years, I have been given a lot of samples and gear to try out, as well as acquiring stuff sometimes through "pro deals" (these are heavy discount programs for professionals in the field, "friends of the industry", and sometimes just friends of someone at the company or sales reps). At the OR Show, to stay with the outdoor field, companies are eager to hand out their latest greatest stuff in hopes that you will be so grateful that you will praise it. At the very least, they hope you are looked on as an "authority" or "expert" and that people (especially newbies) will see the "guru" using the gear and hence will rush right out and buy it. It is certainly true that in the courses I teach and treks I lead, the students often show up at the second session or the outing with gear they see me or the other instructors using. That is in spite of trying to get the point across that "one size does not fit all"!

I have enough junk, er, gear, that I feel no obligation to anyone to praise their product, just because they gave it to me free or at a huge discount. If it works, fine, I will say so. If it is junk, I will say so, or more often, just never mention it. Interestingly, there are several manufacturers I keep noting that their quality suffers, but they still give me samples (one of these is a Big Name that "everybody" thinks is great, but, sorry, it is way overpriced and lousy quality at that).

On the other hand, at least a few manufacturers seem to take my knocks to heart (plus maybe a few other users and testers as well), and do make improvements (counter-example - one manufacturer followed up on a suggestion of mine about a year after several others had decided my suggestion was a good idea and implemented it, with the johnny-come-lately announcing loudly that they had just come up with this "major breakthrough" - be very very skeptical of "major breakthroughs"!).

There are a few manufacturers reps who post on Trailspace from time to time. In most cases, they say up front that they are reps, but there are a couple who you only find out by reading between the lines and looking closely at their profiles. And then there was the one who posted misleading information that knocked a competing product that turned out to be a manufacturer's rep, discovered only though an off-line exchange of emails (I had a talk with with some of the company officials at the OR Show and they said he had gone against company policy).

Alicia and Dave are pretty good at spotting the "invaders" (in case you are one, you should know that even bogus URLs can be traced back to the real source).

Actually, I worry more about posters who are not very experienced in the outdoors posting "urban rumor" information that is erroneous. In some cases this can be downright dangerous if such advice is followed. We do have a number of regulars who do have extensive experience and do make note of their limitations. We all make mistakes (OGBOs sometimes get Epic and eVent mixed up - well, they both start with "e"). But most of us try to correct the errors quickly.

Ummm, Tom, 300 days? Maybe it's time you washed that jacket.

Heidi
0 reviewer rep
6 forum posts
October 26, 2009 at 2:05 p.m. (EDT)

Hello,


I blog about products that are sent to me and I have been paid for a few spots but I always make it clear if I have been paid. ( It only happened once).


Also, for the gear tha is sent to me. It is writen in my policies that I give honest opinion on the gear I tested. I have writen some bad reviews for products that where sent my way by hopeful companies. I get emails back from them and they are not happy


I think the policy is a good idea, but it needs to make sure that it does not trash work like mine.

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