Beware of Astroturfing!

astroturf1-300x197This blog post does not constitute legal advice.

Astroturfing occurs when an organization or individual presents information or opinions on a subject without disclosing that they have been reimbursed for their statements in an intentional effort to give the appearance of an organic source.

After reading article on Social Fresh’s blog called, “What the heck is astroturfing and why it matters to your business,” it made me think. I would like to set the record straight in particular with regards to what is astroturfing on personal and business blogs.

In 1980, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published “the Guides,” a set of guidelines that establish what is and isn’t astroturfing. The guides were updated in 2009 and demonstrated in the Reverb Communications case. It’s simple, individuals that work for the company are expected to disclose that affiliation in online communications. In 2009, new astroturfing regulations requiring anyone writing about a product or service online to disclose any financial connection to the readers, were passed.

Astroturfing laws have led most legal departments to establish policies – as recommended by the FTC – to identify yourself online and ask bloggers that have received gifts or reimbursement to disclose it. Some companies may not tell you to do this while other will insist and monitor that you.

BEST PRACTICE

Bloggers, who receive free products in order to review them, should disclose gifts to your readers. Journalists should be required by their employers to return products after a review is completed. Analysts should disclose paid arrangements with the companies that they cover to their readers. Employees who tweet, blog or post in forums on topics related to their work should disclose their affiliation with the company. Marketing professionals should make sure all communications are clearly identified as coming from a company representative.

Sorry to get so technical and detailed here, but lately bloggers and other online media have come under fire. Unfortunately, there are the few who are giving the whole a bad reputation. My advice to you is if you have receive any compensation (monetarily, materially, etc.), be transparent and tell. If you are unsure, you should just disclose. It is better to be authentic and honest, then have to get caught and try to get back to your reputation.

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