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3 Ways Content Creators Can Use Private Pinterest Boards

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Pinterest recently announced the introduction of private or “secret’ boards, which allow users to pin items to boards that their followers can’t see. This is a feature Pinterest users have been wanting for a long time, as it helps with planning gifts and surprise parties and pinning personal items that you might not want others to see.

If you’re using Pinterest as a marketing tool, private boards might not at first seem like a big deal. After all, why bother pinning images your followers can’t see to click on, repin, or like? But if you think outside of the box, there are a few ways bloggers (and even podcasters and video producers) can use this new Pinterest feature to create better content.

1. Sharing Content Ideas with Your Team

If you have a content team, like we do here on the NMX/BlogWorld blog, a private Pinterest board can be invaluable for sharing ideas quickly. Pinterest’s new private boards can be seen by one person initially, but you can invite others to view as well, giving you a great place to collaborate. Sharing ideas in this manner is especially easy because of Pinterest’s commenting system. Rather than a long email chain that just gets lost in the inbox shuffle anyway, keep your post concepts contained to a single board.

2. Creating Inspiration Boards for Future Posts

You can also create a private board of images that inspire your and could be good to use in future posts. Quotes, beautiful pictures, blog posts from other people, and reports can all serve as inspiration. Unlike the group post idea and collaboration board, these ideas might not be fleshed out quite yet, but that’s okay. No one can see them but you! So when writer’s block hits, head to your inspiration board to see if you can get your juices flowing.

3. Bookmarking Competitor Design Ideas

“Spying” on competitors (and I mean that in the most innocent way possible) can help you come up with new ideas for your own blog. There’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from others. So if you see a cool design element or notice another blogger in your niche using a cool plugin, take a screenshot and upload it to Pinterest. It’s easier (or cheaper if you hire someone) to make lots of changes at once instead of little changes here and there.

If you want even more Pinterest education, make sure to check out Debba Haupert’s Pinterest session at NMX Las Vegas!

How will you use Pinterest’s new private boards feature?

For Internet trolls, Freedom of Speech is not Freedom from Accountability

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anonymity on the internet Every few years, when a well-known and roundly reviled Internet personality is outed by investigative bloggers, a vocal minority attacks the unmasking as a violation of free speech.

The argument, trotted out most recently by defenders of Michael “Violentacrez” Brutsch upon his 4,700-word public shaming by Gawker as “the Biggest Troll on the Web,” boils down to this: “No one deserves privacy, but we deserve anonymity.”

As a highly active Reddit user, Brutsch spent years sharing salacious pictures of underage girls as “jailbait,” voyeuristic photos of women in public and much, much worse, including pictures of dead teenagers. Now that his unsettling hobbies have cost him his job, supporters are claiming that the outing by Gawker’s Adrian Chen is a threat to free speech across Reddit, which bills itself as “the front page of the Internet.”

This idea, that bloggers are somehow threatening free speech by outing anonymous Internet users, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment. It is not an impenetrable shield for anonymity, nor does it make any American immune to accountability for our actions.

The First Amendment protects us from our government, but rarely from each other. In other words, the same law that gives Brutsch the right to say despicable things also gives Chen the right to call him out for it.

In fairness, being confused about the Constitution’s protection of free speech is understandable. The First Amendment is so short, it could be reprinted verbatim in two tweets, and yet it is quite possibly the most complex and carefully parsed law in the land.

The First Amendment is a protection granted by the government against the government. But outside journalistic circles, it typically gets simplified down to the idea that we can say whatever we want without repercussions. Of course we can’t.

Free speech always carries implications far beyond the legal system. It can get you ostracized by your friends, families and peers, not to mention making it difficult to find a job or seek public office. That’s always been the case, but it used to apply only in rare cases of whistleblowers and political dissidents. Today, the Internet has opened the danger of accountability to millions who live in a digital universe where being anonymous is the norm instead of the exception.

In times gone by, anonymous authors and snarky gossip columnists made the decision in advance to hide their identity specifically because of the content they were creating.

Today, that model has been flipped. Many Internet users begin within the comforting cloak of anonymity and then, seduced by the lack of consequences for their actions, start saying things that they would never say in public. Some devolve further into trolls, clutching that anonymity cloak as if it made them invisible. When it is suddenly stripped away, they realize just how precarious of a situation they’ve made for themselves.

Their only hope at that point is to recast themselves martyrs of free speech. They see their impending accountability and use it to terrify their legion of anonymous Internet peers. “Today, they came for me. Tomorrow, will they come for YOU?”

That’s an argument that occasionally has legs. When a record label sues an Internet service provider for the names of its users in hopes of finding an illegal downloader, we all get nervous. Companies rarely have the right to know about what we each do in the privacy of our own homes, and all of us are right to be concerned.

But in the case of Internet trolls like Brutsch, we’re not talking about being exposed for our private actions. We’re talking about being exposed for our public actions. We’re talking about accountability.

And it should be noted that Brutsch did relatively little to hide his identity. He attended public Reddit meetups and put himself up for questioning in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” Q&A session. Brutsch’s wife and son are reportedly active on the site, as well, and have linked their accounts to his. His voice even appears on podcasts. Chen didn’t subpoena anyone to learn who Brutsch was or rifle through the man’s garbage; he just put a few obvious clues together once he got the right tip.

When word got out that Chen would be publicly identifying Brutsch, some Reddit moderators retaliated against Gawker by removing links to the popular blog from the areas of Reddit that they curate. The Politics Subreddit moderators went so far as to say they were punishing Gawker for its “serious lack of ethics and integrity.”

These moderators are well within their rights to evict Gawker. However, in the process, they send a pretty hypocritical message: “You suppress our guy and we’ll suppress you.” Since when do Redditors wage their battles by limiting access to information?

Reduced traffic is a consequence Gawker and Chen were likely prepared for. There’s no law guaranteeing them fair treatment on Reddit, just as there is no law guaranteeing outed trolls like Brutsch fair treatment anywhere else.

Photo Credit: Bigstock

On Being Over 40 and Working in Social Media

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Too old for social media?

Like you, I read the post by Cathryn Sloan at NextGen Journal discussing why social media managers need to be under 25. And, like many of you, I took the link bait. As someone who is a couple of years shy of 50, this attitude gets to me. It gets to me not only because of the sense of entitlement conveyed throughout the post, but because so many young people feel the same way. And no matter how much I talk about it today, some of the under 25 generation will just write me off as being old, out of touch and not hip enough to get it. The thing is, I do get it. We all get it. Everyone who is older was younger once. We’ve all tried to fit in and we all thought our way was best. We listened to loud music, we blew curfew, we partied, and we made out in the woods. We all experienced moments that defined our generation. We were young,  gung-ho, cocky and looked to the older generation and rolled our eyes. We thought we could do their jobs better too.

Why Learning at the Entry Level is Also Important

There’s a reason entry level jobs exist. They exist because people, even people with a degree, have to gain experience. Just because one wrote for one’s college newspaper or have a blog doesn’t make one experienced. It doesn’t even make one stand out in the crowd. You can’t learn experience from  a text book or buy it at Office Depot. Experience has to age for a while before it works properly.

In the past decade I have seen younger people who feel they don’t have to do things the “long way” as we did. They feel as if they can come right out of college or spend two years in the field and receive a leadership role over someone who has been busting her hump over the past decade. It’s not even about paying dues, it’s about gaining the right kind of experience. You can’t fix something unless you know how it works. Coming out of college or an internship isn’t necessarily enough time to learn how something works.

When you’re under 25, you really don’t know much about team work. Doing trust falls during gym class isn’t a lesson in team work. Working with the same people every day, whether you like them or not, and sharing the success with the collective group instead of insisting on taking credit at the individual level is really what teamwork is all about. It takes time to learn everyone’s strengths, habits, and rhythm. Teamwork is not doing everything yourself to prove you can. It’s working together and playing off each other’s talents.

Knowing how to work well as a team is more important than mastering Facebook.

Social media isn’t about knowing what’s cool, hip, or in and it’s not Facebook. In fact, if Facebook is any indication, the 25 and under generation still have a lot to learn. When you’re my age, you know a little more about filtering and being appropriate (though I do admit to knowing many old timers who still need to work on that). We know not to post anything publicly online that we wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times. We know that if we publicly bad mouth a boss we can lose our jobs. We know that if we’re looking for work, it’s a good idea to always be on our best behavior online because people are watching.  We know that everything we post publicly is reflective of us and the brand we work for, even if it’s posted to our personal accounts.. We didn’t learn all these things in college. We learn it at the entry level and throughout our careers.

Entry level jobs are there because there’s so much more to learn than the job itself.

Professionalism Takes Time

Here’s the thing about social media: It can be an extremely public role. Someone like me is representing my brand. My behavior and my words are scrutinized. Every thing I do is carefully weighed so we receive the right reaction from our communities. We have to anticipate backlash and anger, just as we have to anticipate success. Social media management is a strategy position, it’s not glorified Facebooking. We have to know the individual as well as the collective members of our community.

Someone fresh out of college hasn’t necessarily mastered being public. Businesses want to hire someone who knows how to talk to people, and also knows how to do damage control during a crisis. People skills don’t come from a book. They come from years of experience. The types of skills necessary in social media  come from observing and identifying the different online personalities and learning to deal with each individually. Knowing how to market to and communicate to different demographics takes time. Managing people is something that’s earned. It’s not like a driver’s license that you’re entitled to because you reached a certain age.

Lately I see too many people who feel being honest is an excuse for being rude, and that being blunt trumps any bad behavior. This doesn’t fly in the business world. In the business world, being blunt or coming off ranty and angry all the time, even the casual, be yourself,  social media world, means that a lot of people just don’t want to be around you. Brands don’t want people representing them who can’t be trusted to treat each individual customer, client, or member of the community with respect and compassion.  Sometimes, I see hot under the collar younger people saying, “well, I just won’t work for a company that censors me and won’t let me say what I want.” It’s not about censoring. It’s about having the ability to treat everyone with the respect they deserve. This isn’t something everyone knows right away.

Having a job doesn't make one a professional.

Starting out in the entry level meant I was able to make some mistakes and learn by those mistakes. You HAVE to have suffered the consequences of your goof ups to truly gain experience in any business. Social media is forgiving, but it’s also brutal. Say the wrong thing, and people are all over you, much as they were all over Cathryn Sloan after she wrote her piece about being better for my job because she’s under 25.

 

If Facebook is Any Proof, We’re All in Trouble

If you’re like me you friend a variety of different people on Facebook. For example, some of the people who are my friends are also younger relatives in their teens and early 20’s. Some of them even friend their bosses and co-workers or don’t seem to notice the public settings on their status updates.  These same people don’t always realize that posting drunken rants or semi-nude photos can cause an employer to question their judgement. Everything we post publicly is up for scrutiny. Everything. To say, “I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t let me post nude photos online” is kind of silly. Why would anyone hire someone who can cause damage to the brand?  If you show poor judgement on your personal social media accounts, how does an employer or potential employer know you won’t show poor judgement when representing them? They don’t. And many won’t hire for exactly this reason, especially not at a management level.

When you’re my age, you’ve been through it all, including the embarrassment that comes when something you don’t want public gets public. Knowing how and when to filter the personal stuff is probably the most important social media lesson one can learn. And when something goes wrong, knowing how to fix it while offending the least amount of people possible is also pretty darn important.

Just because someone grew up on Facebook doesn’t mean she’s more social media savvy. Many of social media’s older generation began Facebook at the same time. Before that we were on AOL, MySpace,.Ning, or any number of social networks, and we we working them. We used CompuServe and prodigy too. As Kelby Carr points out, we’ve even been gaming longer.  The methods are older, for sure, but they taught us a lot about social networking and how to deal with people and trolls. I can’t say the younger generation is more technically savvy because we started using gadgets and social networks at the same time, if not earlier.

Is there stuff the younger generation are better at? Absolutely, without a doubt. And, as my colleague Allison Boyer explained earlier today, they’ve grown up under different circumstances. But, does a unique set of circumstances qualify one to hold a managerial position? I think, no. It just means we can all relate to different things.

Demographics Also Has A Lot to Do With It

Can a 21-year-old know what it’s like to be a mom and have to do all the shopping for a family of six? Can a 22-year-old know what it’s like to wear adult diapers? Can a 23-year-old extol the virtues of the minivan?  Probably not. On the flip side, people my age have kids. We know what tweens and teens are going through because they’re living in our homes (no matter how much they think we don’t get them). They tell us their problems and fears and share their Christmas lists with us. We know who the hip boy bands are and what shows everyone is watching. We know what teens find fashionable and what will get them laughed out of high school. So we have the added ability to cater to a younger demographic as well.

Social media isn’t just about working for a brand, it’s about having a passion for the brand’s product or service. There’s no way anyone can properly run a community of advocates if that person isn’t an advocate himself.

In a Perfect World…

As a woman of a certain age I worry. I worry a lot. I worry about losing my job to someone who is seen as hipper and more youthful. I worry that some cocky kid is going to have a fresh idea and I’ll be put out to pasture. It’s in my best interests to stay on top of things and NOT be seen as “old” or “stale.” I have to stay on top of  news and trends because to not stay on top is to absolutely be out of touch. Unlike some of my much younger peers, I  know that I’m replaceable. Despite experience, not everyone wants to hire a woman of a certain age. I think about this every single day.

When I was a teen, I got very upset when people told me to grow up or that I was still immature. What I learned over time was that there was a lot more to maturity than age. All of this isn’t a case of “old v. young” or “us against them.”  In a perfect world, we can all work together as a team and be successful together. Older and younger balance things out. There can be hip but there can also be mature. Instead of writing us off as being too old for the job, take some time to learn from our experience. And instead of writing you off as immature, we should learn what makes your generation tick. There’s room for all of us in social media, but make no mistake, experience plays a big part in success. You can’t manage a community or a team without experience.

Now get off my lawn.

Disclose This: How the FTC Has Left Bloggers and Publishers Dazed and Confused

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Many bloggers and other content creators do their best to disclose to their audiences when they have received money, gifts, or other special perks that supports the content they make available for others to enjoy for free. Despite these efforts, most bloggers and publishers may still not be following the FTC’s disclosure rules. Even for people who actually know about these guidelines, there’s still great confusion over what they’re supposed to disclose, and exactly how to do it. (See FTC’s New Dot Com Disclosures: What Every Online Marketer Needs to Know to learn more about the FTC requirements and upcoming changes.)

Even long-time veterans in our industry are left scratching their heads over where things are with the FTC. New Media Expo’s CEO and Co-Founder Rick Calvert is one of the thought leaders in our industry who I thought really understood this issue from both the perspective of the marketer and the consumer, and who was also willing to come out on the record over what has been a highly sensitive subject.

Grant: What do you think of the FTC’s requirements for disclosure of material relationships for guest bloggers and other outside content contributors?

Rick: I do think they are appropriate, I think disclosure is good. I think that as a publisher, and any type of content creator, you should always disclose if there is some potential conflict of interest with any type of relationship with somebody who is posting content; and so that definitely applies to guest bloggers.

For example, we’ll let people who exhibit at our show post a guest blog on our blog. But, we disclose that they are an exhibitor, we tell you who they are, and we also require that their post not be commercial – so it’s not promoting their product.

Now other people could have a different standard than that. It depends on what the audience that post is meant for. Some people want those types of product presentations, since that’s what that audience is looking for. But again, if somebody paid for that, or there is some sort of business transaction happening, you definitely should be disclosing that relationship.

Grant: Or, if it’s something someone received for free (or at a significantly discounted rate wouldn’t normally be made available to them?)

Rick: Oh sure, something for free – free travel, a gift card to Starbucks or an Amazon, that sort of thing.

Grant: Many of the most widely read and subscribed to blogs in online marketing, like New Media Expo, will naturally feature guest bloggers as speakers at their events. The FTC’s Press Officer informed me that those are also likely fall under business relationships, which should be clearly disclosed.

Rick: I really thought that was interesting to learn about, since I don’t think the FTC has ever actually included that information anywhere before that you need to disclose if somebody is speaking at your conference. Again, we have no problem with that and we do anyway, but that just seemed a little strange that the FTC would even think that far, and that deep.

Grant: Do you think the FTC has some issues with how they communicate their regulations to the online marketing industry?

Rick: I think the answer to that is, does the average blogger know about these regulations?

Grant: How about even veteran thought leaders in this space? Take the example of Search Engine Land’s Editor-in-Chief, Danny Sullivan. He himself has reported on the FTC’s activities for the search space for over a decade, and recently published an open letter to the FTC on search engine disclosure compliance – and even he was completely unaware (mistaken, even) on the FTC’s guest blogger disclosure guidelines.

Rick: It’s pretty indicative that if Danny Sullivan doesn’t know what these regulations are, I think it’s pretty safe to say that overwhelming majority, the vast overwhelming majority, doesn’t either. I don’t know how to describe the significance of that any stronger. The vast majority of people in our industry – social media, blogging – have no clue what these FTC regulations are and how they apply to us.

Grant: Do you think that most people who are entrenched in the online media and marketing ecosystem, who’ve started out in it and have been in it for so long – may not have the same understanding of FTC compliance laws versus the more traditional media industries?

Rick: I would assume that people like Huffington Post, AOL, Forbes – traditional media companies that are involved in social media – should know what those regulations are because they comply with those things in their normal, traditional media business. But I would bet you the average blogger wouldn’t. I could name dozens and dozens and dozens of conferences in our space – technology conferences, online marketing conferences, search conferences, social media conferences – they probably have no idea of those regulations or how they apply to them.

Grant: From my experiences as a long time blogger who’s been a freelancer or done guest posts for many different online marketing publications, I can say there’s so much confusion with publishers on what they believe the FTC disclosure guidelines are. You could even get completely opposite opinions from one publisher or another on why they think they don’t apply to them.

Rick: I wouldn’t fault any of those people either; it’s the FTC who has done this horrible job of making people aware of these regulations.

Here’s just for an example: There are 3.9 million active mom blogs in the United States alone. That’s one of these spaces where this is prevalent, where people are concerned about disclosure. It’s where a lot of people write posts either as guest blogger or on their own blog; or they will let a company write a guest post; or they will ghostwrite a guest post. What they don’t always disclose is if there is some sort of business relationship going on. A lot of times it’s just for free products, or a nice free trip for the blogger. But a lot of them are not disclosed. As big as that space is, it’s only just one example of how prevalent this is across our industry, where people need to be concerned about disclosure.

Grant: The FTC says the larger issue here is consumer transparency and building trust, so consumers can feel as though they can safely do business online, and so businesses can play fairly. I think most people who follow these guidelines can agree that the FTC isn’t intentionally trying to cause confusion, although there are certainly unscrupulous people in our industry who will try to take advantage of that confusion.

Rick: Right, because people who are doing things like that, don’t care. They either are knowingly violating those guidelines or they don’t care what those guidelines are and nothing the FTC does is going to change what they do.

Grant: How much of the problem do you think is how the FTC can do a better job of catching criminals, versus better educating the public?

Rick: If the FTC finds out about somebody who is breaking the rules – maybe blatantly breaking the rules with forethought and doesn’t care and so they prosecute them, and it ends up with a fine most likely, that gets in the news, but that doesn’t really educate anybody.  It might scare a couple people, probably not, but it doesn’t really do anything to address the problem.

Grant: Clearly the FTC doesn’t have the resources to monitor the entire Web, with millions of bloggers and publisher sites. Where do you think the maturity of our industry is today to support independent watchdog groups – across social, search, blogging, etcetera – that can do the kind of monitoring with the expertise behind it that is trusted by both the industry and consumers alike for what they find and report – and can have the ear of both mainstream media and government?

Rick: I think there could be a place and it’s probably a good business opportunity for somebody. That’s probably the best solution, but New Media already has its own solution. Someone can start a watchdog blog where people can report something that they think might be a violation, and then you could review it and say, “Well to us, this is in compliance or this is not in compliance, and this is exactly what wasn’t and this is what they have to do to make it in compliance…” and if the FTC wanted to weigh in on that – it would be amazing if the FTC did that, but I doubt they every would.

Grant: So some people reading this are going to ask, why hasn’t there been some kind of watchdog association yet?

Rick: Well, there have been several people who tried a blogging association. We tried when we started BlogWorld and realized pretty quickly there is no critical mass to support that. For video, you know any type of video association there is, is only going to deal with traditional media entities, not independent publishers in any way.

This is something we always have to remind ourselves being inside the bubble of new media, is this space is still so new, and we really are still in the Wild West. We are, I think, years away from any sort of association type of governing body to lay down ethical practices and standards that anybody is going to agree on.

Grant: The FTC says in their documents that they apply the same legal standard for online media and offline media, or new media and traditional media.

Rick: But do they really? If that was the case, then people should be able to do things just like infomercials on television or on radio. I believe in having high standards for disclosure and transparency, but what I don’t want to have happen is the government impose that standard on us in New Media and not impose it on traditional media, and end up creating an unfair playing field.

Grant: What do you think that those of us can do in the New Media industry for improving trust and consumer transparency?

Rick: I think it is important for us as digital content creators to try and set a higher standard for ourselves; We have to remember why we came to the Web in the first place, I think it is incumbent upon us to create that higher standard and support it – however we do it is up to all of us.

To learn more about FTC guidelines as they pertain to online marketers, be sure to read the full report, Pay Me To Trust You: An Online Marketer’s Guide to the FTC’s Revised Guides for Disclosures of Endorsements in Social Media.”

FTC’s New Dot Com Disclosures: What Every Online Marketer Needs to Know

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Many of you may already know that the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires content creators to provide disclosures where there could be hidden interests or unspoken biases related to recommendations. Well, the FTC is now re-evaluating its 12-year-old online advertising disclosure guidelines, also known as “Dot Com Disclosures.” Any decision the FTC reaches is expected to have a profound impact on the online marketing industry with respect to how required disclosures, or non-disclosures, of material relationships and connections may affect consumer trust and fair competition in business.

A Little History First

Way back in 2000 (sort of like the Cro-Magnon era of the Internet), the FTC released it’s first major report geared for online markers titled, Dot Com Disclosures – Information About Online Advertising. The report was a response to the proliferation of shopping and advertising online, where it was understood that an increased likelihood of fraud and deception would take place that, if not properly regulated, “may dampen consumer confidence in the e-marketplace.”

The purpose of the report was to set guidance for advertisers with online disclosures – to prevent an online advertisement from being misleading by requiring such disclosures to be “clear and conspicuous” to the consumer.

Why the FTC felt the need to revise their Dot Com Disclosures

Obviously, the digital landscape has undergone a seismic transformation since 2000. The FTC‘s Press Officer, Elizabeth “Betsy” Lordan, has acknowledged they need to keep up with emerging technologies and new channels of communications for online marketing and e-commerce. However, it’s important for online marketers to understand that the fundamental legal principles had back in 2000 still haven’t changed.

On May 30, 2012, the FTC hosted a one-day public workshop to consider the need for new guidance concerning advertising and privacy disclosures in today’s online and mobile environments. The workshop addressed online disclosure challenges for enterprises with consumers and the public at large, including methods for making clear and conspicuous disclosures in online media.

From May 30th to July 11th, 2012, the FTC staff accepted public feedback following that workshop, including from its online comment form. The FTC also made all records and transcripts of their workshop available on their website.

Why we Still Need Disclosure Guides

Online media and marketing is proliferating, and so is spending. More media and marketing efforts are being geared for online; and the glut of content and new technology platforms can make it increasingly likely for consumers to be misled and confused about material relationships by businesses that can affect their judgment; and in negative circumstances, become victims of deception. This is what erodes trust by consumers in the e-marketplace, which erodes fair competition in the market and ends up hurting most businesses.

The FTC’s own public information website, The Federal Register, explains how having the guides offer a degree of necessary protection for consumers and businesses alike, built around trust of the message and the messenger:

“To the extent that consumers’ willingness to trust social media depends on the ability of those media to retain their credibility as reliable sources of information, application of the general principles embodied in the Guides presumably would have a beneficial, not detrimental, effect.”

Why is it Important to Disclose Endorsements Online?

Endorsements factor into our decisions to buy products, especially by people and brands we are influenced by. When practicing marketing and commerce, the FTC mandates that all content being shared with an audience of existing and/or potential consumers “clearly and conspicuously” include a disclosure of any relationships with other parties, when a reasonable consumer would be influenced by in their engagement.

“If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed… If you disclose the relationship clearly and conspicuously on your site, readers can decide how much weight to give your endorsement.”

An “endorsement” of this kind falls under the label of being an advertisement – i.e., commercial speech. Commercial speech has fewer protections under the U.S. law than free speech, including the right of anonymity.

The FTC does not necessarily treat endorsements as being content-specific. It does not matter if the marketer says that their content was not done as an explicit testimonial or review of anything. What the FTC says matters with deciding what’s an endorsement is the message that consumers receive.

“The Guides have always defined ‘‘endorsements’’ by focusing on the message consumers take from the speech at issue. Indeed, this focus on consumer takeaway is completely consistent with the approach the Commission uses to determine whether a practice is deceptive, and thus in violation of the FTC Act.”

What online marketers still need help with about disclosures of endorsements

The FTC put out its own “FTC Facts” help document for businesses: “The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking.” The document provided a number of familiar examples and scenarios that are helpful to online marketers to better distinguish between what the FTC considers to be commercial speech and truth in advertising, subject to their disclosure guidelines. Yet despite these efforts by the FTC, many online marketers don’t feel like they adequately know what they should be disclosing.

Continual rapid advances in the online media and marketing ecosystem have blurred the lines for marketers and the FTC alike with seeing eye-to-eye on several key areas:

  • What is free speech and what is commercial speech
  • What is unbiased information and what are advertisements
  • Confusing labels over who is an “endorser” or “advertiser”
  • What constitutes a “material relationship” that requires disclosure
  • New tools and channels of communication, some with strict character and other limitations
  • Increasing use of social channels to develop both paid and non-monetary marketing relationships with influential endorsers

Many online marketers today, arguably the vast majority, fail to properly disclose their material relationships in their own online media – be it published on their own hosted sites or on partnership sites. While most of these individuals and organizations operate with no intention to deceive or violate FTC law otherwise, it has caused a great deal of consternation in the industry – both for those who don’t feel they have the guidance and support that they need, and for those skeptical of information shared online and by their peers regarding these regulations.

After doing extensive research and interviews across several areas of the online marketing industry – including search, social, and video – I’ve reached this conclusion: What appears to suffer from the greatest confusion and non-compliance are 1) blogger-publisher relationships and 2) consumer-generated reviews of products. Contributing greatly to the problem is a lack of industry standards and self-regulation over disclosure guidelines, and a failure of effective communication by the FTC with online marketers in both these areas.

Blogger-publisher relationships

The FTC considers any material relationship between bloggers and advertisers as a requirement for clear and conspicuous disclosure. Publishers also fall under the category of “advertisers” when their publication engages consumers in commercial transactions as an intended result of their exposure to the bloggers’ content.

Consumer-generated reviews

The FTC considers consumer-generated reviews made possible through free products provided to them by the manufacturer as commercial speech, and subject to the same disclosure of endorsement guidelines as other advertising.

Take this example below, which comes right from the FTC business guide: The FTC treats consumers who receive products to try out and give public, positive reviews of as “endorsements” subject to FTC disclosure guidelines.

“Assume now that the consumer joins a network marketing program under which she periodically receives various products about which she can write reviews if she wants to do so. If she receives a free bag of the new dog food through this program, her positive review would be considered an endorsement under the Guides.”

What Online Marketers Can (and Should) Do

The first step that all online marketers need to look at is what is within their own means to do. Here are some recommendations:

  1. Self-regulate: The FTC explains that advertisers need to have reasonable programs in place to train and monitor members of their network. CMP.LY has developed an automated disclosure monitoring service that works in conjunction with its disclosure solution to provide reporting on both the inclusion and omission of required disclosures within an advertiser’s advocate or affiliate networks. (Important note: While there are some bloggers who like to use fun disclosure icons as a friendly way of being transparent with consumers, the FTC does require there to be an actual text description of their material relationships.)
  2. Send the FTC your feedback: Questions about the Dot Com Disclosures and Endorsement Guidelines can always be submitted to the FTC’s email address: endorsements@ftc.gov. The FTC has promised to address the most common questions in future FAQs.
  3. Send the FTC your complaints: FTC’s Press Officer Betsy Lordan says the FTC considers complaints from consumers, complaints from competitors, and the results of its own internal monitoring of various industries. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. You can also watch this video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more.
  4. Learn more from the FTC: Online marketers and social media enthusiasts should read the FTC’s Dot Com Disclosures and Revised Endorsement Guides – both of which speak directly to truth in advertising principles with Internet media. The FTC’s revised guides offer more than 35 examples of how they apply in practical settings for online marketing The FTC also has produced to-the-point video clips discussing some of the issues on marketers’ minds.
  5. Learn from the legal pros: The Practicing Law Institute (PLI) features an on-demand web program, “Hot Topics in Advertising Law 2012,” which covers FTC regulatory issues and competitor issues around these documents, along with related legal issues involving social media and online marketing. (For disclosure, I’ve received media passes in the past to cover PLI events for industry publications.)

Time for Online Marketers to Get an FTC Education

The FTC’s revised policy on Dot Com Disclosures will directly affect many online marketers’ business activities. Online marketers should treat it as an opportunity to shape future public policy and practice better self-regulation in their respective industries, and build back consumer trust that they can turn into sustainable and profitable business.

Learn More – Free Report

Today with the help of New Media Expo, I am making available for free to the public a special report, Pay Me To Trust You: An Online Marketer’s Guide to the FTC’s Revised Guides for Disclosures of Endorsements in Social Media. The report is meant to serve as an easy-to-follow, condensed overview of FTC disclosure guidelines around endorsements in online media, with an understanding of the important issues and questions online marketers have.

Contents include:

  • The FTC’s guidance on disclosure methods and understanding endorsements in online media
  • The FTC’s review for changes and the challenges to be faced, and;
  • How online marketers may affect positive change with FTC compliance and self-regulation.

What online markers will gain from this report

This report is based on the premise that when online marketers possess an understanding of these FTC guidelines, they will benefit in the following ways:

  • Greatly reduce or eliminate the legal risk by practicing better FTC compliance
  • Achieve better customer relationships from a better understanding of consumer expectations for transparency and disclosure of relationships, and;
  • Be empowered to act against unfair and deceptive business practices in online media by their competitors.

Read Pay Me To Trust You: An Online Marketer’s Guide to the FTC’s Revised Guides for Disclosures of Endorsements in Social Media to learn more.

Digital Hatfields and McCoys: America’s Need for Better Judges

Author:

Every day, judges have to deal with cases involving technology they don’t understand. This is simply a fact of life. However, with the rise of cases involving the Internet, we absolutely need judges who better understand how this technology works.

The average age of our Supreme Court justices in the United States is 66, and this number is on the low side since two of the nine justices sitting on the court were appointed in the last three years. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life; they hold their position until they resign, retire, or die unless they are impeached.

And what of other courts? According to a 2010 study by ProPublica as reported here, “About 12 percent of the nation’s 1,200 sitting federal district and circuit judges are 80 years or older[…]Eleven federal judges over the age of 90 are hearing cases — compared with four just 20 years ago[…] The share of octogenarians and nonagenarians on the federal bench has doubled in the past 20 years. The demographics of the federal bench have no analogue on the state courts, where judges mostly occupy their office for a term of fixed years and generally have mandatory retirement ages, often in their 60s or 70s.”

Why is this important? As a blogger, podcaster, web TV producer, or other kind of digital content creator, why should you care about the age of judges in the United States?

Digital Hatfields and McCoys

If you’re like me, you’ve become engrossed in History‘s recent mini-series about the Hatfields and McCoys. This legendary feud between families started with a little bad blood about events happening during and after the Civil War, and the major incident causing the feud to escalate was a dispute over a pig in Hatfield possession that the McCoy family claimed belonged to them. From there, things really escalated, with the families continually fighting, suing one another, and even taking the law into their own hands. It got out of hand.

All because of a pig.

I mention this because the Internet seems to be a breeding ground for digital Hatfields and McCoys. Bloggers, podcasters, commenters, and others online are very concerned with their rights to say what they want to say. But just because you legally may have the right to say something doesn’t mean you should. Online arguments have a way of escalating very quickly, just likes the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys did in the 1800s. Too often, people on both sides resort to fighting dirty, even when the original argument was over something as stupid as a pig.

And beyond that, many Internet users do not understand laws regarding free speech. Just because you’re allowed to voice your opinions does not mean you’re allowed to threaten someone or insinuate that your opinions are facts. You can and probably will be sued if you make a habit of doing these things.

The problem is that you can also be sued and punished for writing posts that do fall under the protection of free speech, simply because the judge doesn’t understand how the Internet works.

Aaron “Worthing” Walker versus Brett Kimberlin

To see how this can easily effect digital content creators, one needs to look no further than the case of Aaron Walker (previously blogging under the pen name of Aaron Worthing, according to Popehat) and convicted Speedway Bomber Brett Kimberlin. Aaron wrote about what happened (supported with court documents, video evidence, and other facts) here, which I highly recommend checking out so you understand the background of the story.

The story is rather complicated but according to The Blaze and other sources, Kimberlin and his supporters have been attacking bloggers (like Walker) who write about him with lawsuits, threats, and more. He’s filed over 100 lawsuits to date. Walker and his wife both lost their jobs due to Kimberlin and his allies harassing their employers.  Another political  blogger “Patterico” was “swatted”.

(Edited to add: Patterico’s real name is Patrick Frey whose day job happens to be working as an assistant District Attorney in Los Angeles. – police were sent to his home after someone (allegedly from Kimberlin’s camp) placed a hoax phone call to the LA police department claiming to be Frey. Posing as Frey the caller confesses to shooting and killing his wife. This resulted in the SWAT team being dispatched to Frey’s home with guns drawn. Frey was handcuffed. His wife and children were woke by police officers to verify they were alive and safe. You can read Patterico’s account of this incident here. Did you ever think someone would send the SWAT team to your home over a blog post? – Rick)

Kimberlin was recently granted a “peace order” (which is similar to a restraining order) against Walker claiming his blog posts were harassment and that Walker had incited numerous individuals to make death threats against Kimberly via blog comments and tweets.

I’ll be honest: I personally couldn’t care less about the politics behind this all. Kimberlin’s liberal music, support of the Occupy movement, etc. in relation to his past convictions don’t bother me because, at the end of the day, he served his time. I get why many conservatives and even some liberals don’t like him. But that isn’t what my post is about.

This is about the fact that the judge in Walker’s most recent court appearance clearly does not understand the Internet. Walker was accused of violating this peace order because a blog post he wrote about it was considered “contact” with Kimberlin. Furthermore, the judge overseeing this case, insinuated that Walker is responsible for the death threats Kimberlin has been receiving. Walker was arrested for “inciting,” which is encouraging others to “act in a violent or unlawful way.”

The anti-Kimberlin camp isn’t totally innocent. According to eye witnesses, Walker did not represent himself well in court and the judge became increasingly agitated. Guys and gals, if you have to stand before a judge, get a lawyer.

In addition, those on Walker’s side who resort to anonymous threats to Kimberlin are no better than people on Kimberlin’s side who have threatened Walker or have had others “swatted.” But just like it’s not one Hatfield’s fault that another member of his family shot a McCoy, it’s not Walker’s fault that his supporters took matters into their own hands. They are the people who should be brought to trial, not Walker.

Yet Walker was arrested, simply because the judge did not understand how the Internet works. Kimberlin set up a Google alert so he knows when someone is writing about him. Walker’s post may have popped up, but this clearly does not constitute contact. Has the judge ever used Google alerts? My guess is no.

Walker’s story also inspired others to write about Kimberlin, some very negatively and even in a harassing way (imo), but inspiring action is not the same as encouraging action. If Walker had said, “Hey everyone, send this guy death threats,” that would have been another matter. He didn’t (as far as I can tell).

At the same time, I do think this has gone too far. I refer again to the idea that just because you are legally allowed to do or say something doesn’t mean you should. As deplorable as a person might be, no one, including Kimberlin, deserves to live in fear because they’re getting death threats. We have to be responsible for the things we post online, and if we’re aware that what we write or say is going to cause physical harm to another person (or death threats, which are just a step removed from physical harm), I do think we have the responsibility (morally, if not legally) to edit what we post.

Who has the Power?

Right now, I believe certain people have powerful responsibilities.

First and foremost, Kimberlin needs to stop attacking anyone who writes facts and even opinions about him online. When you do controversial things (both in the past and in the present), some people aren’t going to like you. They have a right and perhaps even a duty to stand up and say why they don’t like you, and suing these people is taking advantage of the legal system. Instead, Kimberlin should spend his time in court against people who actually send him death threats.

Second, if you’re a blogger in the anti-Kimberlin camp, you need to be fair, factual, and professional. Realize that some of your readers are not as mature as you. Do not encourage them to “take up the cause” on your behalf. They aren’t always going to represent you the way you want to be represented. Instead, encourage your readers to do their research and come to their own conclusions about Kimberlin or anyone you don’t like. Present your case and understand that there are two sides to every story.

Lastly, if you’re an America, use your vote to make the judicial system fairer for online content creators. This also applies to people living in other countries with the same  problem. Judges who admit to having no idea how the Internet works should not be involved in Internet-related cases. Term limits or forced retirement is necessary to protect younger generations from rulings by people who don’t understand the latest technology. We need to be a collective voice, demanding that the first amendment is upheld online and that bloggers and other content creators should be treated fairly.

Why the Virtual Ticket Will Feel “Even Closer to Being There Live” This Year

Author:

As the guy in charge of BlogWorld’s Virtual Ticket program (which allows people who can’t make it to the live event to “attend” on their own timetable from their home or office), I’ve been given a very interesting puzzle to solve.

Here are the two questions I keep asking myself:

  1. How can we most effectively bring the content and experience of BlogWorld to people who want to go to New York to attend…but can’t?
  2. How can we make an online conference as much like being there in person as possible?

See, BlogWorld is HUGE. There are over 140 speakers, and at the live event, ten sessions will be happening at once…pretty much all the time. Even if it were feasible to live-stream the entire conference to our virtual attendees, we wouldn’t want to.

Why?

Because if we did, then virtual attendees would face the same problem that live attendees face: They’d have to choose one session to watch at a time and would, hence, be physically unable to view 90% of the conference due to most people’s pesky inability to be in ten places at once.

The content in the Virtual Ticket isn’t live. You wouldn’t want it to be live. In fact, a huge number of people who sign up for the Virtual Ticket are people who will be there at the actual event. They get the Virtual Ticket to fill the gaps in their live conference experience, so that after they come home from BlogWorld, they can watch that 90+% of the content that they missed.

(NOTE: If you already signed up to attend BlogWorld in New York and would like to add the Virtual Ticket to your registration, you can do so for only $97. Just email us and ask us to add the VT to your registration. If you haven’t yet signed up for the live event, you can add the VT during the registration process.)

But because the Virtual Ticket’s main content is 100+ hours of non-live video recordings (and the accompanying MP3 downloads), that dilemma comes right back at us. How can we best convey the BlogWorld experience? How can we make it “almost like being there live” for people who can’t be there live if most of our Virtual Ticket content is not live?

And the answer, of course, is that we can’t. But we can come close.

See, there’s nothing like attending a conference. If you’re actually there in person, you’ll get the networking and handshaking and hanging out and the strange “inspiration osmosis” that comes from being in the live atmosphere. We can’t replace that, and it’d be insulting to suggest that we could.

But I asked myself…what would be close? What would help simulate an in-person experience as much as possible?

And the solution came back loud and clear: Provide daily content.

The recordings — which you can play, pause, and replay at will for a full six months on the website (or forever if you download them) — will show up about a week after BlogWorld ends. For the Los Angeles 2011 Virtual Ticket, we did a bunch of video interviews — behind the scenes stuff, intended to give that “at the conference feel” — and we provided those about a week after the event, too. And that was cool.

But this year, in addition to all of that (and with an upgrade in video and audio quality for the bonus interviews), we’re going to give Virtual Ticketholders content every day.

There’s something different about daily updates. If you get daily updates, then you can learn about Day 1 stuff while it’s still Day 1. And if you learn about something on Day 1, then you can see what happens with it on Day 2 and follow along.

In other words, daily content gets you immersed in the experience so you don’t feel like you’re just watching from the sidelines.

So, in addition to the 100+ recorded sessions, in addition to the bonus video interviews that are exclusive to the Virtual Ticket, and in addition to our prolific social media activity and picture-sharing from the conference floor, we’re adding two things to this year’s Virtual Ticket:

  1. Every day, we’re going to record a handful of audio interviews and behind-the-scenes segments. And every evening, we’re going to post those files on the Virtual Ticket site for attendees to listen to.
  2. Every evening, we’re going to write up a daily recap. We’ll tell VT attendees who we captured on video that they’ll be able to watch later, we’ll tell them about big happenings, and we’ll tell them if we spot The Bloggess eating a burrito for lunch. (Or if she brought her giant metal chicken “Beyonce” with her.)

Will this content make the Virtual Ticket “just like being in New York”? Of course not. But will it bring Virtual Ticketholders into the fold, finally making them a PART of BlogWorld as it unfolds instead of sitting on the sidelines, waiting patiently for the event to end and for the session content to be delivered to the private Virtual Ticket website.

If you can’t make it to New York this year, check out this year’s BlogWorld Virtual Ticket if you haven’t done so already. The price is only $347, and you won’t have to book a flight or a hotel room. Good luck finding this insane amount of content for that price anywhere else.

And if you’re attending live in New York, definitely consider adding the Virtual Ticket when you register for BlogWorld so that you can go back after the event and review the huge amount of content you missed while you were there live. It’s only $97, and will be the best conference bang-for-your-buck you ever spend. (NOTE: If you’ve already registered and want to add the VT now, you can’t do that through the website. Please email us and let us know you want to add the VT and we’ll add it for you.)

Facebook, YouTube and Google Grab Number One Spots on Nielsen’s “Tops of 2011″ List

Author:
facebook like button

Nielsen unveiled their Tops of 2011 list this week and when it comes to their Tops of 2011: Digital list, nothing is really surprising about it. Google is the top web brand, Facebook the top social network and YouTube is where the masses go to watch videos.

Actually, I am a little surprised at the fact Yahoo! ranked number 3 for Top U.S. Web Brands. They beat out Microsoft, YouTube and AOL Media Network, to name a few.

Here are the Top 10 U.S. Social Networks & Blogs:

1. Facebook
2. Blogger
3. Twitter.com
4. WordPress.com
5. Myspace.com
6. LinkedIn
7. Tumblr
8. Google+
9. Yahoo! Pulse
10. Six Apart TypePad

What site(s) did you spend most of 2011 on? For me personally, I would have to say Facebook, YouTube and of course – all things Google related.

Texas Teen Ben Breedlove Uses the Power of Words and Video to Touch Thousands

Author:
Ben Breedlove

There are most likely hundreds of blog posts on tips and tricks to making a video go viral. You ask yourself what your audience wants to see or if you should upgrade to a better camera. Or maybe if you just had that high priced video editing software, your videos would be shared with thousands.

What if you just simply shared something of importance? No fancy equipment. No music. Just you and your message.

Texas teen Ben Breedlove sat silently in front of a camera, with some notecards he had written on and held them up for all to read. Nothing fancy. Just his words he needed and wanted to share.

This was a two-part video the 18 year old shared about the heart condition he’s been living with called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He shared how he’s cheated death 3 times and what he remembers from those moments. He ends the video with “Do you believe in angels or God? I do.”

Breedlove died on Christmas Day (December 25, 2011) and these videos titled “This is My Story” were uploaded just a few short days before he passed. His videos now have more than 2 million views.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Ben Breedlove.

FTC Decides to Close Its Investigation on Hyundai and Their Blogger Outreach Campaign

Author:
Hyundai

During Super Bowl XLV, Hyundai hired a PR firm to handle a blogger outreach campaign to build buzz around their Super Bowl commercial. The bloggers were asked to write about the commercial, featuring the Hyundai Elantra, and were given a gift certificate in exchange.

But there was a problem with the campaign. There was no disclosure that the bloggers received something in exchange for the promotion, as the FTC requires.

Needless to say, the FTC launched an investigation to find out if the bloggers had indeed been told to disclose to their readers that they had received a gift certificate, in exchange for posting about the Hyundai commercial. The end result? The FTC recently announced they have closed the investigation and gave their reasons why in this letter.

Here are two of the main reasons why the investigation was closed:

  • “First, it appears that Hyundai did not know in advanceabout use of these incentives, that a relatively small number of bloggers received the gift certificates, and that some of them did, in fact, disclose this information.”
  • “Second, the actions with which we are most concerned here were taken not by Hyundai  employees, but by an individual who was working for a media firm hired to conduct the blogging campaign.”

Although no action was taken, Lesley Fair of the FTC’s division of advertising practices, wrote in a blog post that the closing letter from the FTC is worth a read if your company uses social media in its marketing.

He also gave these guidelines for companies needing more guidance when it comes to complying with the FTC policies:

  • Mandate a disclosure policy that complies with the law
  • Make sure people who work for you or with you know what the rules are
  • Monitor what they’re doing on your behalf

The FTC may have closed the investigation and Hyundai escaped something that could have been real messy for the company, but this definitely teaches all of us a lesson – the FTC is paying attention to disclosure policies, so make sure you have one and it’s stated clearly.

Do you feel bloggers are doing a good job disclosing what they are receiving in return for working with a company? And, for those you who regularly work with companies and PR firms on outreach campaigns, do they clearly state a disclosure policy is required?

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