The Federal Trade Commission's new set of guidelines to protect online consumers is a very hot and controversial topic affecting bloggers of all stripes. The Shopzilla Publisher team was curious about the thoughts of one of our coworkers and top publishers, Tim Flight, and had the pleasure to ask him several questions on the topic. Tim runs GPSReview.net, and has been a Shopzilla Publisher for roughly two and a half years. Tim gave us great insight on his experiences with GPSReview.net and what the new FTC regulations mean for him and other bloggers.
Jade: Would you mind giving a brief description of GPSReview.net for our publishers and blog readers who are unfamiliar with your site?
Tim: I started with GPSReview.net in 2005 and I've been involved with affiliate marketing since that time. I review GPS devices, provide ways for consumers to ask questions and leave their own reviews, as well as operate a large GPS forum. Often manufacturers will send me devices to review (which I send back when I'm done with the product), and I also often purchase GPS devices directly from store shelves for reviews.
Jade: The FTC's goal is to maximize consumer protection. Do you feel there are really that many biased product review blogs that negatively affect consumer decisions?
Tim: I don't believe there are a lot of blogs with a significant bias towards a particular company, although they do exist. However a bigger issue I see is the manufacturers/companies themselves are often out there trying to influence product ratings. For example, I've caught employees of just about every GPS company trying to influence the conversation of various pages of GPSReview.net. They will pose as a consumer and "review" their own product or say something negative about their competitor.
Another tactic I've seen recently is a company offering a discount on their product or future purchases if the consumer writes a positive review of their product on a blog or forum. (Often before a consumer has even used their product).
Jade: What is your biggest concern with the FTC's new set of guidelines?
Tim: I don't have any big concerns with the new guidelines. I hope more bloggers will be open about the relationships they have with companies they talk about. But I think bloggers writing positive reviews of a product as a result of getting free product is just the tip of the iceberg.
As I mentioned above, employees writing about their own products in blog comments, forums, or social media sites is a problem for consumers. The guidelines also hardly scratch the surface surrounding things like "wining and dining" or being offered free show tickets while at a Vegas trade show. There are many other ways a blogger could be influenced by a company beyond just free product.
Jade: Richard Cleland of the FTC stated in an interview with Fast Company that the FTC is more concerned with the advertisers and wants to educate the bloggers. How far do you think the advertisers will pull back?
Tim: Product manufacturers and advertisers understand that bloggers can reach their target audiences, so I don't think they will pull back. Perhaps companies will start being a bit more strict when it comes to setting expectations on having product samples shipped back, etc. As far as "educating bloggers" goes, those that are receiving kick-backs for positive reviews probably won't change much.
Jade: How do you plan on adhering to the new FTC guidelines?
Tim: For a long time I've maintained an Ethics Page where I spell out my relationship with companies I review products from. I also frequently cite within a product review if I purchased the product myself or if the product was on a short-term loan. I plan to continue those practices.
Jade: How do you think your site, GPSReview.net will be affected?
Tim: I don't think I will be affected much at all. From what I've interpreted in the guidelines I've been already meeting or exceeding the FTC guidelines.
Thank you to Tim for taking the time to talk to us about the new FTC regulations and his site GPSReview.net. We'd love to hear our publishers' reactions to the proposed FTC guidelines. How do you expect to be affected in December when these new rules take effect?