July 27, 2009 from NPR
The growing rift in the blogosphere over what some are calling "blog-ola" was among the issues discussed at the fifth annual Blog-Her conference in Chicago.
"Blog-ola" is the free goodies, products, trips and other perks many marketers are giving to bloggers in hopes of getting favorable publicity or positive reviews. It's a hot topic among "mommy-bloggers" in particular, who are proving to be quite influential with their readers.
More than 1,500 people attended the conference, a mere fraction of the tens of thousands of women who blog.
Omar Gallaga, the Austin American-Statesman's technology culture correspondent, says many of the mommy bloggers he has spoken to admit to writing only favorable reviews and receiving free products. He says that over the past few years, mom bloggers have become an attractive demographic for marketers.
"Mom blogs [are] shifting toward product reviews and things that attract more viewers," he says. "A lot of them are finding they get even more readers ... by specializing in a specific niche."
Many are like Kristen Chase, the Atlanta-based author of Motherhood Uncensored, who started blogging four years ago to connect with other moms.
"I was a Yankee transplant living in Mississippi," she says. "I just married a military guy and I felt completely out of my comfort zone, and I was pregnant by surprise and I just didn't know anyone."
Liz Gumbinner of New York, started her blog, Mom-101, for similar reasons.
"When I found myself with a baby after 35 years of not having had a baby, I had a slow learning curve and I was looking to connect," she says.
Both found other mothers with whom they poured out their hearts and souls in their blogs, and up sprang an increasingly powerful online community.
With mothers controlling upwards of 80 percent of household spending, it was only a matter of time before mommy bloggers, and now Twitterers, were reviewing and promoting products and services.
Companies from Wal-Mart and Kmart to Ragu and Michelin tires work with mom bloggers, and in some cases, Gumbinner says, lines are being blurred.
"Bloggers used to have sponsors sponsor their writing," she says. "Now, they're actually writing for sponsors, and I think that's changed the dynamic of the blogosphere a great deal."
Advertising on blogs used to be separated from editorial content, but increasingly, Gumbinner says, they are mixed together.
"To some degree, it's gone from a very authentic community to one where, unfortunately, people are often questioning the integrity and motives of a blog," she says.
Some say the problem lies with the PR and marketing firms that inundate the mommy bloggers with free product offers and trips in exchange for reviews.
Trisha Haas of the site MomDot says that promotional swag almost guarantees positive reviews.
"We're receiving a product for free. We're excited it came in the mail. We're going to possibly get traffic off of it, so by being positive, that's the feeling we're getting," she says. "Is it authentic? I'm not sure."
Haas and the other bloggers of MomDot are calling for a PR blackout the week of Aug. 9.
Some in the blogosphere, however, say what is really needed is for bloggers to be more upfront in disclosing whether they are paid or getting free products. The site Blog With Integrity is asking bloggers to sign and post an ethical pledge.
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is considering new guidelines to help clarify what constitutes advertising in the blogosphere.