As I have been covering the recent FTC guidelines over at The Inquisitr one of the things that occurred to me was the effect that these guidelines will have on the idea of Trust Agents. For those of you who haven’t heard about this idea it is the basis for a book by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith which you can now order through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
In the book the premise as outlined in a post by Chris is “people who use the web in a very human way to build influence, reputation, awareness, and who can translate that into some kind of business value”. Now I haven’t read the book yet but it is on my “to buy” list, however if I had been sent a copy to review under the new FTC guidelines I would have to disclose that I was given the book for the expressed purpose of writing said review.
It’s not like I couldn’t be trusted to make it clear to my readers that this was the case. It’s not like the reputation I have built up over the past four to five years of blogging would let me do otherwise. No as far as the FTC is concerned unlike David Pogue I would have to publicly declare in a satisfactory “in your face” way that I got the book for free. Interestingly enough every single book listed in the sidebar of David Pogue’s personal site uses an affiliate link – yet there is no disclosure of this anywhere.
One of the driving forces behind social media and people like Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Jeff Jarvis or Penelope Trunk (and not always to her benefit) has been their honesty and their never-ending drive to build your trust in them and that their word is the most valuable thing to them.
Yet under the new FTC guidelines (pdf) this trust they have built up isn’t good enough. Sure the New York Times can publish plagiarized articles or just plain made up shit and yet when someone from traditional media does a review they are exempt from having to plaster a disclosure all over their articles.
In other words as far as the FTC is concerned just because you are a blogger you have to play by different rules.
The Commission acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure requirements than reviewers in traditional media. (page 47)
It doesn’t matter if you have years of building trust – one on one – behind you or that the 100 or 30,000 readers who read you every day have more faith in what you say over some newspaper journalist.
To the FTC you can’t be trusted. Period.
Being a Trust Agent just got a lot harder.