Shades of Gray: When Ethics Aren’t Clear
Ethics. We all have a basic understanding of them. If you are a member of the Association of Food Bloggers you've agreed to uphold the ethical standards set forth. What happens, though, when we are asked to circumvent ethics?
Some publicists offer payment to bloggers to post articles on their behalf without disclosing the post is sponsored. Another tactic some PR companies are using now is to raffle off fantastic prizes in return for writing an enthusiastic blog post. One we were invited to involved a dinner at a fabulous fine dining Italian restaurant for the blogger who was most creative about their post. This company made no qualms about instructing bloggers to not disclose that we were writing this to win a prize.
According to the law, bloggers must disclose when they receive something for free. There is not a requirement to disclose when we are trying to win a prize. This begs the question - how different are the two? Obviously, a less than stellar post isn't going to win any prizes. So, is that really fair to readers?
In the end, we thanked our hosts for the wine and Italian fare, but left with no intention of ever writing a word about the event. Several weeks later, we bumped into a fellow blogger and the conversation turned to this event. He, too, had the same opinion. It seemed rather unethical to write about how amazing these particular wines were while not disclosing an ulterior motive.
As a rule of thumb, put yourself in your readers' shoes when in doubt. How would you feel reading such a post or being encouraged to spend my money on something that a blogger you respect told you was well worth it. If they would feel mislead, then the answer is clear. Remember, you want to be fair, honest and transparent to your readers. You will lose credibility if you shill yourself out for every prize and freebee out there.