What Should Be Expected Of Mommy Bloggers?

Mommy Blogger


This article was originally an editorial filled with opinions and idealistic expectations about who, when, where, and what Mommy Bloggers (or any bloggers for that matter) should adhere to as far a transparency, credibility.

But, in favor of a more objective and empirical discussion, the following images, questions and symbolic “evidence”, for lack of a better term, will be applied. In thinking about the discussion started with this article, we essentially boiled the whole issue of Mom Blog monetization and authority down to one crucial question. ”

What do you, or should you expect from Mommy Bloggers?” The publication spotlighted in this article uses a variety of viable and obviously successful methods to monetize. However, their claims here at Everything PR as to not being paid for reviews, and touting themselves as 2bove reproach”, may leave room for speculation.

Appearances Can Be Everything

I will not interject my opinion, or that of others here in the text of this article, but to inform the new reader of these “goings on”, I will say that many Mom bloggers who were approached recently to “look at” a free service (and I emphasize the “look at” part because there was no PR pitch involved), seemed more interested in making money than anything to do with products that actually stand a chance of helping children. The story is a long one, and as with all long stories, it is fraught with human frailties as well. Suffice it to say one Mommy Blogger came to defend the indefensible, and an ever more influential one came to be the “defender of the faithful” in the comments. Much of the text and images you will evaluate come directly from this second Mommy blog’s site. You be the judge. What is your opinion of the appearances here?

I  suggested that some Moms who blog are money grubbing shopahaulics, and for a reason. I further suggested that any number of high profile Mommy Blogs are not in full disclosure about paid reviews, the ways in which they promote products, and basically either misunderstand disclosure or out and out ignore or circumvent it all together. Here part of a comment left by Liz Gumbinner, Co-Founder of CoolMomPicks, out of her involvement with PR University and the article from which m original was initiated.

“I am part of the call tomorrow, in part because I’m the co-publisher of an influential blog that strives to be beyond ethical reproach and does not accept products or payment in exchange for recommendations. Your insinuation that the information we’re seeking to provide on the teleconference is useless because heck, we’re all for sale, defames me and the other women on the call. Let alone, it’s incorrect.”

Beyond Ethical Reproach and Going For the Silver

I made no insinuation that this conference or Child’s Play proper, let alone the information they were doling out was useless. I simply meant that headlining the conference as some sort of “cure all” for those seeking to engage Moms was not good form. To continue our running evaluation, below are several screens and some quotes from Cool Mom Picks which should be considered based on Liz’s assertions about transparency. I will begin with a quote from her site disclosing that none of the reviews there are paid for.

“NOTE: We do not accept compensation for any reviews on Cool Mom Picks. All reviews are strictly determined by the editorial staff and are separate from any paid advertising or affiliate programs on site. We believe in complete transparency regarding our sponsors.”

Trail of Links

The list of articles bearing links to sponsors or advertisers is pretty extensive. It cannot be categorically stated that every article promotes advertisers with Cool Mom Picks however, we did not have the time or inclination to surf every one. The screen mashup below depicts two of at least three posts about a current ad sponsor on Cool Mom Picks however. We put it in frame with the button for Polarn O. Pyret for reference.

Let There Be No Negative Reviews

“You also won’t find us ranting about items that we hate or don’t work or just plain suck. We weed out those things for you because we know you don’t have time to.” From the About Page of Cool Mom Picks

Can you figure out why there are no negative reviews on Cool Mom Picks? Are Cool Moms too cool to read about dangerous products, issues with middle of the road products? Is a negative review always a bad thing? Is it just as well that inquiring Moms visit a retail site and read their own reviews? Mum is the word from this author, objectivity, objectivity.

The conference referred to earlier, the one which Liz so adamantly defended in our comments, was presented by Bulldog Reporter’s PR University. 

Ads and CPM rates for Cool Mom Picks

I guess the question in everyone’s mind now goes something like this; “So, what is wrong with having sponsors, selling ads?” I will not venture my opinion or voice on this issue, the jury (you) is still out on this particular case. Here are some numbers to think about though.

There is no mention of what email campaigns run for selected sponsors, but it is evident from the ones my partner has, and the archives like the one below, that sending out over 20,000 of these a month has a value as previously alluded to by several of the testimonials.

Note the some of the ad variations below have already been sold out.

Old Marketing Made New By The Digital World

The co-founder of Cool Mom Picks tweaked my interest in the PR University teleconference more so than I originally was to be honest. The screens and text below reveal (I won’t say what I think, objectivity you know?) aside to PR, Marketing and Mommy Blogging one might not think exists. Please let us know how these pieces of puzzle fit into your schema of “transparent” publications and advertising if you will.

The next screen reveals a little of how Mommy Bloggers might overcome the “paid for opinions” negativity which seems to be coming down on so many now. As any of us know, email is still the closest thing to actually being inside the “home” of consumers, and getting past spam filters, getting openings, and presenting products is still a marketer’s stock in trade.

Summary

For now at least, the reader has already been overwhelmed with information to think about. The questions posed will perhaps lead to a valuable discussion, or at least we hope so. The ladies who operate Cool Mom Picks will no doubt be incensed to a degree by what seems like a negative implication here. Well, there is one. However, it has nothing to do with their skill, their ability to organize, their writing capability, their notoriety, and certainly not their need to monetize a publication. The problem for this publication is…

Well, I said I would not offer an opinion on that just yet. The reader should understand too that I actually admire the quality, breadth, and depth of their business proposition, believe it or not. I only hope that all our readers, any we can point towards this article, and ultimately Cool Mom Picks (and more importantly their readers) might be able to fashion an inkling of what is wrong with parts of their business.

Credibility is perhaps the most coveted and difficult to obtain commodity in communications, and in this age of instant connection, “riding the fence” and circumvention is simply not going to fly. These ladies have covered the gambit of everything from social networking on Twitter and Facebook, to working their butts off creating a great site.

But, sometimes “one thing” makes all the difference, this is all we are focused on at Everything PR News, aspects of otherwise great people and businesses which when done correctly can help us all prosper.

PR News For You:

Comments

  1. Lisa says

    As a first-time reader of this blog, and a mother of two who has never heard of, let alone visited, the Cool Mommy Picks website, I can only wonder what CMP did to piss Phil off. As well-supported and legitimate as Phil’s arguments seem to be, they entice me to do to things:

    1. Suspect a witch hunt
    2. Visit the CMP website

    If there is truth to Phil’s claims, other media will pick up this story and CMP’s rep will suffer. If not, this will go down in history as all other mountain-molehills do, and Phil’s rep will suffer. Either way, the rage is apparent on both sides, and spectators will watch, interested, as they would at the scene of a car accident.

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Lisa, Thanks for stopping by to add your input. Actually CMP did not really make me mad Lisa. The situation with transparency and money convoluting (or in many cases causing some suspicion of credibility) is what has concerned me. I guess everyone assumes that Phil just gets hacked off and writes “whatever” to vent his frustration or something. Well, this is not the case I assure you. However, the local inhabitants of the Web (or digital jungle as I am beginning to think of it) sometimes provoke attention toward their own little “villages” along the path. CMP just got my attention is all, and after taking a look at what they are about, I noted (and presented here) some issues. Just between you and me, I know what is wrong with me doing this too, at least wrong to them.

      What is wrong for most people is when they are called to question about anything they do not want to deal with. It could also be said that no one wants undue criticism, but I assure you I am not the first to take a look at this blog or any other. Please do not make me look up and post 100 links to this effect, just Google it. To make a long description of this very short, these folks came here in defense of another company, and another company on top of that, and of the idea or methodology that is trying to circumvent true transparency in not only advertising, but communication in general. We all have made mistakes in this area to be sure, but after our initial reactions, good publishers usually see the merit in such cases. So far, all we are getting is a silent majority of Mommy Bloggers, and the adamant “Joan of Arcs” of monetizing Mommydom. At least that is my term for them at this moment.

      Witch hunt? That implies burning people at the stake who performed black and white magic. I would rather call this a quest rather than a hunt, and use “truth” in place of witch. Even if it were a witch hunt Lisa, I assure you the good witches along with the wicked ones from the West will be revealed as far as possible. Just which kind the people at CMP’s are is up for grabs. One thing many who come here do not get just yet is alignments and associative branding. By coming here and erring on the side of someone, without (as you readily admit) really knowing what is going on you associate yourself with a site and a business, which is possibly wrong about all this. I hope you see the long tail of that endeavor if the story goes counter to your conviction.

      This is what several have jumped on, and I am big into symbolism myself. All I did was suggest a problem and present some images reflecting how this “looks.” We are in the branding and news business Lisa, we spread ideas and information about positive and negative aspects of this. By “seemingly” being ambiguous to their visitors about whether or not they get paid to offer opinions, this blog and many others destroy their credibility. Or at least, they can do so. Not only that, but if 500 Moms follow their methods, even unwittingly, the problem gets much bigger. For everyone.

      If no one ever said anything about all this, and everything remained the same, how would that help people on the receiving end of these “suggestions” about products? After a time, will the history of Mom blogs or any blogs reveal that they were worthless because no one could believe them? Would you be able to make a dime off your expertise if the water got so muddy no one could believe anyone? This is the problem in the physical world, and now in the digital one. There are a great number of fine companies that provide wonderful products and serivces. On the other hand, they are competed against by companies who could care less about repeat buyers (unless they just get lucky and attract stupid ones), but are interested in selling their wares (however marginal) to an unsusupect or naive consumer. This costs the consumer on both ends.

      I do not want to go into the long version of this, I have typed 10 times the number of words on these comments the commenters have already, but still people come and yell “Liar liar pants on fire” rather than providing me or anyone who reads this with concrete evidence or rationale as to how I am completely wrong. The opinions in support of CMP are, in effect, paid reviews of them based on reaction and infantile “jabbing” or redirect away from the issue. Does putting 5 links to advertisers, affiliates, or just for fun evidence of some form of monetization. If it is not, what is the proof of what this systematic linking is for?

      Secondly, is “bling” a form of payment? How much bling is being doled out? And, what are the residual currencies which are being paid for obviously gravitous and extensive content? And so on….

      I hope I made this a little more clear, though I doubt it matters to some who comment like this. There is no strategy, trend, idea, procedure, outreach or other variable of blogging or networking to which we are not familiar. That being said, please research these ideas and the other people talking about this before calling me a Puritan. If I am one, then I am in good company I think.

      Thanks Always,
      Phil

  2. Susan says

    Phil,

    Clearly you formulated your hypothesis that CMP was being unethical and THEN went looking for evidence to support your hypothesis. Had you started with a review of the site first, I don’t believe you would have come up with the same conclusions. In your own words, you didn’t take much time to look for examples. You then threw together a bunch of images, surrounded by copywriting that appears to not have even been proofread due to all the typos and word mangling.

    Liz, Isabel, et al – please just consider the source. Clearly this man, whom I’ve never heard of until this hit digg today, has created his own soapbox for extolling is opinion. It’s simply sad that this little-researched article gained any visibility.

    And Phil, let’s be clear – your poorly-veiled “I’m not giving my opinion” in the midst of your clearly non-objective negative review, is HARDLY full disclosure. I can find many more problems with disclosure in this one article (and believe me, I didn’t read the rest of your site) than I can on all of the CMP site that I’ve seen.

    Finally, let the readership speak for itself:

    Clearly “Everything PR” needs to drum up some controversy in order to try and reach an audience.

    Susan

    • Phil Butler says

      Wow Susan, You must be really mad. Obviously not on the side of the “giggling Moms” Jessica was alluding to. Well, how to address this? Never being heard of is something we all have to live with I suppose. But, figuring out who we are dealing with is perhaps more pertinent to this conversation. Maybe I should address your “concerns” one by one.

      Formulating hypotheses – Actually, if you will ever believe me (which will never come out) I looked at Liz’s comment and thought to myself; “Could I have been overzealous or perhaps involved someone I did not intend to?” Then, after visiting her site, the now ever present “cuteness” of the reviews leaped out at me, prompting further discovery. So, the original hypostheses did not err in my favor at all, but quite the opposite. How can I remember this so clearly, or emphatically? Because that was the methodology, the same one ingrained in me. I do not pre-suppose I am right unless the straws have been honed down to life and death etc.

      Typos – I am in fact the most read terrible typist the world has ever known. Over 10,000 articles, 7 of the worlds most read technical publications, my college’s student handbook, the US Navy’s engineering manual for the most powerful warships ever to float, the second largest steel corporation in the world’s research and development documentation, the automotive industry’s top research and development literature on experimental friction materials, and a host of other publications bear witness to me mis-typing like a 5 year old. I am sorry, I am still working on it. I have mis-typed the names of personalities and celebrities to whom virtually no one who comes here to comment would ever have access to. The funny thing is, they always had a sense of humor about it, and were much more taken with the depth of the content. I will work harder, just for you.

      As for research -I doubt that 90 percent of the authors on the Web, writing right this moment, have spent more time for less money than me in looking into the in’s and out’s of things. That being said, one does not have to research too far to tell if someone ran over someone else with a dump truck. One only need find the driver.
      The opinion aspect, from someone how is admittedly opinionated, may be your best arguement. Again, I tried very hard. If this were my personal blog I assure you the essence would have been much sharper. I made an effort to present some things I saw which anyone might see, and in light of seeing assume something was not above board. That is all. Again, I am sorry I disappointed still another striving Mom who is enthralled with the altruism and excellence of Cool Mom Picks. There is full disclosure and then their is objectivity in this case. Think about this. If Phil were trying to be objective, and did not at least offer the semblance of his attitude toward a subject, would that be more transparent? Whether your realize it or not, you just mashed your own argument.

      As for your scrutiny – have at it. I honestly hope you can find something that I can apologize for and in so doing learn from this experience. I mean that. It had better be good is all I can say.

      An now to the “Nanny Nanny Boo Boo” nastiness – You people (yes just like from the movie Anger Management) need to figure out who you are dealing with. How is that for transparency? There was no relative comparative here between our site and theirs, but since you brought it up, theirs has not changed a whit since Compete, Alexa, and Quantcast have been reporting on them. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the core visits come from the 20,000 news letters a month? I do not know. I can alalyze it I am sure. Our news site has been in existence for something over 8 months. For much of that time my partner and I were working with 7 to 10 PR and consulting clients, and to be honest, there were just the two of us along with some collaborators. CoolMomPicks on the other hand, has been around a while. I provide below some metrics which may reveal “at least” that your Compete ones are (like all these metrics) somewhat nebulous (they use different criteria you know). Please understand though, we are not in competition with anyone except PR news sites. No one. I can prove this.
      As for the audience – this is not about that. If anyone ever questions the viability or reasoning behind these articles (and I mean someone like the FTC not you) I will reveal our business plan, our analytics, our network, and anything else that will reveal the truth. Believe it or not, I care but only slightly at this point. This is about doing the right thing Susan. I cannot make you believe that now, but I surely will in the months to come.

      http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/www.coolmompicks.com
      http://www.quantcast.com/coolmompicks.com#traffic
      http://www.quantcast.com/coolmompicks.com#traffic

      Metrics are very misleading sometimes. I do not think there is one which all upper level CEO’s or Tech people adhere to. Quantcast, by anyone’s estimation, is certainly one of the best. Compete is good as well, but it uses different criteria to approximate some of the numbers. Alexa on the other hand, though the most widely used, is nebulous in some areas as well. One thing is for certain however, Everything PR is on the rise at a rate exceeding what even the most popular Tech blogs achieved back when we all started this Web 2.0 thingy. This is in large part because we decided to focus on our own efforts, more so than those of early stage startups about two or three months ago. How is that for transparency?

      I truly hope all of this leads to a better way of doing things. I have said that a lot in these comments. As for people who want to bounce us off this soap box, as they call it, have at it. Just so everyone knows though, several have painted me as some irate PR guy who did not get what he wanted. To an extent that is true, because I wanted professional courtesy and reciprocal treatment from other human beings. As for being pissed off? You have not seen me pissed off yet. At this point, and believe me I was not there two months ago, I would entertain being the poster boy for FTC regulations that would force people into doing business the right way.

      I hope I am being clear.

      Always,
      Phil

      Sorry images of metrics would not insert, but the links reveal the story.

  3. says

    Almost all sites have banner ads. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Product reviews aren’t being monetarily compensated… I think that is wrong if there are. Most sites state if an article is a compensated article or if product was received.

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Emily, Thanks for stopping in. You are right about banner ads, and about the reviews except one or two aspects. The links in those reviews can be construed to be paid links. This is, at least for the Moms who do this, the big issue. Google frowns on paid links, and can penalize the sites which use them. There is a reason for this, a very logical one. The links do not carry the same weight as genuine ones because Google does not want black hat SEO to manipulate the engine. Think of any Google search dominated by companies who could afford to buy millions of links?

      Google is also working on issues with SPAM, a huge problem for all of us. I have not hit on this too much, but these campaigns some of these women are doing are marketing ones in which email SPAM, essentially paid for links, social media and networking evangelism, and in the end “passive” reviews of products are the end result. All in all, basically circumventing the need to have disclosure and to carry on as before. It is like a giant blob or amoeba running to the other end of the pitri dish because the FTC put an electrode on that end.

      I hope some of that makes sense. You see, some of these people are very skilled and have been schooled in exactly how to carry out what they might term “the most effective marketing” of products. There is a lot of money in it, and everyone obviously wants a piece of the pie. I have not said any one entity is guilty of all this, I am just pointing out notable ones who give the impression this may be going on. I do not understand why more people cannot see this honestly. Probably because I used a scenario in which my personal experience was involved? It matters not. A fish is still a fish.

      Thanks again, and please look into all of this for your own sake at least.

      Always,
      Phil

    • Phil Butler says

      Trisha, I am not really pissed off except I have a problem with ignorance and arrogance, along with truth. The appearances here are not good. I cannot say now who is doing what exactly, but the appearances of all of this have a familiar ring to them. We have all heard this ringing too. It is just that rationalizations and posturing are muddying the story for some. It is natural, but it will all become more clear. Thanks for stopping by and we welcome comments on this.

      Always,
      Phil

  4. Danielle Friedland says

    Wow! What a fabulous way to make sure no parenting-related shopping blogs will work with you after you attempt to trash a highly respected and ethical industry leader.

    I will also say this — I’ve been in the juvenile media business for almost 6 years and have heard of Cool Mom Picks but your information, name or firm’s name has never crossed my inbox.

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Danielle,

      I understand your reaction, and I assure you that if I have any further need of Cool Mom Picks I will pay for it. Just what is the definition of “the juvenile media business” any way? An immature way of reaching people? You must mean Twitter? Sorry, I am just a little tired of caustic remarks Danielle. I am not attempting to trash anyone, they can do well enough on their own I know. The problem is, that if these things go forward as they have, you, me, and everyone we know suffers in the long run. This is all I am suggesting. Look at it this way. If no one ever questioned these people, if Mom bloggers could just pile their closets high with bling from companies, garner readerships of millions, sell-sell-sell any product you can think of with impunity, would that be a good thing? If someone could offer a gift certificate to sell something that may not be worth 10 cents, and the end users pays a hundred dollars for it, where is the equity in that?

      Then again, it is not really about Moms making money, it is about making it in a professional and ethical manner. How about this. I shut up and go back to reviewing the greatest technologies ever launched into this digital world these Moms work out of, and every last one of them just put up a banner that says something like; “Official Mommy Blogger Reviews – The Moral Equivalent Of Used Car Sales?” I am in for that, how about you? I know that even this statement will be misconstrued, but anyone who wants to can see the dilemma here. I want these women to be MORE believable and credible, NOT less.

      Thanks for stopping by and your opinion is a valuable part of the discussion too. But please, remove yourself a little from the situation and imagine this is about some other genre or relations. Would you defend say Microsoft for not telling people that they are in fact selling your information submitted through Bing? I think not.

      Always,
      Phil

  5. Jessica Gottlieb says

    This is why I’m a mommy blogger, not a citizen journalist.

    Transparency is bullshit, it doesn’t exist in any industry and expecting it to exist online is an absurdity.

    When you stand on a soapbox it’s just a matter of time before someone kicks it out from under you. I don’t think that the ladies at Cool Mom Picks have done anything wrong… except be holier than thou, and that is why the women in this arena will be watching for fallout and giggling a little.

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Jessica,

      Now that is a gauged and appropriate response. Transparency does not have to be BS tho! As for doing something wrong. Well, this is a matter of conjecture I guess. I am just putting the stuff out there and letting the chips fall really. Well, maybe more than that, but from a PR perspective, a marketing one, or especially from as “new age” communications one, the semblence of inpropriety is pretty powerful. The holier are than aspect fuels scrutiny obviously. You are of course right with regard to the “giggling” in the aisles Jessica. I am honestly doing my share on this end.

      You know, no one is immune to this type of scrutiny, and the interesting thing about this Internet soap box is that as long as the digital ground beneath the soap box is sturdy, the bandwidth is there, and one’s keyboard still functions, the discourse can go on. I feel badly that someone with your crednetials and expertise has lost hope that honesty and transparency are dead virtues tho. I know where you are coming from, and this is why I took up this gauntlet. Tell you what, let’s make a pact to disclose anything and everything? Can we do that?

      Always,
      Phil

  6. Kristen Nicole says

    Well I think it’s important to keep all industries, especially those that have a very public presence, need to be kept accountable

  7. says

    I wasn’t going to comment because I don’t want to give any credibility to this post.  But I am so livid that I just can’t help myself.
     
    I have worked closely with Cool Mom Picks, my website has been featured on Cool Mom Picks and I have hired Cool Mom Picks AFTER they featured me editorially because the quality of their conversions is amazing.  And, the women who run it are nothing but upstanding and professional. (Also, I consider them my friends, as do many people who run in similar professional circles).
     
    The one point I am going to harp on here is that you don’t even mention the possibility that advertisements came AFTER the editorial.   
    It’s sad that all of this could have been avoided if you had simply questioned the publishers of Cool Mom Picks beforehand about these so-called discrepancies.  Instead all you did was publicly raise questions that are easily answerable.
     
    (BTW, why didn’t you just ask them?  Perhaps you were looking to shame them publicly somehow, and force them to become defensive, when really? Still scratching my head over here.)
     
    The only thing I learned from your post is that Cool Mom Picks should add dates to their testimonials so that it is crystal clear to those just stumbling upon their site for the first time that the editorial came BEFORE the advertisements.  (Also, I don’t think you give their audience or the community of moms enough credit for being smart enough to tell the difference between editorial and ads.)  

    Honestly, it saddens me that people are actively seeking reasons to question their ethics.  
     
    Isabel Kallman
    at Alpha Mom
     
    P.S. Is it legal to modify a copyrighted logo without permission?

    • Mihaela Lica says

      The logo was not modified, Isabel. It was used as is in a photo collage, which yes, it is legal. (Update: replaced the image mentioned by Isabel with the correct collage).

      Now about your comment: so we all agree that DISCLOSURE is mandatory?

      As for the ladies who run Cool Mom Picks – I think we all agree that they are very talented and I am sure they are trying to perform their jobs with utmost integrity. Therefore this article, and the comments that followed, should serve as a starting point to help them improve the way they present information to the public.

      I personally appreciate your enthusiasm and the way you defend your friends, but try to understand that we are not the enemy. As I mentioned in one of the previous comments: some issues with undisclosed links and affiliations could hurt their business.

    • Phil Butler says

      Well Isabel, then you learned correctly. This whole affair is about appearances and credibility. Would it be better for me to spot some inconsistencies and then things get modified, or for the FTC to investigate a site because it “looks” suspicious. If you want my real take on this, and I want to be honest but nice, this whole business of writing nothing but positive reviews is sickening. Anyone who would believe a review site that harps endlessly about how cute and wonderful “everything” there is, probably deserves to what they get.

      We are very positive people Isabel, and I actually hate doing articles like this one. I have said that many times before. But, if no one ever questions what these people are doing, what is the end of that fantasy? I know these things are uncomfortable, and we have been criticized before too, I hope you know. After about 10,000 articles on blogs in every conceivable venue though, one tends to get a picture of how things “might” ought to be. We are not rookies at this. We all make mistakes, and maybe, in some inconceivably obscure way, my zeal in reporting these issues may be a kilter. We all have to admit the possibility that someone else is right.

      I am glad you have had a great experience in dealing with the ladies, as we have said, they are obviously talented. The point is, someone can be talented as all hell and still goof up. Even if those posts about various products were done years before the sponsors came, if there was no one single link in them, and if a disclaimer as big as Yahoo! were posted on every one of them, I would still be doing a post about Cool Mom and many others to come. Do you know why? And you can Tweet this, post this, yell this, whine, bitch moan, or get just as incensed as you like. The reason I would do an article on this regardless is because these articles wreak of insincerity in my opinion, they are not objective (any of them), and because we work in a world of marketers who would kill Flipper for a Tuna sandwich. When people are willing to defend a stance that is “fence riding” at best, and mercenary at worst, there is something wrong.

      This is not to say that I “know” there is something wrong (even though my gut tells me there is), I am not prepared to disclose any of that right now, least of all about Cool Moms, but in the business of education, reviews, news and publishing there is no room any longer for inconsistency. I have honestly had it up to (wherever you can imagine) with adolescent ethics and Machiavellian (without the intellect) contrivances. It is also my opinion that anyone who has not had it may need to consult their inner self of the Dalai Lama for guidance.

      The very comment you are making is an advocacy based on a business relationship which you are admittedly happy with. In a very real sense, given the fact that it contains more words than the average Cool Moms post, a review of their business. I hope the gravity of that strikes you and everyone effectively. Cool Moms advocates Mom Bloggers Club, Mom Bloggers Club advocates Oscar Meyer and Weber Shandwick, Israel advocates using snipers on women and children, terrorists advocate car bombs. We are seen as who we advocate, we become the rationale of our apparent ideology. These are disparaging and deep ideas I know, but I hope you see some glimmer of good in this.

      I see in your about that you have worked on these issues some and appear to have delineated just what is disclosed and permissible in the way of advertising and marketing. You are apparently in the same business as Cool Moms and others, or it appears so. In writing these posts (however unfortunate it may be at the onset for those who appear) in the end we hope everyone will benefit. You can believe this or not, but it is as true as anything. You see, saying that no review is sponsored, claiming that full transparency is present, and then email marketing the hell out of everyone for money is the same as a burglar claiming they have never robbed a bank. At least in my view.

      So, I want to be abundantly clear on this for everyone. We are not perfect, no one is. We are not the first news site or publication to hammer at Mommy bloggers on some issues either, please do not make me do a list I hate them. No one here is out to hurt anyone. Our traffic, monetization, ideas or ideals have so little to do with Mommy Bloggers or any other specific segment of the Internet, we simply are now in a position to help other people deal with some of these issues. Not just our ideas, but those that arise from these conversations, are the ones that will matter. This is why the Web and blogs are so powerful. Just as seemingly easily as I wrote this article, I would commend the subjects as readily. Does that make sense?

      Any way, the end of this tale is far from over. It is after all, not the most important tidbit on anyone’s calendar. I do apologize to those who may have taken their time and do not get anything from these discussions. I hate wasting time myself. We appreciate you taking the time to come and state your opinion too Isabel. It is an important part of the discussion as you may well know already. You do not have to accept anything that is proposed here, but thinking about it all, and then formulating an opinion is crucial.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, I really mean that. Not for the traffic either, I can get that on my own.

      Always,
      Phil

  8. Sunny Jain says

    You know, a rose by any other name is still a rose. In this case, from what I have seen, the rose is a fish. Calling ourselves what we want people to think we are does not make us that. It looks to me, from the testimonials alone, as if these bloggers spam people via their newsletter, link to clients as much as possible, and use standard marketing and advertising methods otherwise. Like you said Phil, if anyone looks at all these positive reviews, and then wonders about those links, it will paint an ugly picture or what is going on at Cool Mom. Just my thoughts.

  9. B. Joe says

    She should check the FTC regulations…

    “Disclaimers and disclosures must be clear and conspicuous. That is, consumers must be able to notice, read or hear, and understand the information. Still, a disclaimer or disclosure alone usually is not enough to remedy a false or deceptive claim.”

    “Connections between an endorser and the company that are unclear or unexpected to a customer also must be disclosed, whether they have to do with a financial arrangement for a favorable endorsement, a position with the company, or stock ownership. Expert endorsements must be based on appropriate tests or evaluations performed by people that have mastered the subject matter.”

    And these: http://www2.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/ecommerce/bus41.pdf
    http://www2.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/endorse.htm

  10. Mihaela Lica says

    Yes, but you see, when you accept a product for review, whether you keep it or not, if you write about that product a positive entry, you actually make a recommendation. On your list, at point 4 you state that you received products for review.

    You also state: some of our advertisers also appear editorially. I noted on your site how: you insert links and (“go to” or “visit”) recommendations in random (and somehow related) entries. The problem with this is that you do not disclose those links as affiliates or advertisers. They are also “dofollow” links – which I am afraid could hurt your site in the long term, if the FTC or even Google will do a scrutiny…

    If you inserted advertising banners instead of links, that would be a better practice in my opinion.

    Liz, the misunderstanding is of your own making. You made a comment on a post entry that actually discussed FTC regulations and paid reviews. Now I don’t care what form of compensation you receive – fact is that you run a reviews site, and a positive review is always a recommendation. You ENDORSE a product the moment you write positively about it. The fact that you endorse it before the company owner contacts you for advertising is also irrelevant. So you endorse products hoping that the brands will eventually contact you to advertise on your site? A very interesting approach… yes indeed.

  11. says

    I cannot be more clear: We do not accept products in exchange for recommendations. We accept some products as tools for review to help us formulate opinions or provide us with real life user opportunities. When we can (ie not a new baby food that we tried ourselves) we then ship the sample to a reader.

    We are on the same press lists as the editors of every women/parents magazine, and receive the same courtesies of review samples when needed. We also attend trade shows at our own expense, attend showroom visits, and browse boutiques in search of products to recommend to our readers. We operate no differently than magazines, except that we post a disclosure policy while magazines do not.

  12. Mihaela Lica says

    Liz, I am sitting here, watching all this back and forth and I honestly do not understand how Phil lied to our readers. I think the lie comes from one of your previous comments on this very site, addressed by Phil in this article. In case you missed that part of the article, let me refresh your memory. You said:

    I’m the co-publisher of an influential blog that strives to be beyond ethical reproach and does not accept products or payment in exchange for recommendations.

    Now you come back to tell us, basically “yelling” at Phil that you actually did receive products to review and that you actually keep some of them… (?!) So which one is it? DO YOU or DO YOU NOT accept products or payment for recommendations?

  13. says

    Wow, Phil, so here’s what you’ve proven: Some of our advertisers also appear editorially. Just like in any newspaper, magazine, or television program on the planet. Bravo. Great investigative journalism.

    In an effort to drum up controversy, you’ve disparaged our brand, misrepresented us, lied to your readers, and made slanderous accusations against us.

    I will address this briefly, which is more than you deserve.

    1. We have separate adverting and editorial teams.
    2. Advertising on our site in no way guarantees editorial placement.
    3. We often review a product editorially, and when the response is excellent, the brand inquires about advertising. Not the other way around.
    4. Products we’ve received for review that we keep (most we do not) are disclosed. We ship our own product samples to our readers as prizes at our own expense. You will not find one other shopping blog that does this.

    In the end, our readers are the final arbiter of whether we recommend great products for the right reason. Not some angry PR guy with a misdirected chip on his shoulder.

    • Phil Butler says

      Liz, I was actually hoping you would take this article in the spirit of which it came from. I am not angry at your good efforts, not angry at you monetizing, not angry even that you come here to “react” rather than think. I am not really angry at all, at least not at you personally. I am upset that so many people fail to see how misconception (revealed here or elsewhere) can be such a negative thing. You are trying to do the same thing Jennifer did when she first reacted to the article about Moms Club, that is – redirect. Our readers are not idiots. In fact it has been through some of their promptings that we started working on this “credibility” and Mom blogger issue.

      Ironically, you were not even one of the bloggers that was selected for our crew to look at in these regards. You decided to come comment about a teleconference you had a vested interest in, and while you were at it, applaud your own “ethics”, to our readers, our authors, me, my partner, and the world at large. I just took some time (and not a lot I might add) to see if everything “looked” transparent as you suggested. It does not. Sorry. I made no opinion in this article Liz. I must say, it was hard not to, and the “suggestive” will always be there for anyone with half a brain to see it. This is as it is.

      The point of all this is not what Phil Butler thinks about this blog or that, this product or that, but what he understands to be a big problem for his own busines, yours, and everyone’s. This problem is in the gray areas you have so skillfully sidestepped. There is a simple procedure for straightening out any misconception anyone might have regarding your credibility. Just put a little sign at the bottom of the relevant posts that says whether or not anyone linked to or mentioned is a sponsor or in any way affiliated with you. Simple.

      That is all this is about you know? If this is not done, anyone who has the slightest inkling that something looks wrong, will be right. Does that make sense? The Moms who have reacted negatively to these posts all have some things in common, and pretty much try the same tactics in dealing with them. It is really so unnecessary though. I am not trying to hurt you. You do good work, I said that. But, being hard headed and nasty here in the comments is not exactly conducive of someone who has been misunderstood is it?

      I never lie. I may be wrong, I may be opinionated, but I do not lie. Anyone who knows me or my partner knows this. It is the very thing we are doing are dead level best to eradicate. I sincerely hope that you and all the Mommy Bloggers for that matter make millions and help hundreds of millions of people to have better lives. To an extent you are all doing this. But, it is the issues I am raising which demean not only your efforts, but ours as well. I do not feel good about stepping on your toes Liz. However, if smudging your nail polish is what it takes to make publications and business better, then the nail salon is going to e doing some banner business.

      Please look at this post if you will. All it does is ask questions that anyone might if they knew more than how to get their kids to gobble down Captain Crunch. You have created a great model for doing business and helping people Liz. I hate to see you “react” rather than just thinking about modifying behavior. As for calling me a liar? That does make me mad, especially since all I did was look at what anyone could and ask pertinent questions.

      I wish you well in your endeavors, and again, I hope this can all be resolved without further bloodshed.

      Always,
      Phil

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