Bloggers in Australia who accept cash or freebies for posting positive product reviews on their website, could be risking more than just their reputation with readers.
New guidelines for online product reviews released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) before Christmas, require review platforms – including bloggers and the celebrities who spruik products on social media – to give their honest opinion about a product and to disclose any incentives being offered by the business promoting the product.
This means you can only publish a product review if you have actually tried the product yourself. When writing about a product bloggers can only give their honest opinion and if you receive any incentives for posting the review (such as cash, freebies or discounts), you must disclose this fact to your readers by posting a disclosure statement prominently on the same page where the review appears.
Basically, what this means for your average blogger in Australia is less income as both they and the companies they work with, are now facing penalties of up to $1.1 million for breaches of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Fines are imposed for online product reviews that mislead consumers. The ACCC considers a product review to be misleading if:
- the product is written by the business or a competitor;
- someone is paid to write the review who has not used the product; or
- someone who has used the product but written an inflated review to receive a financial or non-financial benefit.
Bloggers can still be offered incentives by businesses for posting product reviews on their website. However, the same incentives must be offered to the blogger whether the review posted online is positive or negative. Furthermore, the business must ensure the online product review includes full disclosure of any cash payment or other incentives.
For more information read ACCC’s document Managing online reviews.
In my experience, most bloggers will only post a positive review online if they genuinely like the product. If they try a product and they don’t like it, they simply won’t write about it. They are basically honest people and while most have wanted to disclose a commercial relationship in the past, the companies who provided the product, wouldn’t allow it. Now that bloggers have no choice but to disclose their commercial relationships, expect to see far fewer companies willing to engage with the blogosphere in Australia.
You can download a copy of the new guidelines at Online reviews: a guide for business and review platforms on the ACCC website.