The Pay-for Play-Mommy Blogger and Codes of Ethics:

Please, Mind the Audience

This article was written for my Ethics and Media Law course, as part of the Masters in Public Relations, MSVU (written in July 2015).

Photo cred: http://womma.org/ethics/

The Ethics of Mommy Blogging

Traditionally, the Public Relations practitioner’s bread and butter has been earned media that relies on developing a working relationship of trust with the objective journalist in the hope that they write about your client, based on news value and relevance to their audience. Protected by the regulatory framework that exists for media in Canada, codes of ethics of their profession and the codes of conduct of their employer, a story produced by a journalist carries with it credibility and an implicit truthfulness simply because it has been earned. But in April of this year, the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) held a workshop called: Paid Media in Public Relations that looked at “future directions for this evolving area of practice” with tips on “how to put together an effective paid media strategy” (CPRS Toronto, 2015). This effectively signalled acceptance of this new category of paid PR.

Over the past decade, mommy bloggers — the focus of this paper — have seen their influence and ability to sell product grow with their followers. Seeing the business potential, these women have turned their passion into a paid profession. Earnings that began with ad revenue have now morphed into a demand for payment for content — also known as blogola or pay-to-play. For the PR practitioner, this new field of paid public relations presents a new opportunity to secure the motherlode of influence and reach, increasing not only the campaign’s success, but the likelihood the PR firm will get rehired for the next campaign. Presently, these bloggers are not bound by a common Code of Ethics, a professional body or regulation that acts as a Social Contract, raising ethical questions with respect to the trustworthiness and authenticity of sponsored, paid content endorsing a product. In the U.S., bloggers must disclose paid content and free merchandise or risk an $11,000 fine per blog post, but in other countries including Canada, the rules of engagement are nonexistent, forcing both the sponsor and the blogger to navigate unchartered waters of inconsistently disclosed, non-regulated, non-contractual, paid content.

The purpose of this series of blog posts, a continuation of my work Pay-for-Play Mommy Bloggers vs. the Earned Media PR: Who’s Minding the Audience? (April 2015), which outlined the rise of pay-for-play and the issues it creates around audience trust and blogger credibility, is to look at how we might apply ethical considerations, and more specifically codes of ethics, to this new class of influencer. The blog posts — I am choosing to blog about blogging — will synthesize findings of studies and academic papers, white papers and websites asking: Is there a way to remedy the ethical shortcomings of this new business model to ensure a more trusting ethical climate for the blogger, the PR, and more importantly the audience? I will first examine the new PR-blogger paid dynamic, look at the accompanying ethical issues, explore the values of the bloggers that might form the basis of a Code, explore the benefits and weaknesses of bloggers adopting either a journalistic code or a PR practitioner code under the premise that all three are cultural intermediaries (Smith Maguire, 2014), and finally explore customized ethical options specific to the blogger. Throughout I will aim to prove that the most important consideration for any ethical solution is to mind the audience, the true moral compass in the blogosphere.

The New Paid PR

Mommy bloggers, who largely exist to “attract individuals with a common interest” (Kuhn, 2007, p. 22) admittedly work hard to cultivate their audience and develop the followers that give them the influence that they can put a price tag on. That is, after all, what the PR wants most: access to the influencers whose audience controls the household spending (Lewis, 2015; Lindell, 2015), providing “content that is relevant to the blog’s audience while simultaneously serving a client interest” (Langett, 2013, p. 87). Judy Lewis, executive vice president and co-founder of Strategic Objectives, Canada’s most award-winning PR firm, which specializes in product and lifestyle PR, agrees and attributes this, as well as the fading effectiveness of traditional media, to the reason why PRs should not shy away from engaging bloggers with paid, disclosed, contractual outreach programs (Lewis, 2015).

In the world of social media and engaging these new mommy influencers — the “nobodies of the past [women with children] are now the new somebodies [women with influence]” (Archer, Pettigrew, & Harrigan, 2014, p. 41). It may seem, then that the PRs may merely be using these bloggers in a way that Immanuel Kant (1785) forbids in his Categorical Imperative: that one should “never treat people as mere means to my ends and objectives….We should never use people” (Waluchow, 2003, p. 182). On this point, many academics, (Archer, Pettigrew, & Harrigan, 2014; Kent & Talyor, 2002; Kuhn, 2007; Langett, 2013) propose an ethical model based on dialogics and relationship building — a model that aligns with the Feminist Ethics of Care (Waluchow, 2003). Because dialogue is based on honesty, trust and respect, it is therefore considered more ethical (Kent & Talyor, 2002). This, in essence, shifts the focus from a we-they mandate to an “ethic of dialogic civility between the public relations practitioners and the blogger [whereby they have a] mutual reciprocity for the goal of creating better content” (Langett, 2013, p. 88). The blogger and the PRs must therefore collectively agree to terms with mutual accommodation and the understanding that at the heart of any collective agreement, the intended audience — for the PRs and for the bloggers — is the one that deserves the most consideration.

To date though, the monetary aspect of relationships [with stakeholders] “is given scant, if any attention [when] bloggers want cold, hard cash, [and the PR practitioner] must resort to efforts beyond dialogue or rhetoric to establish a relationship” (Archer, Pettigrew, & Harrigan, 2014, p. 49). In other words, the same tactics that win favour for the PR in their relationship with journalists to earn media coverage simply does not work with the blogger. Journalists don’t/can’t ask for money. Bloggers, can. And, as Erica Ehm (2015) says, if you want to play, you pay. So, any theory on dialogue ethics must now include “an understanding of commercial negotiation” (Archer, Pettigrew, & Harrigan, 2014, p. 49).

Ethical Issues

The first step in ethical decision making is to ask: Is it legal (Bagley, 2009)? In the U.S., regulation has made that an easy answer. In 2009, in an effort to reign in blogola, the U.S. government stepped in with Federal Trade Commission regulations requiring bloggers to fully disclose any payments or goods received from an organization or risk an $11,000 fine per blog post. Some bloggers are, in fact, flattered by this regulation. According to one blogger: “the fact that we’re being regulated is actually a backhanded compliment since it establishes legitimacy and shows that blogging is here to stay” (Jensen, 2011, p. 226). In Canada, blogging currently falls under the Competition Act, which “does not generally set out what specific information needs to be disclosed in order to ensure that a representation is not false or misleading in a material respect” (Competition Bureau, 2011, n.p.). Given the website was last updated in 2011, and the phenomena of paid content only began in Canada in earnest two years ago (Lewis, 2015), greater “guidance” (the site’s term, so not regulation) seems like a prudent idea.

Baring legal requirements, at the heart of the blogola issue are trust and credibility. By asking for payment, the very thing that attracted readers to a blog is now at risk: authenticity of voice and honesty, virtues that the mommy blogger has taken so much time and effort to cultivate with her audience. How do you retain your authority when your audience knows — or even just suspects — you are being paid to promote? (Lindell, 2015). Indeed, “many of us now have a difficult time discerning if the content of blogs is anything less than sponsored advertising, thus crippling the credibility of the content” (Jensen, 2011, p. 213). What began as online journals and the authentic sharing of trials and tribulations of motherhood — from potty training to family dinners — are now by and large “paid conversations and endorsements” (Jensen, 2011, p. 223) designed to get free product and make money.

The main problem, says Jensen (2011) “is that many people who blog are no longer being transparent in their writing and are not divulging the extent to which their expressed opinions may have been unduly influenced by payments and gifts bequeathed by sponsors… [and] how can I be sure that writers didn’t just fabricate descriptions of the products and services they wrote about in order to get a paycheck?” (p. 214) In a survey of Australian parent bloggers (Archer, Pettigrew, & Harrigan, 2014), many respondents felt there were ethical issues around “money or free product or service potentially buying (favourable) opinions, …disclosure of sponsorship and the issue of sponsored posts annoying or offending readers” (p. 46). As one blogger said in the survey:

…honestly, WHEN have you ever read a bad or neutral review on a blog? Not saying people should, but I hate that whole ‘this opinion is mine and the company didn’t tell me what to write’ stuff. You’re doing the post and you have received some benefit, so be honest with yourself that your opinion has been influenced (Archer, Pettigrew, & Harrigan, 2014, p. 46).

This in essence is the Reciprocity Principle, which is when “we feel an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us (Cialdini, 2001)” (Susman, 2008, p. 16). The quid pro quo is “the grossest form corruption” (Susman, 2008, p. 14) when applied to the lobbyist-legislator relationship, but can equally apply to the blogger­-PR dynamic as well. And, to me, the larger the quid, the bigger the pro quo. That is to say, if I am granted a free trip to Beaches Resorts (I wasn’t but secretly wanted and tried by blogging about it after we paid for the trip), I personally would be inclined to give a raving review of my experience as a token of my appreciation, choosing to leave out the less than perfect parts. I might even add in a few corporate key messages (Jensen, 2011). But according to one PR practitioner: “Blatantly positive posts that are clearly a result of free perks aren’t helping anyone…and are going to engender less trust than an editorial that’s fully transparent and disclosed. They don’t help the marketer, they ultimately don’t help the blogger [and] readers are going to have less trust in [their] words…those bloggers who accept cash to write positive comments actually harm the majority of bloggers who are trying to act ethically and responsibly” (Jensen, 2011, p. 223).

When lack of honesty, opinion presented as fact, paid relationships or conflicts of interest not disclosed (Kuhn, 2007) all threaten “truth in the blogosphere” (p. 216) as well as the credibility of both PR and blogger, perhaps the remedy lies in the creation of a Code of Ethics, a “deontological tool” (Tilley, 2011, p. 198), similar to that applied to the PR and the journalist. Such a universally-applied code would be designed “to anticipate and accommodate, by precedent, ethical challenges that may arise” (PRSA, 2009–2015) and “be predictably ethical according to professional ethical norms” (Tilley, 2011, p. 198).

Values and Duties of the Blogger, according to the Blogger

Before one can develop a code or any ethical structure for that matter, it is important to ascertain what the bloggers themselves feel are their values and duties, as researched by a number of academics. Martin Kuhn (2007), in his study, focused on ethical pluralist theories of W.D. Ross (1930) who talked about prima facie duty or obligation, and deontology’s Kant (1785) and his Categorial Imperative that focuses on universalizability, respect for persons and treating others as autonomous agents (Kuhn, 2007; Waluchow, 2003). Respondents concluded that factual truth (a Ross duty/value) was the most important, and that honesty and disclosing bias were duties all bloggers should fulfil, all of the time, in order to be considered morally good (the Kant values). Another survey, (Cenite et al., 2009) asked bloggers about their beliefs and practices and concluded there were four ethical principles of blogging: truth-telling, attribution, accountability and minimizing harm — not unlike those that apply to journalists. While truth-telling could relate to paid content, it is important to note that this survey specifically was not connected to the issue of payment (Archer, Pettigrew, & Harrigan, 2014). All of these results are consistent with other principles in codes of ethics that call for truth, transparency and accountability (Kuhn, 2007).

But here’s the problem: while bloggers can agree on the importance of the value of truth, they are torn on the value of a rule that insists on it. Bloggers in both surveys were either lukewarm or in outright opposition to the idea of any “universalized blogging rule” (Kuhn, 2007, p. 31) that could dampen free expression. Whether a code is necessary or even desirable, the fact that mommy bloggers are increasingly commercializing their low-overhead, digital-word-of-mouth recommendations into a profession that has an audience at its heart, a code is worth at least some discussion — whether they like it or not.

Bloggers as Journalist: Adopting a Journalist Code

Today’s mommy bloggers can be considered cultural intermediaries, a term developed by Pierre Bourdieu (1984) to describe “‘needs merchants’, sellers of symbolic goods and services who always sell themselves as models and as guarantors of the value of their products, who sell so well because they believe in what they sell (Bourdieu, 1984)” (Curtin & Gauthier, 2005, p. 1). Bloggers know they have this status, this power. And with power comes money: this is the main reason they feel worthy of being paid for their efforts. But if bloggers are cultural intermediaries, and both PRs and journalists are also cultural intermediaries (Curtin & Gaither, 2005; Smith Maguire & Matthews, 2014); then are bloggers in a class of their own or are they journalists? Or are they PRs? Ehm (2015) insists it’s just “semantics. Journalists are part of a media company and bloggers are self-employed” (p. 20).

Looking at bloggers as self-employed journalists, should they follow a journalism code of ethics? This would evaluate all blogs based on the same criteria: “trustworthiness, veracity, and credibility just like any other media” (Debatin, 2011, p. 839). This is unlikely for a number of reasons: “many of those who blog consider themselves to be fundamentally at odds with the conventions of mainstream reporters” (Jensen, 2011, p. 216); many reject any externally imposed rules (Debatin, 2011); and many “see their own values as being antithetical to the ‘professional’ press with all its perceived vices — including the acculturation of codes and norms” (Perlmutter & Schoen, 2007, p. 44). Researcher Kuhn (2007) argues that because there are so many different types of blogs — from political to personal — it would be difficult for a one-size-fits all approach that anchors the blog ethic in journalism only, and therefore would likely fail to be effective “in moral decision making in the blogosphere” (p. 19). The website cyberjournalist.net, founded and edited by Jonathan Dube, who has worked in digital media in both Canada and the U.S., offers a Bloggers’ Code of Ethics, based on The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (Dube, 2003). Admittedly, “since not all bloggers are journalists and the Weblog form is more casual, they [bloggers] argue they shouldn’t be expected to follow the same ethics codes journalists are. But responsible bloggers should recognize that they are publishing words publicly, and therefore have certain ethical obligations to their readers, the people they write about, and society in general. …Integrity is the cornerstone of credibility. Bloggers who adopt this code of principles and these standards of practice not only practice ethical publishing, but convey to their readers that they can be trusted” (Dube, 2003, n.p.). In Australia, “bloggers are except from the realm of the Australian Press Council and the Austrailian Journalists’ Association code of ethics, resulting in payment being seen as a ‘grey’ area of law” (Archer, Pettigrew, & Harrigan, 2014, p. 39).

So, while bloggers may not choose to adopt a journalistic code of ethics, they may consider adopting similar ethical standards with respect to disclosure of blogola or setting a dollar value limit on free goods. The U.S. FTC regulations and fines appear to be aimed at filling the role played by many traditional media organizations that have strict policies prohibiting reporters from accepting any gifts or meals worth more than a modest mount. That said, the traditional journalist typically does not have to disclose free tickets to movies or copies of books that they review, whereas the American blogger now does, in effect holding the blogger to a higher standard (Jensen, 2011). After all, are bloggers not doing the same and reviewing products? And as argued earlier, does that free product imply a good review must be made, or made at all? What is the reciprocity principle at play? I was recently told by a PR practitioner that the firm had sent a computer valued at $1,500 to a blogger with no resulting coverage (and no returned correspondence). Perhaps as the profession of blogging grows, this ethical systematization will evolve with it (Jensen, 2011). Disclosure would be a good start.

Blogger as PR: Adopting a PR Code

If bloggers are paid to promote a product via the pay-to-play model, doesn’t that make them more like their own public relations consultancy, wherein they shed the best possible light on a client’s product or service for a fee? Taking a look at Public Relations ethics, it is expected that all practitioners act based on the TARES model: “truth, authenticity, respect, equity, and social responsibility” (Baker, 2008, p. 243). Baker (2008) also adds: “humility, care for others, and transparency” (p. 243) — virtues that keep the audience in mind and also align with Aristotle’s (350 B.C.) Virtue Ethics. All of these measures “could be used to gauge if the efforts of bloggers are in fact ethical” (Jensen, 2011, p. 215). In addition to TARES, the Model of the Principled Advocate adds that media professionals act with integrity and disclose payments and gifts received (Baker S. , 2008). “To fail to do so is an affront to the virtues of transparency, respect, care, authenticity, and equality. It also calls the virtue of truthfulness into question, and that of concern for social responsibility” (Baker, 2008, p. 245).

Following this line of reasoning, and we choose to classify mommy bloggers as paid promoters (PRs), bloggers could adopt the codes of the PR professional associations like the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and CPRS, especially those that deal with truthfulness, transparency and avoidance of conflicts of interest (Jensen, 2011). By doing so, we would have a code that includes both sponsors (brands and their PR representatives) following the same code as the bloggers. In the U.S., the Public Relations Association of America (PRSA) and the National Advertising Council have, in fact, already developed professional standards around blogging: “members shall….Preserve the free flow of unprejudiced information when giving or receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal, and infrequent” (PRSA, 2009–2015, n.p.). However, no such standards exist in Canada, leaving it up to the blogger — and the PR — to do the right thing. The CPRS is currently reviewing its Code of Ethics, and hopefully it addresses paid content, making it clear the limitations as well as the opportunities for both sides of the relationship, in addition to keeping the needs of the audience in mind.

The disadvantage of following a professional organization’s code of ethics is that it relies on voluntary, paid membership and the only consequence of misdemeanour (if policed and called-out) is having membership withdrawn, making it hard to punish with any true effect. “The deontological premise of belonging to the group as motivation for acceptable behaviour doesn’t necessarily work for the groups constituted by new technologies in the same way as it has worked for offline groups” (Tilley, 2011, p. 199). Maybe then, adopting the PR code isn’t the most practical route either as the paradigm shifts for both the PR and the online influencer.

Bloggers as Bloggers: A Custom Code

Beyond deciding which profession’s codes might apply, the problem inherent with adopting codes, as described in Blog Post #4, is that “bloggers seem generally resistant to rules and codes established by others” (Kuhn, 2007, p. 34). Perhaps then they are in a class of their own. If a separate code of ethics is to be applied, then perhaps the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), a U.S. based organization, is the way to go (Jensen, 2011). The full code is on WOMMA’s website (WOMMA, 2014) and includes statements on disclosure of compensation and disclosure of relationship, with transparency at its core. There is also an Ethics Code Disciplinary Claim Form — anyone can fill it out — to give the code some teeth.

Any code — be it this one or any other — must include the “three validity claims — truth, rightness, and truthfulness — inherent to universal ethics of communicative action … this will considerably enhance professionalism and strengthen ethics in the blogosphere” (Debatin, 2011, p. 840). A code then will help the mommy blogger to be taken seriously by showing they are conducting their business ethically (Jensen, 2011). And, as Aristotle recommended, by being part of a community of practitioners, collective praxis (putting theory into application) can be achieved by establishing “mutual and common understandings of how things should be done in concord” (Bredillet, Tywoniak, & Dwivedula, 2015, p. 262).

Of course there are flaws with the blogger-specific Code of Ethics as well. For any code to work, it “relies upon signatories to it actually caring whether their membership in a group such as WOMMA continues” (Tilley, 2011, p. 200). And, as noted earlier, universalizability, one of the foundational principles of Kant, is that all bloggers can act on a rule or principle — a specified Code — but “given their diversity, it may be unrealistic to expect bloggers to agree on much at all, or to be bound by any one code” (Cenite et al., 2009, p. 591).

Perhaps then the answer is a mommy-blogger-only code, but, pragmatically, given their relatively low income (Lindell, 2015), is it even possible to expect this group to spend the time and effort to not only come up with their own standards but to enforce them as well (Perlmutter & Schoen, 2007)? As one blogger asked rhetorically, “If I break a rule [of ethics], what do I do, fire myself?” (Perlmutter & Schoen, 2007, p. 45). Not really. Perhaps, if bloggers don’t care about membership and its codes, perhaps then they care about their own reputation, not only with the PR so as to be regarded as an “effective brand-builder” (Tilley, 2011, p. 200) but also with their audience. Perhaps the truest impact to a blogger is loss of audience. Without that trust, that authentic voice that attracts and retains audience, the blogger has nothing (Lindell, 2015; Lewis, 2015).

At the heart of the matter then, should be the audience. Mind the audience. Communication, engagement, transparency and trust (Lefebvre, 2007) are all the price of admission for any blogger. It’s what will attract your audience, and keep them. And for the PR, it’s who they want to reach as much as the blogger does. A 2014 study (Rieh, Joo Jeon, Yang, & Lampe, 2014) affirms that transparency is one of the most important factors bloggers identify as being important for audience credibility. One respondent stated to demonstrate credibility in her blog, “she tried to show that ‘there aren’t sort of any hidden relationships, particularly hidden financial relationships that people might think would sway me in certain directions or others’” (Rieh et al., 2014, p. 441). “It should be an absolute given that all blogs, ads and promotional campaigns should be transparent and truthful in naming their sponsors up front. This forewarns readers, listeners, and viewers as to the source of the information they are receiving. In the case of a blog, sponsorship and funding should be readily visible and permanent features of the site (Baker, 2007)” (Jensen, 2011, p. 219).

What is being proposed here aligns to Kant’s deontological principles (Waluchow, 2003) of respect for others so that the blogger doesn’t regard the audience or the paying PR/brand as a means to an end; and autonomy, which allows the audience to make “well-informed decisions based on complete information” (Berg, 2012, p. 107). The guiding principle needs to be that all posts are the author’s authentic opinion and are not “overly influenced by the compensation that was provided — the ‘golden rule’ is that bloggers should disclose their actions, motives, and financial considerations that went into the writing process (Lasica, 2005)” (Jensen, 2011, p. 227).

Whether or not a custom code is the ultimate way to go is still up for debate; clearly there are as many weaknesses as there are strengths in creating and implementing such a tool. In the meantime, or perhaps as a more viable alternative, are self-initiated measures the blogger can — and should — take. Several bloggers, for example, are now part of a program called Blogging with Integrity with disclosure at its heart: “I disclose my material relationships, policies and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked” (Integrity, 2009–2012, n.p.). To be part of it, both bloggers and organizations can download the ‘badge’ if they agree to the website’s code. There are plenty of web-based articles and blog postings of bloggers aiming to influence other bloggers to be transparent and disclose relationships with PRs: “it makes common sense to not only protect your respective brands, but also build trust by being on the right side of this issue” (Rennick, 2013, n.p.). This particular initiative is more in line with Consequentialism, or outcome-based ethics, where “one must seek to develop simultaneous awareness of all of the audiences of one’s actions, all of the interconnected impacts of one’s behaviour” (Tilley, 2011, p. 203). In fact, “empirical research indicates that creating a sense of connection to those affected by our actions enhances the probable ethics of those actions (Madsen et al, 2007)” (Tilley, 2011, p. 208). This applies to both the PR as well as the blogger. Simply put: mind the audience.

The Audience as Moral Compass

It’s all well and good to insist that the bloggers develop their own code of ethics, and/or do the right thing, but what of the role of the PR practitioner themselves? “Ethics is not a one-way street” (Cenite et al., 2009, p. 592). Companies and their PR firms must also be held to account and it is recommended that they insist on disclosure as well as a contractual agreement on the terms of the arrangement (Lewis, 2015; Ehm, 2015) and be clear on their expectations of bloggers (Cenite et al., 2009; Ehm, 2015). If bloggers refuse, it is important that the PR firm also do the right thing and walk away. “There should always be a letter of agreement with scope defined [and] the brand needs to make sure that the blogger discloses their relationship with the brand” (Ehm, 2015, p. 11).

At the end of day, the audience will act as moral compass. As one blogger so eloquently put it: “The measure is: how often are you pissing people off? If everybody thinks you’re doing great then somewhere along the line, you’ve lost your moral compass” (Smith, 2010, p. 176). Because of the democratic nature of the Internet, it is argued “the invisible hand of the blogosphere will out error” (Perlmutter & Schoen, 2007, p. 46) and the instant feedback feature of digital media versus traditional media keeps the blogger in check. As one blogger put it:

I question the need for a code of ethics. The blogosphere will typically fact-check you’re a** if needed. Bad info and continued lies calls your credibility into doubt, which makes your blog a lot less worth reading. Sort of a self-correcting phenomenon (Perlmutter & Schoen, 2007, p. 46).

Indeed, “bloggers are only as good as their credibility — so much is based on word of mouth these days, both online and offline, that without a positive reputation, influencers can kill their own businesses” (Ehm, 2015, p. 9). And while “digital audiences are savvy — they assume the blogger is getting paid when they mention brands” (Ehm, 2015, p. 11), this may give the media literacy of the audience a bit too much credit; bloggers are better to err on the side of disclosure rather than assuming the audience assumes payment.

A lot of the ethical remedies outlined in this report remain up in the air. To date, comprehensive quantitative surveys have focused on what the blogger thinks of the issue, but not on the opinion of the audience, leaving room for future research scope. As Kant formulated, resolving these issues requires that “we treat others as autonomous agents…[with the] capacity to rise above the compelling forces of desire, self-interest…[ruling] out various kinds of manipulative practices (Waluchow, 2003, pp. 183–184). At the end of the day, bloggers’ failure to demonstrate any ethical standards — be it an adopted code, a code of their own, signing onto Blogging with Integrity, or ensuring full disclosure of any commercial relationship — will translate into loss of credibility and audience share. Without an explicit trust, not only between the blogger and the PR, but more importantly the audience, both the blogger and the PR have nothing. In the end, “as long as you are 100 per cent transparent, people will choose to read it or not” (Ehm, 2015, p. 25). Mind the audience and they will mind you right back — the ultimate in reciprocity.

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