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You’d be fired if you paid for fake testimonials in your TV ads …

Forrester1… so why would you even consider using a service like Izea to pay bloggers to write about you? Just because it's social media doesn't make it right.

This isn't an issue of fine lines and gray areas: Writing an endorsement of a product you have never used is illegal and has always been illegal under the FTC's Endorsement rules. It's not an issue of disclosure, either. If you endorse a product that you haven't used, it's a fake review. You are liable. If an advertiser pays you to do it, they are liable, too.

Izea is conducting an aggressive PR campaign to convince you that it's OK. They are trying to tell a story that there are two sides to this issue, and they have the secret formula for doing it right. They've fooled the Wall Street Journal, and paid Forrester for a suspiciously friendly report (and are paying bloggers $0.27 each to promote the report).

But TechCrunch gets it right and exposes Izea's campaign to muddy the waters. The Financial Times asks some damn good questions, too.

Bottom line: Paying for fake reviews is unethical and illegal.

Companies: Sit your lawyers down with your social media team and clean out this filthy practice before you become the test case when the FTC inevitably puts companies on the stand.

P.S. It's also time to start asking why respectable VC Draper Fisher is funding this questionable project.

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Comments

  1. Salman May 13, 2009 at 10:32 am #

    But the “celebrities” endorsing products in TV commercials also are paid it, and they don’t use all those products either.. right?

  2. Carri May 13, 2009 at 11:12 am #

    Isn’t the erroneous assertion that IZEA paid Forrester for their report without any corroboration or proof considered libel? Maybe you should talk to your lawyer about that. :)

  3. Andy Sernovitz May 13, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    Proof that IZEA is sleazy:
    The last comment from a mysterious “Carri” came from the IP address of Ted Murphy, CEO of IZEA.
    IZEA has been attacking me for deleting their comments. I delete their comments because they use fake identities and shills to comment.
    IZEA will stop at nothing to lie and deceive — and when you expose their deception they will use more lies to attack you.

  4. Joni Golden May 13, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    Salman, I think the point is, if celebrities are doing that, IT’S ILLEGAL.
    And what does it say about IZEA that their CEO is not hip enough to know that an IP address can be tracked? Wow.

  5. Carri May 13, 2009 at 12:55 pm #

    Hi Andy,
    I do work for IZEA and I am not Ted. Maybe I should have waited until I got home to post so that my IP didn’t show up as the company wireless, but I guess I figured that I was entitled to my own opinion.
    And my opinion remains the same. I think that it is irresponsible to make the kind of harmful accusations that you have. Twice now. The second time insinuating and assuming that Ted left my comment as a “shill.”
    For the record, Ted wouldn’t hide who he was in any way. He would (and has) confronted you outright. My guess is that he will continue to do so as long as you continue to drag his and the company’s name through the mud.
    Just wanted to clear that up for what it’s worth. As always, should you wish to discuss anything about this topic or what you perceive to be ethical flaws in our Marketplace in a productive manner, we are always available.
    All the Best,
    Carri Bright
    IZEA

  6. Andy Sernovitz May 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    And that’s the history of IZEA in a nutshell:
    They pretend to support disclosure, but they always “forget” when it matters.

    Because IZEA has pulled this fake-or-hidden-identity-in-a-comment-stunt 5+ times, I will resume deleting their comments.

  7. Steve Hall May 26, 2009 at 6:37 pm #

    At risk of, yet again, jumping in when I don’t have all the facts, I’m pretty sure the recent IZEA campiagns (like Sears) where not “fake.” As far as I can recall, IZEA (yes, for free) gave bloggers a shopping spree at Sears in exchange for writing about it. In other words, the bloggers experience the “experience” before writing about it. Hence, not a fake review. I could be wrong but that’s how I recall it.
    I like you, Andy. I like you, Ted. As an aside, I think the most kick ass conference panel would be the two of you with me (trying desperately) to moderate:) Come on, you know it’d be fun!

  8. David Churbuck June 4, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    Better idea. Rather than fight Izea, just plan on boycotting their customers. I won’t follow any blogger who participates in a blogola scheme — even as an “experiment” — and I won’t give business to a company that uses the tactics.

  9. Scott Brown October 6, 2009 at 9:54 am #

    A few years ago, I met Andy in person. I personally thought he was nuts. We attempted to do a project together that went horribly wrong for both of us. So, you’d think that I’m not a fan. You’d be wrong. Dead wrong. Beyond the legalities of paying for a BS review, he’s dead right that bloggers lying about product endorsements cheapens the entire media vehicle of social media. He’s dedicated his life and put his livelihood on the line to keep the water pure. He’s right on this. And BTW, what blogger would put their integrity on the line for 27¢ an article? Really guys? WOM is more about ears than it is mouths. When the mouths are for sale, the ears will find out and they will be closed. Listen to Andy, he may be a little crazy, but maybe that’s because companies like IZEA are attempting to ruin his life’s work for to make a buck. That’d make anyone with an ounce of integrity nuts!

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