If you're a blogger in the U.S., you're obligated to follow FTC guidelines when disclosing partnerships, compensation, and sponsored content. If you're a blogger outside of the U.S., your country may not have strict guidelines to follow. Even if you're not legally obligated to disclose your partnerships, being open, honest, and transparent is always good for establishing trust with your readers.
There are bloggers (and prominent ones at that) who DON'T disclose; don't use them as your example! While there haven't been any cases (yet) of bloggers being fined for lack of disclosures, you don't want to be the one to set the example (do you? I didn't think so).
Previously on IFB…
We've talked a lot at IFB about FTC guidelines as they've changed, the ways that bloggers receive compensation, and how to navigate those guidelines within fashion blogging. This is only a small portion of the posts IFB has on the topic, but I felt they were good examples for a jumping off point about writing crystal clear disclosures!
- FTC Puts Its Foot Down on Blogger Freebies
- FTC Ruling: An Ethical Double Standard?
- Editorial or Promotion? How to Decide & What to Do if it Crosses the Line
- FTC Extends Disclosures to Twitter, Facebook, Mobile… Might also Apply to Bloggers.
- How to Write a Crystal Clear Post Disclosure
- Does Your Blog Need a Product Review Policy
- The Difference Between Editorial and Advertorial Content & Why You Need to Know
- Blogger Integrity: Swag, Accountability & Disclosures
- Content Marketing: 3 Ways to Do It Right
- Ethical or Not: Selling Gifted Items
- Does Gifting Affect Blogger Credibility?
Disclose: When you receive an item for free.
Whether it's a trip to Milan, a few bottles of nail polish, a dress, or a box of tampons. If the company sent it to you for free, you should make note of that. You can do this a variety of ways…
I received this item for free from BRAND.
Item was gifted to me courtesy of BRAND.
Dress by BRAND (received courtesy of).
Brand provided this item free for review, and all opinions and experiences are 100% my own.
* All items marked with a star were received courtesy of the brand for review and promotional purposes.
No matter which way you say it, make sure that your audience understands you did not purchase the item and that you received it for free. Sometimes we review items and the whole post is dedicated to sharing the pros and cons of that post – and it's often pretty easy to include that disclaimer. Other times, a blogger may receive an item for free to wear in their outfit posts – and it can be harder to for a reader to understand that you, the blogger, didn't pay for the item without a disclosure. Make sure that everything is easily spelled out and understood by your readers!
Disclose: When you use affiliate links.
According to new FTC disclosures, we're actually supposed to disclose BEFORE the first affiliate link appears in a post, so that readers don't click on it without that knowledge. However, many blogs don't even disclose on individual pages that have affiliate links! Your readers want to support you and your site, and letting them know you may make an income won't hurt you.
A simple way to do follow guidelines is to write at the end of each post, “Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which may generate a revenue for the site when a purchase is made. You can read more at my Disclosure Policy page.”
If you choose not to write a disclosure in your posts, make sure that you have a disclosure listed prominently somewhere on your site – don't make you readers dig around for it! In addition to putting it in posts with affiliate links, I have a disclaimer listed in my blog's footer, as well a disclosure page. This way no one can say I didn't warn them!
Disclose: When you receive compensation.
It seems like bloggers are reluctant to mention when they've been paid to work with a brand. Maybe because they fear their credibility will be questioned, the partnership will be questioned, or their readers will think they're selling out.
If you write an advertorial post and you are paid to write it, disclose it. It can be as simple as, “I received compensation for writing this post on behalf of BRAND. All opinions and are 100% my own.” Pop it in at the bottom of your post – and BAM! It's as simple as that.
Working with a brand on a campaign can be a different beast – maybe you worked with them on a photo shoot and decided to write a post about it. The post wasn't part of a the paid sponsorship… so should you disclose it? The money you received wasn't in exchange for blog related services – so in theory, you don't have to. However, if you work with the brand and a post about the project *IS* part of your sponsorship package, you should disclose it.
When in doubt… disclose.
There's a brand I I work with who pays me in gift certificates. Sometimes the items end up on my blog, and sometimes they don't. And the longest part of each post is asking, “What's the easiest way for me to disclose this?” Another company I work freelance for and receive an employee discount as a perk. If the clothes get featured on my site, should I disclose that? Yeah, I probably should!
Remember that not all of your readers are bloggers. Make sure that whatever terminology you use to disclose is clear to those outside of the industry. You may know that (C/O) after an item means it was received “courtesy of the brand,” but new readers may not know it or understand.
Think of the most technophobic person you know – and ask yourself, “Would mom/grandpa/my sister understand that I received this for free, was paid to write this post, etc.?” If the answer is “No,” then your disclosure isn't clear enough for your readers or for the FTC.
The trust your readers have in you is your most valuable asset. Be honest with them in your monetization efforts, and they'll respect you for it.
[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]