If you’re a blogger, you already know that it’s important to build trust with your readers by being transparent. With the Federal Trade Commission’s updated guidelines for online advertising, it is important, now more than ever, to be transparent with your readers.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Their Role Within Your Blog
The Federal Trade Commission strives to ensure that “products and services are described truthfully online.” They protect consumers by enforcing standards of disclosure for business endorsements and transactions online. As a blogger, this disclosure also covers things like your Amazon affiliate links or blog posts you write in exchange for compensation. It includes items you receive from companies, at no cost, that you end up writing about, even though you are not paid by those brands.
Updated in 2013 to reflect changes in technology (including the consumer shift to mobile), the FTC guidelines are becoming even stricter about the transparency that bloggers must have with their readers about the products and services they write about.
Can Your Readers Hear You Loud & Clear?
Posts that have been sponsored must be clear and conspicuously disclosed. This doesn’t mean a small hyperlink at the end of the post or an asterisk that leads readers 3 pages away from the original post. The FTC describes “clear and conspicuous” disclosure with the following guidelines:
• Forms of media should match accordingly. If your post is a video, the disclosure should also be in video format.
• All media is required to have a disclosure — including social media. If you have a sponsored blog post that you are tweeting to your followers about, you have to include something that makes mention of the fact that you are being compensated. You are supposed to let your followers know that someone is compensating you for your opinions, using something like #sponsored or #ad for example.
• Supplemental links, advertisements or graphics should not be distracting to your main disclosure. This means if your post or site has other links or ads, these links and/or ads should not be so distracting to where your readers won’t understand your post is sponsored.
• While hyperlinks are acceptable, they should only be used when the disclosure cannot fully be represented on the appropriate page. However, you should have some indication to readers as to why it is important to follow the hyperlink.
• Size matters, and so do colors and graphics. Make sure that the disclosure stands out by using different colors, fonts, graphics, etc.
• Don’t assume people will read every word on your site; the more scrolling that is required, the more likely the reader is to NOT read it.
• Most importantly, as indicated by the FTC, is the placement of the disclosure. The disclosure of compensation (or relationship with the sponsor) needs to be as close to the claim as possible in order to make it effective.
Mutual Agreement = More parties at stake
While the FTC doesn’t seem to be patrolling every single blog out there for clear and conspicuous disclosures, it is important to do so for both your sake and your sponsors’ sake. Both the blogger and the sponsored company can get fined for a lack of disclosure. Just take a page out of Legacy Learning or Anne Taylors’ books — both of which had a run-in with the FTC due to undisclosed compensations. You wouldn’t want to ruin relations with a client just because you forgot to properly disclose your information. Conversely, you don’t want to work with a brand that wants you to hide your disclosure, as you both will be penalized for this, not just the sponsor.
Measuring Effectiveness of FTC Guidelines
The effectiveness of your disclaimer isn’t measured by how sneakily you can hide it in your message, or by how many people turn around and buy the product from your site. The FTC measures the performance by how a customer perceives the ad. If they (your readers) believe the ad to be true, then it is a successful disclosure. After all, the consumer is using information written on your blog to make better-informed purchasing decisions.
Your readers trust you and by endorsing a product, you are using your rapport to sell a product to your readers. When considering sponsors to go into a business agreement with on your blog, make sure that their product or service is one that you can stand behind. If you don’t like it- don’t get behind it, because you can’t make up nice things to say about something you don’t believe in. This is even more important because you are required by law to disclose your relationship to the sponsor. Imagine if all your readers thought you were endorsing a product just because you were getting paid to do so. Eventually you’d lose all your readers! We believe a good rule of thumb is to follow what your mother always told you… “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Example Disclosures For Your Blog
While it’s important to be transparent about your sponsored relationships, we also believe it’s critical to have reader-friendly disclosures, so as not to scare any of your blog visitors off! Here are some examples by other bloggers on how to tackle different types of disclosures on your blog:
On Your Blog
1) Sponsored Posts: “This is a sponsored post by Smirnoff Sorbet Light. More drink recipes can be found here. All reviews and opinions expressed in this post are based on my personal view.” — Averie Cooks
2) Giveaways: “This giveaway is sponsored by Pampered Chef. Take a minute to scroll below and enter for a chance to win a knife set valued at $450!” — Gimme Some Oven
3) Affiliate Links: “She recently wrote an eBook about it called How to Monetize Your Food Blog (FYI: the eBook links in this post are affiliate links).” — Pinch of Yum
4) Product Reviews: “Disclosure: We received samples from Alive & Radiant kale chips in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.” — Oh My Veggies
On Social Media
1) Facebook: “Mixer giveaway this month sponsored by Kitchenaid. This is has quickly become my favorite tool (and I think it will become yours too)!”
2) Twitter: “#Win “The Apple Tree & The Honey Bee” Kid’s Music CD from Bari Koral Family Rock Band! Ends 5/19 #sponsored http://www.directorjewels.com/2014/04/the-ap…” — Director Jewels
3) LinkedIn: “Check out my latest review of The Mother’s Day Gift Set sponsored by The Honest Company.”
4) Pinterest: “Pumpkin Quinoa Patties – Who says pumpkin is just for fall? #PumpkinCan (Sponsored Post)” — Cooking Quinoa
5) Instagram: “It’s Friday!! Who’s ready for a cocktail? If you just said ‘me me me’ then you should try this Blueberry La Marca Prosecco Sparkler, the recipe is up now on LittleLeopardBook.com! #LaMarcaSparkle #ad..” — Whitney Bond (of Little Leopard Book)
So, as you can see there are many different ways to be transparent to your followers, both on your blog and on your social media sites. Just make sure you remain true to who you are as a blogger, but also that you follow the FTC’s guidelines for clear and conspicuous disclosures.