As I move forward in my career and with unnamed business ventures on the horizon, I think more about what is necessary to have a good blogging platform. There are so many great bloggers, across every niche imaginable, however no matter how great the platform, many of their business practices aren’t up to par. So, to help them out, I thought that a little how-to help would come in handy.
What I’m talking about is Full Disclosure. From the first time a blogger accepts a ticket to an event that is not a true press conference or a product to review, they are now a business. That is income and according to the Federal Trade Commission and the I.R.S., they must not only disclose that income on their taxes, but they must also disclose it to the visitors coming to their site. If they are a freelance writer that posts it on a blog, instead of a standard publication, they must disclose these goods received as income earned.
While I’m not an accountant or lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, I am savvy about what I do and how I handle my business. Yes, business. It’s very rare you will see me do a giveaway or discuss a product, but when I do I am passionate about that brand. I am also using commercial speech. Why is that important? Because that brand purchases advertising in some way, shape or form, and since what I am saying is commercial speech, I can now be regulated under the FTC Act if it proven deceptive. When a brand is advertising on TV, newspapers, magazines or a website with similar content, it’s quite clear the reviewer didn’t buy the product being reviewed. That is the reviewer’s job. To write an opinion piece.
When you are on a social media network, personal blog, Facebook, etc., and are sharing reviews? The readers may not be aware, nor expect you to have a relationship with the company whose products are mentioned. Disclosure helps readers decide how much weight to give a review.
Let me add more to befuddle your brain. If you purchase a product, or are given a free sample of it in the grocery store, then you aren’t required to disclose on your blog. It’s only for endorsements made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser.
What about blanket disclosure policies?
Again, that’s a no. People that read your blog don’t necessarily go deep enough to know you carry a blanket disclosure policy. You must disclose on each individual post. Buttons don’t work either. Just a sentence or two is all that is needed.
Endorsements – Deceptive or Not?
Bloggers that have endorsements on their site for brands have to represent not only the accurate experience and opinion of said endorser, but here again, some problems with that. Bloggers also receive pitches all the time from PR Companies to promote a product. There is no product, just a press release. That’s fine, if you understand they are treating you like a journalist. However, this commercial speak, not related to your sites, is deceptive endorsement if used.
Many times, bloggers will receive products that are quite frankly, less than optimal, and paid to review them. Do they keep their reputation by disclosing? Or do they worry the brand will never work with them again. According to the FTC, if you say this product you didn’t like was terrific, you have now created a deceptive endorsement.
Products that claim to cure diseases? We all know it’s deceptive unless there is scientific evidence. Run away as quickly as possible.
What does this mean?
Simply put, transparency is King.
- Disclose material relationships, policies and business practices.
- Keel readers well-informed: differences between editorial, advertorial, and advertising.
- If you have sponsored or paid posts, make sure they’re clearly marked.
Share with your readers and the people you connect with via social media. While you might not think it’s important now, in the long run you will show responsibility to the companies you are working with (or want to worth with) and give clarity to the people reading your opinions. This track record can mean more for your brand as a blogger from a value perspective than a dollar sign.