Let’s talk about one of the less sparkly and exciting, but very important, topics within the blogging world, shall we?
It’s a word that gets people fired up and feeling all the feels. I get it, it feels clunky and like one more thing you have to check off your list when doing sponsored work.
But properly disclosing a relationship with a brand is really important. So let’s dive a bit deeper into the why and how.
WHY SHOULD I DISCLOSE SPONSORED WORK?
One word: Trust.
Trust is something that we as bloggers work really hard to establish with our readers. We know that you can’t simply pop onto the internet and assume that readers will believe everything you are telling them from the jump.
Instead, you have to form a relationship with your readers. They come to learn over time that your content is solid and that you simply aren’t going to promote something that you do not believe in.
Disclosing your sponsored work — letting your readers clearly know when you have received payment or free product — is an important part of maintaining that trust. If you promote or provide an endorsement for a product without disclosing and a reader later comes to find out the nature of your relationship with the brand, that trust could take a serious hit.
It’s also important that you trust your readers to stick with you even when you are including sponsored content on your channels.
A 2017 Time Inc. study found that consumers — particularly Gen X, millennial and Gen Z consumers — are very open to branded or “custom content” as a relevant way for brands to connect to consumers.
As Upfluence noted in an October 2017 article, “…if the ad provides information that is useful to the consumer, reactions will be favorable regardless of whether it’s sponsored.”
In other words? As long as you are continuing to provide your readers with useful, evergreen content that is on-brand and in-line with what they have come to expect from you, they won’t care whether or not a post is sponsored.
HOW SHOULD I DISCLOSE SPONSORED WORK?
The bad news is that, as with many things in the blogging/influencer world, disclosure best practices are always evolving.
The good news is that the FTC is good about keeping us updated on what they consider to be current best practice.
Please hear me when I ask you to confirm proper disclosure procedures with the source itself. As much as you may love your know-it-all cousin Joe or your friend posting in a Facebook group, this stuff is far too important to rely on hearsay.
My favorite resource, and the one I refer to most often, is the FTC’s own frequently asked questions regarding online endorsement guidelines. While you can absolutely read all 12 pages of the “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I much prefer the FAQ version because it is actually in plain-language and easier to digest. (Much like they require disclosures themselves to be!)
The FTC also updates the aforementioned page frequently to include newer forms of social media (such as Instagram stories) and new forms of disclosure (such as Branded Content Tools on Instagram and Facebook).
At the end of the day, the FTC is quite clear on one very important point: Disclosures must be easily noticed and understood, regardless of the platform you are using.
This most often means that disclosures should be placed toward the beginning of content instead of hidden at the end or in the middle of large blocks of text, links or hashtags.
One of the things that does make disclosure tricky is that the FTC does not dictate the exact wording that must be used for any given endorsement or brand relationship. They say that it just needs to be clearly understood by the majority of readers or followers.
Keeping it simple is the best way to go. Ad, #ad or #sponsored are the FTC’s go-to in the link above, but no matter what words you use, they must be easily noticed. Even the most obvious disclosure will do you no good if it is not noticeable by the reader.
Best rule of thumb? Never assume a reader knows or understands your relationship with a brand or that they’ll be able to understand from #spon or a brand’s campaign hashtag that the work was sponsored. Make things as clear and conspicuous as possible to readers from every walk of life — it’s the safest bet, always. If your fellow blogging buddies would know it’s sponsored but your 78-year-old Great Auntie Carol wouldn’t, you need to adjust how you’re disclosing.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T ADD A DISCLOSURE?
The FTC itself admits that they have not historically been monitoring bloggers with regards to disclosures and that their focus has typically been on brands and their ad agencies or PR firms.
That being said, the FTC brought its first case against individual influencers in September 2017, and has stated that it will consider action in cases where an influencer has continued to ignore warnings to properly disclose.
Here’s the thing — just because the FTC hasn’t paid as much attention to bloggers and influencers in the past, doesn’t mean they won’t going forward. It’s just not worth the hefty fines and legal headaches to not disclose, especially when studies have demonstrated that followers are plenty receptive to sponsored content.
If a brand asks you to skirt around proper disclosure, put your foot down. Link them to the FTC’s FAQs and explain that disclosure is a requirement you are not willing to forego. If they continue to push back…RUN. There is no amount of money worth putting yourself in a potentially sticky legal situation.
Here is a handy-dandy checklist you can use to make sure you have everything you need when disclosing sponsored posts:
- A blog or social platform
- A brand to work with
- FCC guidelines
- For a blog post, include a disclosure at the beginning of your post. Make sure the font is easy to read and the language is clear there is a paid relationship between your site and the brand.
- If including a video, make sure the disclosure is at the beginning of the video. Make sure the font is easy to read, the text is visible long enough for someone to read it. Also make sure the language is clear there is a paid relationship between your site and the brand. If being read aloud, check to make sure it is audible and easy to understand.
- For a social post, include a disclosure at the beginning of your post or caption. Do not hide it within big blocks of hashtags. Make sure the hashtags make it clear there is a paid relationship between you and the brand, such as #ad or #sponsored.
Stephie Predmore is Mediavine’s Director of Influencer Marketing. Check out her session from the Mediavine Conference about pitching for sponsored work.
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