Today we’re talking about blog disclosures and exactly what you NEED to know as a blogger. Yes, I know I’ve been harping on the legal language you need to be adding to your blog. Ok, not “harping” since that makes me sound that an old nag. Instead, let’s say “strongly encouraging you nicely because it really is really important.” From terms and conditions to privacy statements to stuff for your email newsletter, it is a lot of information to digest. I get it.
And now I’m going to give you something else to add to your list. Disclosures for your blog.
Hear me out.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the legal aspects of blogging, dealing with your disclosure language or statement is actually a great place to start. You are probably already familiar with disclosure language and might already be using them. But let’s break them down and explain exactly what disclosure are and why you need to be using them.
(Psst – before we continue, here’s my little legal disclaimer spiel – Yes, I’m an attorney but I’m not your attorney. This blog post is for informational purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as legal advice.)
What is a disclosure?
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates and oversees consumer affairs and has laws in place to protect consumers from misleading, deceptive or unfair acts, including advertising. The FTC regulates commercial conduct related to both online and offline marketing, advertising and promotions. Basically they don’t want advertisers defrauding us. Which is a good thing.
But recently they’ve also wanted to make the rules clear in the online realm, especially with things like bloggers and YouTubers and InstaCelebs and everyone and their mother making money online through product or brand sponsorships. Just because it’s not “traditional” advertising, it doesn’t mean bloggers don’t need to follow the FTC’s rules that apply to things like tv commercials and magazine ads.
So, the FTC released endorsement guidelines back in 2009 which basically advocates for truth in advertising. In 2013, the FTC expanded on this by publishing Dot Com Disclosures: How To make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising, which outlined what activities the FTC considers to be unfair or deceptive. These both set forth best practice guidelines for online advertisers (including bloggers) to follow.
The thing is – both of these are super long documents. Definitely give them a read if you want but I’m going to break down what you need to know and what you need to be doing in order to comply with the law. The main thing is that the FTC wants you to include “disclosures” to let your blog readers know about your relationship with sponsors, brands or companies.
Why do you need disclosures?
Well, first of all – duh, the FTC guidelines have mandated that this is law. The recent guidelines have laid out the general truth in advertising principles now apply to blog and social media advertising or sponsored posts. The purpose of the guidelines is to ensure that your readers understand that you have a vested interest. You aren’t just raving about a product or company because you bought a product with your own money and you just looooove it and want to share. If you’re getting paid to promote, if you’re getting free stuff, if you have a sponsorship relationship, anything like that – you need to let your readers know with a disclosure.
Besides it being the law, making disclosures shows your readers you aren’t being shady and trying to hide anything. Being transparent and up front will build trust with your readers since you aren’t hiding your relationships or vested interest whenever you recommend something.
So the law and not being shady. Two excellent reasons.
When and where do you need to include disclosures?
Quick answer: always and as close to the mention of the product/brand/company as possible.
Anytime you do a sponsored blog post, you should disclose it right away at the beginning of your post. You want to make it clear that you’re being compensated or have some other relationship with the brand (you got a free item, you get a commission, etc). Including your disclosure at the end of your post isn’t going to cut it. There’s a good chance people will click away before getting to the end of your post and might never see your disclosure. So put it in there first thing.
If your post just has one or only a few sponsored or affiliate links, you should disclose as close as you can to those links. If you have a post that is chock full of affiliate links, it’s a good idea to include a general disclosure at the beginning of your post that you have affiliate links. Then you can also indicate in the post which specific ones are affiliate links.
For example, if you’re doing a post that is a round up of great Mother’s Day gift ideas and 10 of the 12 links are affiliate links, you should disclose at the beginning of the post (“This post contains affiliate links, but these are all products I love!”) and then also by each link to make it clear. However, if maybe only one of those 12 links is an affiliate link, indicate that just close to the affiliate link.
The FTC wants your disclosure to be clear and conspicuous. So, you don’t want to bury is somewhere that no one will see it. Use your common sense and include clear disclosures – ones that are hidden at the end of your post or one at the end of your “About Me” page ain’t gonna cut it. It’s best if your disclosures are up front and having them “above the fold” (meaning before people need to scroll to read more of your website) is great – this means the likelihood of readers seeing your disclosure before clicking away is higher.
Basically – when it doubt, just include your disclosure and do it early on in your post. Better to be safe than sorry.
How do you write a disclosure?
Your disclosure doesn’t need to have any magic language, but it should clearly spell out your relationship with what you’re promoting, such as “I’ve been compensated for the following post” or “I received a free product to review in exchange for posting this review.” In your blog post, just include the relationship at the beginning of your post and/or throughout your post if there are specific affiliate links.
You should also include a general disclosure statement somewhere on your blog. Just like your terms and conditions or privacy statement, this is where you’re showing to your readers that you are trustworthy and understand your legal responsibilities. You can include a page or a section on your blog where you lay out all this super fun legal stuff. If you aren’t sure about writing your own blog disclosure statement, check out my Legal Marketplace.
As for social media posts, you need to indicate that it’s a sponsored or affiliate post. You can write something like “Affiliate Post: Why I Love Dunkin Donuts” in your social media promotions. You can also include a hashtag that is clear, such as #ad #affiliate or #sponsored. Remember – you want it to be clear and conspicuous that this is sponsored content.
Do I really have to include a disclosure every time?
You really do. As mentioned above, it’s the law and (at least if you’re a US blogger), you can be fined by the FTC for non-compliance. Additionally, many affiliate networks require that you disclose your relationship because they know it’s the law. The FTC could actually fine the companies as well, so the companies want to make sure you comply. Otherwise, it’s no fun for everyone involved.
Plus you don’t want to be appearing to try to mislead or defraud your readers. You know you need to be disclosing, so continue to build that trust with your readers by being transparent. Additionally, including disclosures makes it clear that you are up to date with blogging and advertising laws. Which also makes you more trustworthy! (See how that works?) So I know including a disclosure can be awkward and maybe mess with the flow of your blog post or your social media posts, but you just need to do it. No ifs, ands or buts!
If you found today’s post helpful, then I want to let you know about a FREE webinar I’ll be doing this week. I’ll be a guest over on Elle Chat, hosted by Lauren from Elle & Co. Lauren hosts amazing and super informative weekly webinars on her blog and I’m so excited to be joining her. We’ll be talking about Legally Protected Your Online Business. You can sign up now and start asking questions on the webinar page. Then I’ll be joining Lauren for the chat this Thursday – you can catch us live or on the replay! Hope to see you there – click below to sign up!