Ooooh the scary “L word” – legally. There are lots of great resources out there on the best ways to work with brands and do sponsored posts (including my own *hint hint* – 6 Tips For Being Awesome at Working with Brands), but not a ton telling you all the legal things you need to know. So today I’m putting on my lawyer hat on (just kidding – I hate hats) to teach you what you need to know to cover the legal aspects of working with brands!
(Oh and yes, I really am a lawyer. Also this is just for my US readers since I’m barred in the US. These tips won’t necessarily apply to bloggers based in other countries. However, these are good practices for everyone and you should just check if your country requires stricter standards.)
Ok now let’s get to it. So for some nerdy background – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the US agency that provides regulations for consumer protection and businesses. With regard to things like advertisements/endorsements, they want it to be super clear to consumers when there is some sort of business/monetary relationship between a company and someone promoting a company’s product.
Think about it. If someone thinks you’re just endorsing a product because you discovered it all on your own and loooooove it versus they know you’re getting paid or got the item for free, this knowledge can affect how someone sees your review. So the easy rule of thumb is to always disclose it.
Learn More: My ebook on legal basics for bloggers
When Do I Need to Disclose?
Yep, I just said you should always disclose, but let me explain more. You basically want to inform your readers anytime you have a vested interest. Some examples:
- Affiliate links (you’re getting a commission if someone clicks on and/or buys from your link)
- Sponsored posts (where you’re talking about a brand or a post through a blogger network, like BlogHer or Clever Girls)
- Reviews of free items (if you got something for free, you can’t act like you didn’t – let your readers know!)
- Paid Tweets or social media promotion (if you’re getting paid to talk up a brand, you need to make that clear – usually a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored is sufficient)
If you are just talking about a brand that you love without a business relationship with that brand, you don’t need to disclose – because there is nothing to disclose. Example – my favorite perfume is Chanel Chance. I’d love for Chanel to pay me (hi Chanel – if you’re reading!), but they aren’t. It’s just a great perfume that I love so I can talk about it all day long without any issue.
Related: How Your Blog Can Save You Money
How Do I Write a Disclaimer/Disclosure?
There isn’t magic language that you need to include on your blog. The FTC just wants disclaimer language that is clear and conspicuous, which you can do by:
1) putting the language close to the topic (such as the free shirt you received), 2) writing in easy to read font (so don’t make the font super tiny or in a hard to read color since that kinda defeats the purpose), 3) if it’s a video, you can either mention that you were paid/received free items or include on-screen text (should be up long enough to be noticed, read and understood) and 4) if it’s audio, you need to say your disclaimer in a speed that can be easily understood (don’t rattle it off super duper fast, like they speed through all the scary side effects in pharmaceutical commercials – you know what I’m talking about).
So basically you want a disclaimer that someone can easily see and understand. If you’re a fashion blogger and received a free item, mention that when you’re talking about it – something along the lines of “I received this great sweater from Chanel (hi Chanel) in exchange for my review!” Make sure your affiliate links are clearly labeled as such. If your entire post is a sponsored post, include a disclaimer at the beginning – it can be something as simple as “I received compensation for this post, but all opinions are my own.”
Related: Is Your Blog a Business or a Hobby?
Does my opinion have to be favorable?
Speaking of opinions, your opinion in your post should actually be your opinion. If you love the item, great! But if not, you should put that out there too. You don’t want to mislead your readers by giving a favorable opinion. You also don’t want to mislead them by claiming unrealistic or false results.
For example, if you are reviewing a new cereal and love the taste of it, definitely talk about that (or the fact that you hate the taste of it). However, you can’t make misleading statements such as “and it’s great and totally safe for my gluten-free diet” if you have no way of knowing if the cereal really is gluten-free.
So your review should be your honest and true opinion, just be sure not to include facts or claims that you can’t be certain are true.
Whew – so we covered a lot of ground today and I know legal stuff can be confusing. The best rule of thumb is – when in doubt, disclaim it out! Sorry, I tried to make a lame rhyme there. But seriously – err on the side of caution and make it clear when you’ve received any sort of compensation – better to be safe!
PLUS: If you’re ready to learn more about the legal side of blogging, don’t miss my free email course – Legalize Your Blog! Or if you want a a disclosure for your blog, but aren’t sure how to write one, check out my Legal Marketplace for a Disclosure Template!
P.S. – Yep I am a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer. This is my general legal opinion, but shouldn’t be considered legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. If you have specific legal questions or concerns, contact a local attorney to help you out.