Stop Misleading Disclosure Practices
Influencer marketing has grown in popularity in the last few years. Over time, readers started to become blind to ads located in columns and even the “above the fold” prime real estate spaces on websites. Advertisers realized that sponsoring entire posts would ensure that readers paid attention to their products and bloggers would finally start seeing adequate compensation for their time and hard work.
I have nothing against sponsored posts or affiliate links; I use both in my blogging strategy. It is a way for me to make enough to put back into this blog while being able to develop relationships with brands that I believe in and use myself.
What I do have a problem with is the increasing frequency of subtle disclosures that I am continuing to see. Bloggers are legally required to disclosure any posts that they have been compensated for, as well as making any links to products or services as “nofollow.” I have seen numerous affiliate links go undisclosed and sponsored posts be identified as such only at the very end of a post.
Perhaps it is because of my personal practice of transparency, but I find those types of posts misleading. I feel like the writer is not allowing me to make my own decision about whether or not to read through what is essentially an advertisement. Since I have no idea what bloggers are thinking when they postpone or omit a disclosure entirely, I want to take some time to review the guidelines put forth by the Federal Trade Commission in case these misleading disclosure practices are simply a result of lack of information.
In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission released a document entitled “.com Disclosures: How To Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising.” In it, they outlined how the law applied to online advertising and went into 17 pages of what makes a disclosure clear and conspicuous:
While the document itself stated that there are some grey areas in the online world, they also made sure to emphasize some key points. All of the following excerpts were taken directly from the FTC document, which can be found in its entirety here.
Disclosures at the bottom of a post
Dating back to 1997 (!), it was determined that 79% of readers do not read an entire webpage. Internet readers often skim content and may not even finish it at all.
Every sponsored post that I have gotten through a third-party influencer network requires that the disclosure be placed at the top of the post. It is only with self-negotiated partnerships that the disclosure is left to my discretion. As mentioned above, making a disclosure unavoidable increases the likelihood that people will see it.
My mobile traffic makes up slightly less than half the views from a desktop computer. This means that approximately half of my readers are reading a post on their phone or tablet. When viewed on such devices, posts can require a good deal of scrolling, which increases the chance that they may not even make it to the bottom of the post to read a potential disclosure.
Separate Disclaimer Page
I have seen a number of posts on blogging forums stating that individuals only have a separate disclosure page that explains that from time to time posts will be sponsored or affiliate links will be used. According to the aforementioned excerpt, this is inadequate. An entirely separate page requires even more work to get to than scrolling to the bottom of a post.
Affiliate or Referral Links
Affiliate or referral links are where you are given an individualized link that results in some kind of benefit to you as a blogger. Amazon affiliates, for example, will give you a percentage of the sale. Referral links are also incentivized as you may receive a discount off of a subscription service or bonus credits for each person who signs up with your link.
I realize that placing (affiliate) or (referral) after each respective link can be distracting, so if you have numerous types of these links in one post, make a quick statement at the beginning of a post that there are affiliate links throughout. If I write a post that only has one, I will simply disclose it next to the link.
As I mentioned previously, the guidelines are merely that—guides on how to properly disclose. There is some room for debate and since the FTC does not spend a huge amount of time monitoring and enforcing blogging etiquette, bloggers still have some wiggle room on these points. There are also requirements for social media, but I feel this post is pretty long as it is. If you are interested in more info about social media disclosures, let me know and I will follow up.
I suppose it boils down to treating your readers the way you want to be treated. For me, the more honest someone is, the more likely I am to support his or her efforts. I have no problem helping them raise some extra money or get a discount on an app, but let me know instead of raving about how amazing something is and offering click bait to get me to sign up.
Some people have no problem with sponsored posts and some people I know will skip the post altogether if they see it is sponsored. Isn’t it is fair to expect a disclosure up front to let us make the decision for ourselves?
- What are your opinions on disclosing?
- How do you disclose sponsored opportunities?