If you’re writing a blog or social media post and have received free product, services or enjoy a business relationship, you need to disclose it to your readers. Face it; you write for them and they deserve to know. It’s also the law, as the Federal Trade Commission has issued clear instructions on what constitutes a material connection and how you should disclose it.
Disclosure is actually pretty easy. If you received something of value, tell your readers. Right there in the post. If in doubt, disclose anyway. If you just do that, you’ll be fine. But there are some other things you can do to fully inform your readers and stay on the right side of the law.
A site disclosure statement
In general, your disclosures should be presented with the relevant content. If you’re reviewing a new automobile and a local dealer gave you the car to drive for two weeks for free, you should disclose that within your review.
But you may find it useful to write a general disclosure statement as well. You can place this on its own page or on an “about” page. This is your chance to tell your readers – and potential sponsors or affiliates – about your personal “rules of the road,” such any long-term financial relationships you have. If you accept product or services for review, you can explain your process and what the sponsor can expect. For example, in this space you may reserve the right to write a negative review, or you can explain your policy for a sponsor’s rebuttal of your review.
Your disclosure statement doesn’t need to be long or complicated. Here are some examples of site-wide disclosure pages:
- Walter Mossberg, technology writer for the Wall St. Journal and allthingsd.com:
- Shawn Collins Affiliate (tip) blog:
- Chris Brogan, writer and blogger:
Blog with Integrity
At Blogwithintegrity.com, a handful of bloggers approach self-regulation for the online community, offering a broad set of good practice standards. Bloggers may “sign the pledge” electronically and then display the “Blog with Integrity” badge on their websites as a seal of good practice.
Here’s what the pledge says:
By displaying the Blog with Integrity badge or signing the pledge, I assert that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is important to me.
I treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people. I also welcome respectful disagreement with my own ideas.
I believe in intellectual property rights, providing links, citing sources, and crediting inspiration where appropriate.
I disclose my material relationships, policies and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked.
When collaborating with marketers and PR professionals, I handle myself professionally and abide by basic journalistic standards.
I always present my honest opinions to the best of my ability.
I own my words. Even if I occasionally have to eat them.
Blog With Integrity was created by Susan Getgood, Liz Gumbinner, Kristen Chase and Julie Marsh, each a blogger. It’s unclear if Blog With Integrity is a non-profit, a business, or a service project that reflects the partners’ personal interests.
Cmp.ly is an online service that explicitly addresses the FTC’s material disclosure rules. It offers a simple and direct way for a blogger to disclose specific kinds of relationships. Because the cmp.ly tags are short, they’re appropriate for micro channels such as Twitter and Facebook. The service is free for individuals, with payment options for enterprise-level applications.
To use the service, simply select and post the tag that reflects your specific material connection (click the links to see the badge and language for each):
Cmp.ly/0 no material connection
Cmp.ly/1 review copy
Cmp.ly/2 sample or gift
Cmp.ly/3 paid post
Cmp.ly/4 business relationship
Cmp.ly/5 affiliate program
Cmp.ly/6 is reserved for custom disclosures that don’t fit the above categories.
While cmp.ly covers the main categories of material relationships, it doesn’t provide specific information about them. So if you’re writing about four zoom lenses but have a relationship with one brand, it doesn’t offer any precision to guide the reader.
The FTC has stated that simply putting a button on a post that says “disclosure” with a link to the disclosure policy isn’t adequate. This suggests that the best use of cmp.ly is in micro-channels, where the compact disclosure would fit.
An alternative to cmp.ly for micro channels, also suggested by the FTC, are hashtags such as #ad, #paid, or #paid ad.