Disclosure in Social Media: How transparent should bloggers be?

Laura McWhinnie

In this guest post, blogger and digital creative Laura McWhinnie argues for more disclosure in the bloggersphere. 

The bloggersphere has always been a bit like the Wild West. Bloggers could post about products to their heart’s content without having to disclose their relationship with the brand. This meant that consumers had no idea who was behind the marketing messages influencing their purchasing decisions. But in 2009 that all changed

when for the first time in more than three decades, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of America implemented their Guide to Endorsements and Testimonials in advertising.

On March 12 this year, the FTC ramped things up with the release of their updated .Com Disclosures – a report that addresses issues surrounding disclosures in social, mobile, and other digital channels.

When it was last updated back in 2000, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram didn’t exist. The updated report cracks down on everything from the inefficiency of using the #SPON hashtag to denote a sponsored tweet, to the placement, proximity and prominence of required disclosures on a blog.

The FTC compliance is an important reason for bloggers to disclose, but it also comes down to trust and transparency. If you’re working with brands under the table, it can completely undermine the credibility and reputation you’ve been trying to build. While there is currently no law in Australia requiring a blogger to disclose when they are being paid or compensated as part of their work for a brand, the disclosure discussion continues to spark debate.

If you’re a blogger and unsure about how to handle sponsored content, get started by following these three rules:

1. Disclose everything

We all saw the trouble the South Australia Tourism Commission got into after the Kangaroo Island cash for tweet disaster where Australian celebrities including Matt Moran and Shannon Noll were paid $750 to tweet about the destination. While many believe that all publicity is good publicity, consumers felt duped by the celebrities, resulting in more than 300 damaging tweets. It wasn’t illegal by Australian standards and it got people talking, but just how much damage did South Australia Tourism Commission do to their brand through their lack of transparency?

2. Use a third-party service

Disclosure is a grey area for bloggers for a reason. What exactly counts as ‘payment’ for a blog post or a tweet? If someone buys you a coffee and you go on to write a blog post about their brand do you disclose it? What if you’re gifted a product after writing about it on your own accord? Clearing the confusion is US-based company CMP.LY. They’ve set out to become the industry standard for disclosure by providing a consistent and audited framework that’s free for bloggers. They use eight types of CMP.LY disclosures that you can insert into websites and social media posts. For example, I recently borrowed an inflatable Giant Swan to shoot for a blog post that I was then allowed to keep and disclosed it here. It’s also a valuable tool for agencies and brands to measure how many times a single blog post has been viewed.

3. Stay true to your brand

Only work with brands you love and products you believe in. The best part about running your own site is having complete editorial control over its content. This allows you to build trust with your readers – something far more valuable than making a quick buck or getting a bunch of freebies. If you go down the path of making compromises in exchange for money or product, you’re going to seriously affect the integrity of your blog. Your readers follow you for your opinion, so you can’t expect them to be interested in something you’re not.


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