Stop Driving Your Traffic Away Because You Interpreted the FTC Guidelines Wrong

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Disclosure: I cuss in this post. It’s rant but has valid things you need to know about the FTC Endorsement guidelines

ftc copyIt’s been a month since the new FTC Dot Com Disclosures revised their disclosure policies. Each blogger had asked questions, so have the consulting companies that work with us. Everyone has their opinions about the new changes but I think one thing is clear. We all think it’s bullshit but we do it anyways.

 Bloggers are going above and beyond to make sure their posts and social network shares say SPONSORED all of them when they don’t need to. I think Love Maegan puts it great when she mentions celebrity endorsements. Seriously, it’s pretty funny. “Do you really think Shaq is driving a Buick Lacrosse?”

Here’s a perfect example of one. You don’t see Mike Trouts tweeting SPONSORED: before his tweets for Subway!

I think another reason I’m set off was seeing a clip of a show that mentions Travel bloggers and their weight with influence. That if they are getting their travel comped their reviews are biased. You don’t see Engadget with the word Sponsored in the title or tweets about the tech they review. In fact they don’t even have a disclosure policy on their entire site! When I started blogging I didn’t sign up to get free shit and write a raving reviews about something because I was paid or got it for free. I’ve received many products that I have commented with negative feedback. There are also some that I didn’t like and was asked by the PR firm not to post because it would hurt the brand. But if you ask me in person about it I’ll be telling you how I feel for sure. If bloggers are shelling out positive reviews (regardless of not liking it) for products that they were sent or paid to endorse then they are shitty bloggers anyways. Yeah I said it. If you were just butt hurt a little you must fall into that category and I hope you go rethink your blogging world. Shame on you for being what the FTC is trying to prevent, a deceptive blogger.

The FTC answered lots of questions that bloggers had in regards to the revision and I think everyone is up in arms about something very silly. Here are all of the questions they have publicly answered. Here are some highlights that you bloggers really need to read.

Are you monitoring bloggers?

We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to. If concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we’ll evaluate them case by case. If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been.

Do the Guides hold online reviewers to a higher standard than reviewers for paper-and-ink publications?

No. The Guides apply across the board. The issue is – and always has been – whether the audience understands the reviewer’s relationship to the company whose products are being reviewed. If the audience gets the relationship, a disclosure isn’t needed. For a review in a newspaper, on TV, or on a website with similar content, it’s usually clear to the audience that the reviewer didn’t buy the product being reviewed. It’s the reviewer’s job to write his or her opinion and no one thinks they bought the product – for example, a book or movie ticket – themselves. But on a personal blog, a social networking page, or in similar media, the reader may not expect the reviewer to have a relationship with the company whose products are mentioned. Disclosure of that relationship helps readers decide how much weight to give the review.

I’ve read that bloggers who don’t comply with the Guides can be fined $11,000? Is that true?

No. The press reports that said that were wrong. There is no fine for not complying with an FTC guide.

What about a platform like Twitter? How can I make a disclosure when my message is limited to 140 characters?

The FTC isn’t mandating the specific wording of disclosures. However, the same general principle – that people have the information they need to evaluate sponsored statements – applies across the board, regardless of the advertising medium. A hashtag like “#paid ad” uses only 8 characters. Shorter hashtags – like “#paid” and “#ad” – also might be effective.

Seriously read the rest of them so you aren’t driving your readers away with your obnoxious disclosures in your tweets or blog post titles. You’re only hurting yourself.

The quotes above were taken strait from the FTC website so before you go off in the comments about how I’m reading it wrong it’s a noted fact. I have moved my disclosures to the top of the posts or weave them into the conversation so they are not deceptive. But I won’t be tweeting “SPONSORED: A cool product review I did about baby products”. Because people aren’t going to click on it. If I saw something like that I would think you were sending me to the brands website and not your blog review.

What do you think about the FTC Dot Com Disclosures? Would you click on a social media share like that?

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Love your style Meghan! 🙂 I mean, really, do we need a brain weight requirement for using the Internet like the height requirements for carnival rides? Because honey, the only people who don’t know the difference between a sponsored tweet/post and a regular ol’ “I like this” post are probably buying some oceanfront property in Arizona. Or, apparently, working for/interpreting the FTC guidelines.

  2. Hell no I wouldn’t, lol. Can you imagine what our twitter streams would look like if everyone did this? Eek! I let my readers know up front what’s going on, but in a conversational manner.

    “Hey guys, I’m SO excited about receiving tickets to review to the new Disney on Ice show coming to town! Even better, the folks at Feld Entertainment are so awesome, they gave me 4 passes to give to you guys too!” Something along those lines.

    I’m not sweatin’ these “guidelines” because quite a bit of them really just don’t apply to me. What’s considered an ad? If I share the granola bar recipe I just wrote on Twitter, is it an “ad” because Post gave me the cereal that I used? They didn’t ask me to write and promote a recipe, just to try out their cereals. What if a company doesn’t require me to share via social media, but I put my post links out there on my own? Is that an ad? Hell, practically everything we do is an advertisement of some sort, if not for someone else then just for our blogs themselves.

    I NEVER hide the fact that I got something for free, but I certainly will not repeatedly put verbiage everywhere once I’ve disclosed at the top of the article. I don’t do advertorials on my site, so anything I think to provides value to my readers, even if it is sponsored content.

  3. The issue isn’t with the blogger – it’s with the brands that want to work with the blogger. They are the ones with their reputations on the line and as blogger’s if we aren’t prepared to jump through the FTC hoops, brands won’t work with us at the risk of THEM getting fined or prosecuted. So it’s a moot point of what we think or whether or not we’ll get ‘reprimanded,’ if we want to work with brands or monetize our sites we have to comply whether it’s bogus or not.

  4. I was completely oblivious to the new changes until I got an email last week from Mom Central with guidance on how to craft their posts. I’m not sure I like their request for SPONSORED on every tweet and FB post and blog post. Did you get their email?

    Frankly, until I started blogging and learned about FTC guidelines I was completely oblivious to the paid placements of products in magazines. I really, truly thought those “10 best beauty products” posts were honest-to goodness products the editors picked out – ha! Where is the disclosure on those articles and ads in print?

  5. Isn’t it exasperating? I’m gonna drop the spon from my tweets since reading this because like you said, that’s SUCH a big turn-off. Love that you outlined stuff directly from the FTC!!!!

  6. I think the sole purpose of these guidelines is to drive us batty 😛 No, j/k. Thanks for summing this up. I’ve been torn about how to disclose without being spammy. I do write a little note at top and a more descriptive disclosure at the end. Might as well cover my bases. I do like the fact that it’s not as ‘SCARY’ as some have made it seem with the big, bad FTC monster on the tails of mom bloggers.

  7. Good thing I’m always distracted and never pay attention to rules! haha! In all seriousness, what do people think bloggers do? It’s a job, you work for pay or product, give an honest review and promote a product that you’ve contracted to promote. It isn’t rocket science.

  8. Now if only the networks we work with would notice that too- they are starting to all require those “updated” disclaimers in tweets, posts, etc. I’m all for transparency & using disclaimers as needed, but agree with your findings after having read that page the other day.

  9. Okay I am going to post on this as a fellow blogger; you know this right…NOT someone that works with you in conjunction to a brand. I AGREE! It is frustrating. I give my opinions and I state within my post why I have the product. Either I bought it, was sent it or someone like a pal gave it to me. I think the FTC wants us all to be clear about our relationship with a company and that makes sense but to but blanket statement at the end or beginning of the post hurts me as a blogger for SEO reasons but also it look not authentic. I’m not as professional blogger just taking stuff for no good reason.

    From a brand point of you (let me change hats for a second based on my opinion and not of any brand or company I work with or have worked with…disclaimers, don’t you love them…), the FTC probably won’t go after you the blogger but they might go after the “us” the brand. Which is why brands are trying to figure out how to protect you (us the blogger) and themselves. Which is why I read each post and watch all the videos and try SOOOO hard to make sure you the blogger is protected and we the brand are protected. It mostly comes down (from what I’ve gathered) to be FALSE claims (you cured my asthma or fertility…um, no) to deceptive advertising and marketing – neither which legitimate brands nor bloggers do, from my knowledge working with brands and as blogger.

    Bottom line, be authentic, which you are my dear. That is what the readers and FTC care about.
    Great post and I understand on both sides of the fence where you are coming from!

    • THANK YOU hun! I totally see it from the brand as well. That’s who normally gets their hands smacked anyways in these situations. This post is directly more towards the bloggers that are writing posts that get auto posted to Twitter and have SPONSORED: My cool post! In it. They are truly hurting themselves. I don’t want to see bloggers go above and beyond to change what they are doing for no reason. I’m all about moving my my disclosures to the top. I just started making them tiny so they are intrusive.

  10. I’m so relieved after reading this. I’m going to do things as I’ve always done. I hate the Twitter situation, especially because my blog is fed automatically to Twitter. You’ve answered that burning question that I’ve had!

  11. Great read! I haven’t torched my social media with #sponsored and #ad, etc. unless I’m working for SponsoredTweets, etc. or I am asked to. I’ve altered my disclaimer from a photo to a readable text box (by bots) and my disclaimer varies by post. I don’t have a disclaimer on organic content unless it is a review of a product that I just decided to review because I own it already.

    I’m inclined to think that many of these rules and regulations came about because there are likely many bloggers who FLUFF their product reviews even when a product sucks. I’m fortunate to not have reviewed a totally sucky product first, but I let my sponsors know that if it does suck, I will post unless it creates a gross misrepresentation of the product.

  12. One thing that stinks is a lot of people we work for now require the #sponsored or #ad in front of all of our stuff. I try to disclose in story format as often as possible, but some people I work for just don’t allow that to be the case.

  13. Some network campaigns require it – for them, I will include “sponsored” or “ad” or whatever, because that’s what they’re paying me for.

    For other stuff, though? No. I use common sense.

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Meghan Cooper is a writer, content creator, movie critic, and geek living in Atlanta, Ga. She loves movies, traveling, and lots of coffee. Member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association, Georgia Film Critics Association, and Atlanta Film Critics Circle.

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