There’s nothing like poring over a heavily-footnoted article in the New York Bar Association newsletter. Several times.
What does this have to do with food writing? Glad you asked.
Food writer Rebecca Lang, whose husband is an attorney, sent me an article he gave her called, “The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides Impact How Companies Can Advertise Through Social Media.” It outlines endorsement guidelines for bloggers from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
I’m so glad she did, because I had not seen this interpretation on accepting goods, money, or affiliations (where you get a percentage of sales) in exchange for a post, mention or a link. It’s good timing for food bloggers who want to “monetize” their blogs, a growing concern according to a recent Foodista survey.
I wrote my original post on disclosure in 2009, but back then the rules were rather vague. Now lawyer Laura Sack has written about the updated FTC guidelines, which make sense as best practices. So if you’re a blogger who writes reviews, participates in an affiliate program, or gets paid to mention a product, here’s what it says:
1. The FTC can fine both the blogger and the company for not disclosing an arrangement where the company compensates the blogger for a review, positive mention, or sponsored post. Wouldn’t that be a bummer, to not mention your arrangement in the post and then find it costs you a new client? So not worth it.
First, let’s define an “arrangement.” According to the FTC, compensation happens when you:
- Receive a free product and review it
- Link to the product’s website and receive a commission (called an affiliate program)
- Receive money, product or services for posting about a product
- Review a product or service that comes from an advertiser on your site.
The FTC does not require you to disclose the relationship if you:
- Use a coupon for a more expensive brand of a company’s product than what you would normally buy, and blog about the product
- Review products from a swag bag at a conference.
2. The definition of “disclosure” is more specific. It’s not enough to make a general disclosure on your About page anymore. The discloser must be contained in the post itself. “So long as the disclosure clearly and conspicuously conveys to the reader the relationship between the blogger and the advertiser, the disclosure will be adequate,” states the article. That means you can write something as simple as, “Company ABC gave me this product to review” and you’re done.
And, it’s not enough to disclose the relationship just on your blog post. If you tweet about your post, or you tweet about a product for which you have been compensated, Sack suggests you add #paid ad, #paid or #ad at the end. I can’t say as I’ve seen any of those monikers yet, including during presentations at IACP from marketers who want to work with food bloggers. I have seen #spon, though.
This disclosure rule affects me as well. From now on, whenever I post about a book and include a link to Amazon, I have to disclose the relationship right there. On one hand, I think, “Doesn’t everyone know how this works?” and “Who cares if I make 26 cents if someone buys a copy?” But on the other hand, it’s best to just be transparent about it.
3. Even if you satisfy the requirements of numbers 1 and 2, you and the company could still be fined if your post contains “misleading or unsubstantiated representations.” This seems like common sense, but apparently it isn’t. Here are the main points:
- Don’t write about a product if you haven’t tried it
- If you were paid to try it and you thought it was terrible, you can’t say it was great
- You can’t make claims about a product (“It will cure cancer!”) that cannot be substantiated.
To protect yourself, work with companies that know the rules and help you follow them. Companies should require you to sign a contract that includes suggested language about disclosure. These companies should also check your blog and tweets to see if you are following the FTC guidelines. Doing so is in their best interests as well as yours.
If you’re wondering whether the FTC takes action on this issue, the answer is yes. The article cites a settlement of $250,000 by Legacy Learning, which created an affiliate program endorsed by bloggers who did not disclose that they were compensated. Anne Taylor also took some heat for issuing gift cards to bloggers and not requiring them to disclose the gifts. On the other hand, the FTC is not monitoring blogs and has no plans to do so. It also has no direct authority to fine. But if possible violations come to their attention, they will investigate. It’s best to just do the right thing to begin with.
For more on this subject, read:
- The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking
- Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
What do you think of these new rules? From my standpoint, it might feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to be transparent to readers. If you’re not being clear with them, you’re creating an even bigger problem.
(As long as we’re on the subject…Disclosure: Rebecca Lang once hired me to coach her on a book proposal.)
I think this is a clearly written regulation that even I can understand and follow.
Oh good. Thanks Liz. Are you considering doing this kind of work?
I think this is great. Many times I have wondered if a tweet was a paid ad. And especially pleased to see “misleading or unsubstantiated representations”. I have come across health blogs claiming ‘cures cancer’ that don’t have anything to back it up.
Seriously? I suppose there are sites like that. I am so naive. Definitely there are lots of tweets that are “paid for” in one way or another. I have heard marketing people say that as long as the post says it was sponsored, the tweet doesn’t need to say so. I’m not sure that’s true. Also some people use #spon.
I’m happy to see that the guidelines are being more carefully presented, however there are some issues with the wording as I see it. I realize it’s difficult to prepare for every eventuality, but I see them being too specific in some instances (like the amazon affiliate issue you bring up), and still too vague in others. Also, regulations should be the same across all media platforms. I think we’re leaning in this direction. I also can’t imagine anyone taking the time to #ad tag their tweets. Reminds me of the #whore of ifbc last.
Yes it seems too specific to me too, but now it’s the law, so what are you going to do? I thought a disclosure on my About page would suffice.
It would be nice if print and websites had to follow FTC laws. Maybe there are other laws aimed at them? I’m afraid I don’t know of any. I had my own moral compass as a newspaper and magazine editor, which sometimes led to cancelled stories and arguments with the publisher about advertisers.
Food bloggers ARE tagging their tweets. Winnie Abrahamson just wrote a tweet with “#spon” at the end.
Andrew @ Eating Rules says
“if you tweet about your post, or you tweet about a product for which you have been compensated, you must add “#paid ad” at the end.”
I think if it’s a sponsored tweet, it’s perfectly reasonable to have to disclose that within the tweet.
But if there’s something in the post that needs to be — and is — disclosed within the post itself, then I think it’s unreasonable to require a disclosure in a tweet that is promoting/leading people to that particular post.
I respectfully disagree, Andrew. Most people will never open the link. But they should know up front that it was a sponsored post so they can decide whether they want to open it at all.
I don’t know about that. If my tweet is just about my blog post, why do they need to know it was sponsored if they aren’t clicking through anyways? They aren’t reading the post if they don’t click through and if they do click through, they see the disclosure.
Because if they only see a tweet that says “XX Potatoes are the best ever,” they need to know that you got paid to say it, or received free product.
I’m curious about older blog posts… I started my blog in 2003 and can’t remember when I started adding Amazon links. But that’s a LOT of old posts out there with no disclaimer in the post (although I’d have one in the footer of the blog so it does show up on every page.) And what about an Amazon Store?
I was wondering about that as well. Maybe the date of the post saves us? I would hate to have to go back and add that disclaimer to every post where I mention a book.
Re the Amazon store, I have an ad with books on the right hand side of my blog. Since it’s an ad with links to books and not a post, there is nothing to disclose. This is about editorial content.
Ah, that limits it then (re: editorial content). It’s funny though. I make far more money off the ads than the affiliate links!
Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) says
That’s what I was wondering, Ellen. My more current posts follow these guidelines and I always disclosed sponsorships but some of the little things (like amazon affiliate links) are scattered throughout old posts.
I’m rethinking my position. Since the FTC guidelines came out 2 years ago, I should probably go back 2 years and fix all prior posts, just to be safe. Crap.
Heather @ Family Friendly Frugality says
Just add a standard disclaimer to your post templates.
This post may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. See our disclosure policy for more details.
🙂 That takes care of all your old posts and your new posts.
Oh I really like that idea. Thank you, Heather. Brilliant.
Averie @ Averie Cooks says
“Doesn’t everyone know how this works?” and “Who cares if I make 26 cents if someone buys a copy?” ” — My thoughts exactly.
If I write a post about a certain kind of granola bars and am giving some away as well as part of a giveaway, doesn’t the avg person who reads blogs assume that I got my $3 box of granola bars for free from the company. And do they care? I doubt it.
I usually state that an item was free or given to me, that I am not paid to give a glowing report, all my opinions, etc. Sometimes I don’t write 5 sentences of disclosure about…a box of bars. Seems like overkill but I will be even more careful going forward to disclaim….everything!
I doubt that they care also, but you could also write a post about product you got that was worth thousands of dollars, and the rules are the same. So it’s not about the dollar amount.
If you want to say that your posts are your own opinion and you don’t write a glowing report even if you are paid, blah blah, you can make general statements like that on your About page.
Actually, I don’t agree. If a blogger (or anyone) receives a gift their opinion is automatically swayed. You might like the gift, but do you like it enough to pay for it? Because honestly, a lot of the stuff people get sent is extraneous stuff. And that sort of stuff is expensive and kills a budget. So, really do you like getting the free stuff or would actively seek it out at a store and deem it worth the money. I do agree that people need to disclose their product association on each entry. It’s the honest thing to do and the reader shouldn’t have to assume. Ever.
Also, I have a question, one blogger I’ve seen, she turned her site into an LLC and put the disclaimer there. Does being an LLC affect how often she needs to disclose if she’s been gifted a product?
Creating an LLC has nothing to do with what is required by the FTC. She has to disclose in every post if she endorsed a product or service she was given for free, or if she was paid to endorse it.
People never admit that they are swayed by getting something for free, but in most cases, they are.
I agree with Averie on this. It sure seems like they’re being particularly picky with bloggers. What about print magazines…like O? Can you imagine how many products are sent to O Magazine in the hopes they will get some exposure? I don’t see on O’s Favorite Things any kind of disclosure that the materials were provided for free. I’m sure Oprah gets meals paid for at her favorite restaurants just because they want her to dine there. Does she have to wear a sign that says, “This meal was paid for by the restaurant”?
I’m all for transparency, but it seems like these rules are a little more rigidly targeted at bloggers. Just my 2 cents. But thanks for your article, Dianne. It was very explanatory!
You are correct that these rules are targeted at bloggers and not at print. Print publications have their own ethics and they do not include disclosing free stuff.
It’s because the FTC is concentrating on online reviews where someone gets paid to write them, or got a product for free.
sally cameron says
Helpful post Diane. Best to be up front and transparent, I agree. I’m not clear on what we are supposed to do if we are in an affiliate arrangement and make our 26 cents off a link to a product. If I write a post and use specific tools, pots, whatever, I sometimes link to Amazon so people can find what I use and honestly recommend. I am in the Amazon affiliate program. I have noted it on my about page. Now I am unsure what else I need to do. Do I have to state in each post that I’m the program? Geeez, really? Seems crazy. Thanks for any clarity.
Yep, you have to say so in every post where you link to a product on an Amazon page.
Jay Samios says
It seems clear, yet somewhat onerous for small start up food manufacturers. Will be sure to keep it in mind though. Thanks for the info.
Just wondering why you think it is onerous, Jay?
Adina | Gluten Free Travelette says
Thank you so much for this helpful post! I’m looking to begin dipping my toes into this world. It seems like the hash-tag for twitter is a bit extreme – especially if you’re liking to a post and could have the disclosure there. Oh well!
You’re welcome, Adina. Many people see the tweet and never go to the post, so they won’t know that you’re endorsing a product and were paid to do so unless you say so in the tweet.
These seem to be assuming that you’re writing about the specific product, as in a review. Most of my posts are about other things – like how tos, recipes, etc… and may link to products that people can use. I’m not recommending or reviewing the product, just saying “Here it is if you want to buy it online or can’t find it at your market”
Now, I don’t have a problem with disclosing in my post that those are affiliate links…
But the idea of having to put a disclosure of some sort when I tweet my “How to Clean Your Iguana Cage” post because it has a link to some soap seems a little farfetched.
If you link to a post, you’re off the hook. It’s about original content. A link to a product that you have recommended and gotten for free, however, is something different. You’re on the hook for that one, even in Twitter.
Thanks for clearing that up! (Sorry it took me so long to come back and find it!)
My pleasure. Hope you got what you needed from it.
Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) says
Thank you so much for this article. It really does clarify some of the vague rules.
Do you think a line like “This post contains amazon affiliate links” meets the regulations or do we have to disclose after every link? I think that disclosing after every link will really hamper the readability of some of my gift list and book recommendation posts…
I’m not sure that in itself will clearly communicate that you receive a commission. So you might have to say “This post contains links to Amazon, where I receive a small percentage of sales.” I have to figure that out for my own blog as well.
I like including it in hovertext over the link. That way it doesn’t clunk up the text, but the disclosure is indisputably there at the moment it would be needed. See http://wantnot.net/ for an example of a blogger doing it in her own voice.
For some reason the links didn’t show up when I hovered over them. But anyway, she has an awesome disclosure on her blog. Thanks for this tip.
Kristen Hess (The Artful Gourmet) says
Great info to know Dianne. Thanks for sharing!
You are most welcome. I’m glad you found them useful.
I applaud these rules. They might sound a bit silly on the “box of granola bars” level, but when you get to the bloggers who have hundreds of thousands of readers and Twitter followers, the situation gets more serious. For example, I constancy see a prominent food blogger reply to questions from Twitter followers as to their favorite [product]. This person, who has the ability to influence consumers in a very real way, answers with products that provide individual advertisements on their site. This blogger may actually think that the product is the best one out there, but it’s important for people to know that this blogger makes money from the products they are recommending.
I see what you’re saying, Jean, but it’s complicated. Sometimes the person really loves the product anyway and would endorse it even if there was no ad, but the bottom line is that the blogger is receiving money from the company, so there’s a conflict of interest.
On the other hand, when I was a magazine editor we sometimes reviewed the products of advertisers, and while we gave our honest opinions, the fact was that they did have an ad in the magazine. Is that the same thing? The only thing that’s different is that there was more separation. The money didn’t go directly into one person’s pocket, since bloggers are in charge of ad sales and editorial.
Dianne: Yes, I agree. There are many, many levels (some of them messy) to something like this. I guess I always vote for erring on the side of too much transparency vs. too little. What I see these new guidelines as doing is that they tell bloggers (and the companies who engage with them) that if they are going to engage in business practices, they are going to have to adhere to rules like any other business.
Up until the past few years, bloggers have enjoying a “Wild West” atmosphere in their blog practices and have been surfing under the radar in terms of writing and business ethics and guidelines. These newest rules seem to me to be another step in reminding all of us that if we want to play the business game, we need to adhere to the business ethics and rules.
Full disclosure: I used to teach a work ethics class to students at university. So this is a subject that is near in dear to my heart. 🙂
I was waiting for someone to bring up the Wild West analogy! Thank you Jeanne. Even though these rules have been around for 2 years, people in the business (company marketing folks) STILL say it’s the Wild West and think the rules don’t apply to them. I see it all the time.
A class on work ethics! How fascinating. You and I have the same passion.
Ryan (Spinning Cook) says
I find myself on both sides of this, as a food blogger with an iPhone app I am marketing, in part through bloggers (unpaid, for the most part). Personally I think these steps are a small price to pay for more truth. There are too many situations in life where money wins…it’s good for everyone when the best products win out, by virtue of high quality as recognized by discerning influencers. The app store, great as it is, is worse for the tricks that are sometimes played there. Transparency and fair competition are key to getting product-makers of all sorts (including book writers) to put quality in, or otherwise think twice about even starting, on a project which is about putting a pretty face on a cheap effort.
I do think some of this goes too far however. Requiring bloggers to sign a contract to promise to disclose? How many would be willing to do that? Rules should be reasonable to have weight.
Thanks for continuing to keep us all in the know Diane!
Well, I don’t know much about the app store. But if bloggers are receiving a free product from you, then they have to disclose it if they write about the app, Ryan.
I don’t think that’s going too far at all, to require bloggers to disclose in the contract. Otherwise the company is at risk of being fined. I would think companies want to protect themselves against that. I’m sure you’d hate to be in that position.
Ryan (Spinning Cook) says
I definitely agree they should disclose having received the app for free, as all have done. But is a contract really necessary at all, if a blogger wants to write about my app, and all they have done is downloaded a 2.99 app for free? By way of comparison, should publishers require contracts to be signed before sending out any review copies of a book? That’s all I’m saying. Thanks for your response, all these thoughtful comments are keeping you busy!!
The actual amount of the gift doesn’t matter, apparently. This is kind of ironic, because even the NY Times says that reporters can take objects worth under $25, or at least they used to.
I guess publishers are not going to send any contracts with their books. It is up to the bloggers to disclose.
Ooh, now this is timely and most interesting information. There has recently been a minor scandal here when it was discovered that the tourism department of one Australian state had paid celebrities for posting positive Tweets about particular regions. The payments were significant & undisclosed, leaving both the celebrities & the Tourism office with egg on their faces. This kind of transparency would have avoided all of that discomfort.
I have always disclosed any payments of any kind on blog posts, but it hadn’t occurred to me to do so on Tweets. The subsequent reduction in available characters could make sensible Tweeting more difficult.
Wow, what a great story, Amanda. I’ve heard that some celebrities command as much as tens of thousands for writing tweets. I bet they are not attaching #paidad to them. Maybe they can afford the fine.
Pat Machin says
Thanks for that info. On this side of the pond, I’ve not read anything about this but I had already taken a decision that, if and when, I get the stage of ads and affiliations, I would be very careful but it’s good to know exactly what is needed.
I’m guessing that following the US rules will work to protect us over here.
I’m guessing so, Pat. Maybe laws will follow, but if not, you will be prepared.
Really informative, Dianne, thanks so much for posting this. I have one question – what about if you’ve paid out of your own pocket for whatever it is you want to review/promote – do you also have to state that you weren’t compensated in order to prevent yourself from being accused of hiding disclosure? I have been hesitant to even mention any products I regularly pay for and use with my own money because of this…
Also do you have a link to the original article you read? I don’t see see it listed in your reading material at the end of your post, and I’d love to read that too.
No. It only applies when you’ve accepted a free product.
Yes. http://www.vedderprice.com/docs/pub/cf98790d-5ae4-4786-b342-893c4f639f86_document.pdf. Barbara found it online and I have since added it. I thought it was only available as a PDF.
Although I’ve been blogging for many years, I decided long ago to not get involved with paid reviews, give-aways, affiliate links, etc. If I endorse something/someone, I do it for personal reasons (because I like the product or believe in what the person is doing). If I give something away, I pay for it myself. It makes life easier that way. My blog is simply my calling card or brochure. I make money because of it, but in a round-about way. As an extension of this, are you familiar with the blogger in NC who may end up in jail over providing “nutrition” advice in his posts? There’s a lot going on politically regarding nutrition and dietary advice. Depending on what state you’re in and the rules in that state, the situation can be rather dicey for those of us in the nutrition, health, and blogging world, even if you have a PhD in nutrition.
Thanks for this well-written post. We’re dabbling in new territory as bloggers. We’re all in this together. The more sound information we have, the better.
That sounds like a reasonable way to go about it, Melissa. If you can make money on your blog without resorting to it, then you’re ahead of many bloggers.
I did not hear about that blogger! I just looked it up and found this rant. Apparently the guy said a paleo diet cured his diabetes. Fascinating, and so crazy that he is facing jail time.
You are most welcome. The discussion here is what makes writing my blog fun, so thanks for commenting.
Stephanie, the Recipe Renovator says
Dianne, thanks for this. Did not know we should disclose in every post with affiliate links, or about the tweets. Thanks for keeping us up to date…
You’re welcome, Stephanie. The FTC suggests that you use them, so as not to mislead consumers. It’s up to us to actually do it now! Actually, they’ve been suggesting it for 2 years.
Elizabeth @Mango_Queen says
This is such a helpful post! I’m bookmarking it, filing it and sending my friends a copy. All good to know. I’m allowed to RT this, right? Thanks for the valuable information, Dianne!
Thank you. Yes you are allowed to RT, and I would appreciate it. In fact, I recently installed a new tweet button at the bottom of my posts to make it easier. It turned out to be great timing for this particular one.
Eleanor Creasey says
Thanks for sharing! This is great info!
Eleanor Creasey says
Well maybe not great but needed! 🙂
I agree with you there.
90210 Farmgirl says
Diane, as usual you keep me up to date and on my toes! Sometimes we bloggers are so focused on writing the recipe or story that we forget the implications to our readers. I am glad there are some official guidelines to which we can all strive to comply. However, I wonder why the FTC did not provide specific language for the social media world so that compliance is made easier and more universal. Perhaps they acknowledge how nebulous this territory is and are looking to us to help them navigate it.
Thank you again — you never fail to enlighten and inform!
Thanks, Dana. I guess it’s up to lawyers to interpret what the FTC means. Thus this article and my interpretation of it. Hah.
Julia della Crocr says
I wonder how this regulation relates to press trips sponsored by organizations such as chambers of commerce, wine consortiums, local government tourism agencies, e.g. If you go on a trip to a particular country and write about one of its wine or wines, products of a region, etc. –not particular brands but foods or destinations overall. Thoughts?
You have received free flights, hotels, meals, bottles of wine, etc. which all has a value. Therefore you need to disclose it, even though you have not been paid. The FTC rules don’t just apply to cash changing hands.
It’s great that things are finally a whole lot more clear, both for food companies and bloggers. I also think it may decrease the number of overall paid posts/tweets that food bloggers might do because who wants to constantly send out the message that much of what you write or review is being paid for by food companies? I could be wrong- maybe readers wouldn’t mind. Any thoughts?
Or maybe bloggers will ignore it, and marketers will be fine with that. I haven’t seen much monitoring by the companies, that’s for sure.
Tiffany @ TheGraciousPantry.com says
I can honestly say that this is a relief! It’s nice to know exactly what is expected of you. That way, if rules are broken, there is no question. Now I just need to go back and update my reviews! Thanks for once again keeping me “in the know” Dianne!
Well, that’s a refreshing response, Tiffany. I suppose I will have to go back and add disclosures about book links as well. I’m not so sure that it’s cut and dried, though. If so there would be no room for lawyers and interpretations.
Barbara | Creative Culinary says
If the article you were provided is the one I’ve seen by Laura Sack ( http://www.vedderprice.com/docs/pub/cf98790d-5ae4-4786-b342-893c4f639f86_document.pdf ), it’s not really news to a lot of us. The FTC Guidelines were changed in 2009 and effective 12/1/09 and Ms. Sack is simply writing her synopsis of those guidelines which are located here on the FTC site:
If it a different document; I would love to see it. Can you share an online address with us?
Knowing these guidelines have been in place for over two years I presumed everyone would be familiar with them but guess not. They make sense to me; isn’t it really simply ‘truth in advertising?’ I think it behooves us to provide those disclaimers; I know I saw a post recently where the writer (who does a lot of sponsored posts) was very effusive about a product, mentioned it repeatedly in her post, linked to the company website but nowhere had a disclaimer in the article. For me, not seeing that disclaimer served to discredit both parties so I’ve always thought it best to just get that information out on the table…law or no law.
Hi Barbara, I shared the links in the article at the bottom of the post and I don’t have any other info. You may be right that this is just Sack’s interpretation of the guidelines. If so, I’m glad to have them.
Re who knows about this, I did post back when the guidelines were announced, yet I find they are still a surprise to many, even bigger bloggers. Like you, I have found examples where food bloggers do not disclose. Sometimes I discuss it with them and they are always surprised that they need to do so.
Michelle Dudash says
Great info, Diane. I’m going to spread the word about your post and the news on the nutrition list serves. I tag each and every one of my Facebook posts, Tweets, pins, and blog posts if its paid, free sample, a pertinent relationship…whatever. Though, the #paidad hashtag is a bit unsavory. I liked just using #sp. But I get it, people who aren’t in the biz might not know what that means.
Glad to see we don’t have to tag the conference swag. That seemed a bit much since it wasn’t exclusive or anything.
Linking for commission intrigues me. About how many uniques or pageviews do you need per month in order for it to be even worth doing, and how much are we talking?
Thanks Michelle. I’m not sure your readers will know what #sp means. You’ve got to admit that #paidad is clearer, even though it probably makes you queasy.
Re affiliates, anyone can sign up for Amazon. You get a miniscule percentage of sales if someone makes a purchase after clicking through from your site. It’s not much, but it’s more than I make from my network ad.
Nicole Hunn says
I’m sure I’m alone in this, Dianne, but although #PaidAd is clear to me, I keep reading #paidad as “pai” “dad.” Which doesn’t make any sense, but I can’t seem to stop.
Clearly, I find all of this confusing! :/
Hah! Then don’t use that one. They are only guidelines anyway. Before I thought it was a “must” but I was misinformed. By my own brain.
Laura @ hip pressure cooking says
This directly affects me because, although money does not change hands, I have been the beneficiary of reimbursed travel costs and attendance badges – from the same companies that then send me free equipment to hopefully photograph and review.
However, from the beginning I have been overly-cautious in stating ANY tie I have to the manufacturer. At the bottom of each of my reviews I have a standard opening line.. and then I add whatever I may have done with, exchanged with or received from the manufacturer. For example…
“Our relationship with a manufacturer, or lack thereof, does not affect the outcome of the pressure cooker reviews. In the interest of full disclosure, we would like to note that:
The equipment used for testing has been sent to Hip Pressure Cooking by xxx at no cost. In 2010, xxxx invited Laura xxx to their headquarters to present new pressure techniques, tour the factory in Germany and xxx brand store in Luxembourg. Hip Pressure cooking has provided photographs and recipes for product brochures designed to be displayed at xxx point of sale in Italy.”
In fact, this is the disclaimer I have at the bottom of a NEGATIVE review! So my readers know that flying me around will not induce me to endorse a crappy product.
None of these laws may apply to me since I’m not in the U.S. and some of the companies that send me their products are not, either. Being above-board should not stop at the U.S. boarder!
You are definitely being above board with it all, Laura, and I salute you because technically, because you are not in the US, you don’t have to comply. I love that you put that disclosure on a negative review.
I did not discuss negative reviews in the post, but the article says there are implications for employees who post negative reviews of competitor products. Thankfully, that doesn’t apply to most of us.
Jayne Georgette says
I decided to add my 2 cents worth of knowledge about this topic, since the drug industry and anybody associated with the industry went through this process before FTC arrived to the food industry. Since my background is in health care (pharmacist), I went through a few hurdles until this whole process became clearer.
I saw people concerned about old posts that do not contain disclosure information because it was not required and it never entered your mind that it would make any difference.
Based on the drug industry as an example, if you have the date on the post and people happen to click on it, you would be covered by what they call: “Grandfather Clause” and you do not need to be concerned.
On the other hand, if you write a post today and within the post you place a link to the old post, you will need to add a sentence or two explaining the relationship you had with the organization and that at the time the post was written, disclosure was not only not required but the issue was not known.
I also read Julia della Crocr question about “trips sponsored by organizations and the blogger writes reviews about products presented at the meeting/conference.
The answer depends on when, how and if any sponsorship is involved. If you were paid/compensated for the trip, disclosure is a must.
If you paid your own way, but received a free bottle of wine, or anything from the wine company that you are reviewing their product, disclosure is a must.
In general, if you are receiving anything from a company that you are reviewing their product, it has to be mentioned somewhere in the review.
You also need to understand what “anything” means. To give you an example, I was in a meeting where the company gave everybody a pen with the company name printed on the pen; nobody thought that it was supposed to be considered as a gift, because with the prints on the pen, in everybody;s eye, the pen was an advertisement. The authorities did not think so.
Another interesting thing: If you are not compensated at all (nothing) from a company that you are writing a review for their product (i.e. a wine company), nobody is holding you back from receiving a gift from the company after the review was made public.
In conclusion, my disclosure is that I am not a lawyer, I am not qualified to provide legal advise to anyone. You always need to consult with your lawyer and/or other legal representation prior to making any decision and/or claims that involves legal issues.
Very good analysis, Georgette. I think the rules you’ve expressed apply exactly the same way to food blogging. Of course, if you receive free stuff and choose not to write about it, no problem.
Very helpful information. Thanks Dianne!
You’re welcome, Trish. Thanks for taking the time to say so.
Katherine Martinelli says
Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention, Dianne, and for spelling it out in such clear language! I rarely host giveaways or review products, restaurants, etc that I have not paid for, but it’s good to be very clear on the rules – especially little things like linking to an Amazon affiliate link! That I think might be taking it a bit far but, as you mention, it’s better to err on the side of being transparent and totally upfront with your readers.
Yes, I agree that the affiliate thing is taking it a little far. But there are people who make a ton of money every month by flogging product. I guess the FTC doesn’t discriminate.
I think that moving forward it will be very interesting how this unveils itself on Twitter. There seem to be more and more Twitter parties where people are talking about the benefits of a certain product and everyone uses a hashtag such as #productnamehere. It will be eye opening if many of them in the future read #productnamehere #paidad.
I personally don’t think that #spon or #sp explains to the uninitiated that the tweet was paid for and is a form of advertising.
Twitter parties are a perfect example of needing to disclose, if you received payment or a gift in kind. Aren’t there Twitter parties where bloggers just think it’s “fun” to participate? Maybe now there are fewer and fewer of those. Bloggers are getting smarter about asking for compensation.
I’m with you on #spon and #sp. I say “eschew obfuscation.” That was my journalism professor’s favorite saying.
The thing that really raises a question, for me, is the tweeting part. What if someone else tweets my posts? I’m not going to put #paid ad in my titles…and for those on triberr? This opens a huge Pandora’s box.
If someone RTs your tweet, they will have to decide whether to keep #paidad. You can’t control that. I’m curious as to why you would not put that in your tweet, Kristin.
Can’t say I object to any of this. In general, as a reader I like disclosure.
Regarding the Amazon affiliate issue: I’d think it’s enough to write something like “If you purchase a product through this link/my Amazon links in this post, I receive a small commission.” Simple, and people don’t usually object. I’d imagine that noting this once in a given post is enough.
Yes, I’m going to have to write something like that for the bottom of my posts. Well said, Liz.
Jameson Fink says
Thank you so much for getting the discussion rolling. It has raised (at least) a few dozen thoughts/questions specifically for social media platforms.
As far as the hashtags go, if people RT your tweet, will they include it? What if you weren’t paid but received a free sample/free goods? If you enjoyed it and genuinely liked it, and people want to know more about it, they can go to the post and see that it was a sample. Will this apply to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.? What if someone pins a photo of a free sample I received, with no context or disclaimer?
If I’m on a press trip and tweet out photos, do I need to append a hashtag to every single tweet? I’m in the habit of before I’m leaving sending out a tweet (and posting to Facebook) that I am going on a press trip put together by (insert name). When I am on these trips and experience something personally compelling, unique, or interesting, I want to share that via social media platforms as well as a blog post.
How does print media handle these issues? How and where and when do they disclose?
Am I over-thinking this? Taking a deep breath….
Oh my gosh, Jameson. What a ton of questions. I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer them all, but I’ll give it a shot.
The bottom line is that if you endorse a product, and you got it for free or were paid to write about it, you have to disclose on your blog, on your tweet, etc. etc. You can’t control what other people do with your content, so you are not liable if they modify your content.
Yes, you have to append a hashtag to every singe tweet if you’re on a press trip, because people are paying your way so that you will write and tweet about their product or service. I’m sure people will hate reading that.
Some magazines and newspapers have ethical standards about writers taking free trips and products, but most don’t.
You are not over-thinking it. You are asking the right questions.
Thanks for posting this, Dianne. This is something that is so sticky (as revealed by the comments!) and it’s helpful to have it broken down as much as possible.
I do try to put #spon on my tweets that are about a free product or media dinner, for example, partly because it drives me crazy when I see others who DON’T reveal their partnerships/biases. I wonder what this will mean for that type of event and the coverage the PR companies usually hope to gain. After all, I know many bloggers who attend events and tweet about them even if it falls under the “if you thought it was terrible, you can’t say it was great” rule.
“Spon” is a safe term because it’s kind of fuzzy. “Paidad” is not, but it would be easy to think it doesn’t apply to a free dinner.
I didn’t think about how bloggers will tweet about an event when they didn’t think it was great! Thank you. Maybe they will think twice about it now, but I kind of doubt it.
Good info to know about, even for us non food bloggers. Good rules that apply to all of us if we want to start accepting money, products, or a service in exchange for a review.
A good example of this is a fitness challenge I am involved in. Along with about 12-15 other women I am getting this service for 8 weeks for free. In return, we are asked to check-in on Facebook, mention our workouts, and; if we have one, blog about it. I’m making sure to put in a disclosure at the end of my posts.
Better to be smart and learn everything possible to be on top of the changes and professional standards than be at risk for potentially nasty consequences.
Interesting about how this fitness challenge works. If you were to write something on the company’s Facebook page, you should be dislosing that you got the service for free. I wonder how they would like that!
I’m with you, Kim. Best to know what’s involved, and try to do the most professional thing.
Lynne @ 365 Days of Baking says
Dianne, thanks for bringing this to our attention and outlining the specifics. Actually, it all sounds like common sense to me. I go with the theory, “When in doubt, just give credit regardless”. The same goes with adapting recipes from other sites. Always give credit where credit is due.
You’re welcome, Lynne. I agree with your premise, but some of the examples people have mentioned are kind of complicated, and I’m not sure they like the idea of saying “paidad” when they got a free meal or book. It does seem kind of extreme.
Reading this discussion (and engaging in discussions about it on Twitter) brings up what, to me, is the ultimate question: if you have no problems with taking gifts, sponsorships, money, or trips from companies in exchange for talking about those things online, why the resistance to being as transparent as possible in terms of the business transaction that is taking place?
Or, put a different way: if the universe somehow magically began to put a note on every blog post, Facebook piece, or tweet telling your readers that you were paid (either in cash, products, or experiences) to talk about that company or thing, would that be OK with you? And if not, why?
Really good questions, Jeanne. I think it’s normal behavior to want to take nice things that are offered to you. But then you have to decide what it means. I struggled with that in one of my first blog posts.
Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen says
Great article as always. I appreciate you keeping us all up to speed. I try to always post a disclaimer but have on occasion forgot it and went back to add it. Adding the hashtag to tweets seems a little extreme to me but what are you going to do?
Well, you could not take free stuff or take jobs to promote products. That’s always a choice too. A hard one, though.
Jessica Holbrook says
I’ve been blogging for about 6 months now and these are pretty much exactly the rules I’ve been following from the get-go. I’ve always tried to be completely honest and up front with my readers. I tell my readers where the product I’m reviewing came from and I have no shame in telling a company that I will write a negative review if I hate their product. I also try to tell my fellow bloggers just how important it is to be honest in your reviews and not worry about how the company feels about your review (this was reason #9 in my “10 Reasons Your Blog Sucks” post). I find it shocking to see how many bloggers deliberately lie about how “great” a product is just because they received it for free. Hopefully now they will stop.
Yes, that is a tough one. I’ve written several posts on how to review. Here’s one.
Shauna Smith says
Thank you so much for sharing this info… Very helpful
Thanks Shauna. Glad you got something out of it.
I’m not sure Diane, but I suspect that the people who organize the Twitter parties are compensated, but folks do join in for fun…bottom line, their product name is trending.
Advertisers are looking for 3rd party endorsements, especially online which is where more and more of their focus is and will be in the future. I’m sure that they loved it when it looked like a blogger just fell in love with their product and had to tell everyone about it. When bloggers start to disclose their affiliation with a brand, it’s not a 3rd party endorsement any more…it’s a paid endorsement…very different.
I suspect you are right. Folks do join in Twitter chats for fun, and if they don’t receive free products, then they don’t have to put a hash tag in their tweets. A paid endorsement implies a contract between a blogger and a company, and that is quite different, exactly.
Thanks so much for this Dianne. You are my go to source for understanding the evolving business of food blogging. I wonder how this might play out in the print world? Magazine and newspaper writers are sent advance copies of books, often just galleys. Might we expect to see disclaimers in printed reviews? I am just trying to grasp the logic and application of disclosure rules.
No. They don’t have to. Apparently it is understood when a company receives a free book, but not when a blogger does. As a former magazine and newspaper editor, I can say that there is less pressure to endorse a book you don’t like. None, most of the time. But bloggers are not like that.
And I suspect these FTC rules are really about people who get paid $.10 each to post positive comments about products on blogs.
MaeGal (Sarah) says
Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention.
I always disclose on my blog posts, but the part about Twitter is really irritating and unnecessary seeming.
I think it is necessary. When Kim Kardashian gets paid megabucks to promote a product on twitter, I want her to say #paid in the tweet. Who knows how many other people are being paid to do the same.
Heather Stokes says
Thank you for posting this. I do not currently have a blog, but I have been thinking of starting one recently. I do follow many blogs though, and maybe it’s just me, but when I see a post reviewing a product the blogger received from the company, whether it be just a review or a giveaway as well, I automatically assumed they were “paid” in one form or another by the company. Would I assume they would give a glowing report just because the company asked them to review it? I would hope they wouldn’t. If they did, and I found out about it, I would certainly quit following that blog. I refer to the blogs for honest opinions on products. I don’t really care if the company provided the product or if the blogger purchased the product themselves. That part doesn’t phase me either way. But I do assume the information contained in the post is accurate. I can see why rules are needed; however, if I had a blog, I would feel this might be a little much for a mom blog. As you can see, I’m kind of torn with this, and it’s probably because it doesn’t directly impact me since I don’t have a blog. But if I should start one in the future, I would most certainly follow the laws. Enough rambling from me now. 🙂 Thanks again!
I know what you mean, Heather. I wrote a post about bloggers writing “advertorial” in exchange for inexpensive products when my blog first started, and I linked to an example written by a kindergarten teacher. My readers went crazy! I had to stop the comments because they were out of control. But so many bloggers do it. She said she felt obligated because she got a $35 product for free.
Please don’t assume the information in a post is accurate. You need to cross check it if you’re really interested.
Janet Helm says
Thanks for tackling this topic, I think it’s so important to know the rules of disclosure and transparency. I did talk about the FTC rules in my presentation at IACP this year, including some examples for tweets (such as #spon (sponsor) and #cl (client). FTC does allow some flexibility in how you disclose a marketing relationship. I rarely see #paid or #ad, I think #spon or #sp is more common. And I DO see it being used. In my presentation, I had cited WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, which has a free downloadable guide for social media disclosures. That’s a great resource too.
Wow, Janet, I went to the wrong presentation. This is great. Thank you on behalf of all of us who are trying to understand these new guidelines. I did not even know about this organization but I am going to check them out in detail. Readers, here’s the link to the downloadable guide.
Natanya Anderson says
Just to clarify, the FTC hasn’t mandated the specific hashtag #paidad right as this sentence seems to imply:
“If you tweet about your post, or you tweet about a product for which you have been compensated, you must add “#paid ad” at the end.”
They are in some ways leaving it up to us and our sponsors to manage how we disclose. I agree that #sp isn’t clear and possibly #sponsored is more clear and less icky (for lack of a better word). But there’s no mandated FTC hashtag is there?
You are right, Natanya. I changed that in my post. There is no mandated hashtag, just suggested ones.
Susan M (MomBlogger) says
Do you have a direct link to those FTC guidelines? I’d love to look them over closer – and Thank you SO much for posting this! I want to always make sure I post a disclosure, but usually it is just a single line: “i received a free **** from **** for this review. all reviews are my personal opinion. see my disclosure page for more info”
Now i”m not sure if that is enough or not, plus I’d like to share this on my blog as well and don’t want to copy/paste your post (unless you’d like to guest post?) – thanks!
Sure. Try this link on the FTC website. It was on my original post about FTC guidelines in 2009. I think what you write on your blog page is perfect.
Yeah! More rules! Gotta love lawyers. I would bet 99% of food bloggers out there get the occasional comp. Does it really affect what you say about a product or restaurant? If it sucks either say it or don’t write it. If it’s good, it’s good. Why does the FTC feel the need to protect consumers from opinions, biased or otherwise? I have site-wide disclosures, now I am hampered with disclosures on every post. THAT sucks worse than some of the places I have eaten at!
Proposed new disclosure:
Assume I am being paid to write this, then decide for yourself. If you have any questions about the quality of this product/service/eatery, please contact the FTC and see if any of those bureaucrats have had experiences with the aforementioned products. They seem to know what is best for you.
Hah ha. I love this, Mr. Hotdogman. The thing is that many food bloggers think they have to say something nice if they get a free product. And many food bloggers post only positive reviews. I have tried to combat this view on my blog but I have a long way to go. Thanks for adding some levity.
The FTC feels it needs to protect consumers because millions of people are paid to post positive comments about products, and consumers say they make the majority of their purchasing decisions by reading about a product online. Now, if they’re only going to Consumer Reports, no problem.
It’s just another example of the nanny state. Us regular folk are too stupid, in the eyes of the government, to separate the “advertising message” from an “opinion.” Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it’s on the internet, it MUST be true.
steve garfield says
I can’t find anything new online. I don’t think you’ve got this right.
” If you tweet about your post, or you tweet about a product for which you have been compensated, you must add “#paid ad” at the end. ”
That’s not exactly right.
The PDF from the FTC you link to is dated June 2010 says:
“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 ’96 that people have the information they need to evaluate sponsored statements ’96 applies across the board, regardless of the advertising medium. A hashtag like “#paid ad” uses only 8 characters. Shorter hashtags ’96 like “#paid” and “#ad” ’96 also might be effective.”
“#paid ad” isn’t a hashtag. It’s got a space in it. It should be “#paidad” if you are going to use it.
I’m an investor in cmp.ly. They’ve got this figured out. http://cmp.ly/
I think you are right. This is a lawyer’s interpretation of the guidelines that were announced earlier. Thanks for the clarification on the hashtag.
Somehow those two don’t cover everything though. For example, I went to a free dinner that an author cooked and received his free book. If I tweet about it, I don’t like the idea of either hashtag. Am I just being coy?
Thanks for this posting, Dianne. I recently went on a sponsored trip and will be paid for developing recipes for the company. I didn’t have a disclosure line on my posts about the trip itself, though I was planning to include one on my posts about the forthcoming recipes. Now I know that the trip posts need disclosures as well. *Sigh*.
Yep. You’re on the hook. But the good thing about blog posts is that you can go back and add the disclosure easily.
Wow, thanks for sharing this. I have followed the FTC rules with posting at the bottom of every post stating if I was compensated or if I received a sample for review but I never tweeted any of that information in my tweets. I think that would be very hard considering you only have so many words. Thanks again
You’re doing the right thing, Lisa. Some of the suggested words are shorter, like #ad. But who likes the sound of that!
Nicole Hunn says
I am all for disclosure, of every sort. I practiced federal securities law as a lawyer for years – which all comes down to disclosure, plain and simple. You could say in your prospectus that “our product is sub-par,” but nobody could sue you under the federal securities laws as long as you disclosed it. That helps business, ultimately. It creates a level playing field.
And although having to disclose Amazon affiliate links every time you use them seems annoying, I’ll do it going forward in the name of disclosure (and because I have no choice, clearly).
I, for one, remained hopelessly naive about “sponsored trips” for bloggers for so long it is downright embarrassing. When I would see posts by bloggers about these trips, many of which seem almost divorced from the subject matter of the blogs themselves, I just wondered to myself, ‘why do you think readers want to read about your personal trip to the Bahamas?’ And the posts have such a low level of reader engagement, almost always, that I just didn’t get it (and, mostly, I still don’t). And when they’d tweet about it nonstop, I’d just “unfollow,” which I found very satisfying. Now, if they have to put a ‘sponsored’ hashtag, I will know even sooner to “unfollow.”
More guidelines are better. More specificity is better. Otherwise, you can find yourself out of compliance and get blindsided by a complaint. That’s never good!
Thanks for bringing this up, Dianne. Whether the info is new or not, I think we were due for a frank discussion about it all.
We’ll see of those bloggers put #spon or #paid when they’re tweeting about a free trip day and night! I tend to think the odds are low. Unfollowing them might be the most satisfying response of all, Nicole.
Nicole Hunn says
It’s very satisfying indeed, Dianne! Highly recommend.
Interested to see if celebrity tweets will be tagged as advertisements or sponsored.
We Are Never Full says
I guess I am cool with all of these rules – but how can they be enforced with the crazy amount of blog out there? also, how are the guidelines going to be taught to all bloggers so they can follow them (besides this wonderful post, of course). i’m all for free stuff but sometimes for a small-time blogger who doesn’t make much $$ off of their work, sometimes these guidlelines can hurt if we are fined w/o prior knowledge. but, as long as it’s easy to do and everyone is on the same page, i’m fine w/ it. if someone gives me a free trip to Paris, I’ll hashtag and follow guidelines to the “T”! for a free packet of ranch dressing, not so enthused…
I don’t think you have to worry. The FTC is not going after individual bloggers. They’ve got bigger fish to fry. And yes, if you’re going to flog something, a trip to Paris is worth so much more!
Amy @ Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free says
Dianne – I love your spunk and completely agree – who cares if I make $0.26 off of a book sale? I find that my readers appreciate my work and are happy to support me by buying products through my site. I was not aware, though, of the per-post disclosure. I’ll have to start doing that.
That’s very nice of your readers, Amy. I really don’t like the idea of a per-post disclosure, but it seems best to keep everything above board.
These rules seem right in line with what other bloggers have recommended over the years. Glad to see the FTC spelling it out a little more clearly just to eliminate confusion. These seem very reasonable to abide by. Thanks for sharing this with us all!!
Thanks. Actually these are the same FTC guidelines, but a lawyer who specializes in social media has spelled out what she thinks they mean. I thought she did a great job.
Tv Food and Drink says
Thanks for the post. There’s nothing like curling up by the fire with a good old-fashioned “FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides Impact How Companies Can Advertise Through Social Media,” is there? :)-
Hey, a fire would have been an improvement! You’re welcome.
Thank you, Dianne, for bringing this to our attention! It’s hard to believe all the hoops we must jump through to share on our blogs, but most of us have probably heard of bloggers taken to court. On our blogs we try to put a disclaimer on every post directly about a product, like a review. But like others who have commented here, we sometimes mention or recommend products that we purchased ourselves and use an affiliate link to guide readers to a purchase source (not for the 26 cents!). We’ll have to be more diligent. It’s going to be hard for me to remember to add the tweet #!
Thanks Marie. The main thing is that you are thinking about how to behave ethically. Doing so will filter down to your posts and tweets.
Linda Kinsman says
Thanks for this very helpful article. I do disclose on my blog posts, but never heard of the Twitter issue.
Thank you for this additional information! I knew about disclosure but not to this extent.
Well, these are the lawyer’s recommendations based on the guidelines, so it depends if you see it the same way. Of course since I”m not a lawyer I’m going with her interpretation.
Kelsey Apley says
I have this in my signature: This post may contain an affiliate link. See my Disclosure Page for more information.
But I guess maybe I should take that off and just apply it to each post that is linked to an affiliate.
I am still semi-new to blogging and rules and I hate to think that wasn’t a good enough way to disclose, I just thought doing that would be easier so I would be safe then forget and not put disclosurer on. I didn’t mean to do that, but I will change it, cause I want to abide by the rules for sure!
I think that’s just fine, actually. Remember that they are recommended guidelines, not written in stone. The main thing is that you are disclosing.
Kelsey Apley says
Whew good thanks for your input! Much appreciated!!
As always you are best filter and most reliable source for the latest in food media, Dianne. I found esp interesting your comment about book reviews. As you know, it is standard procedure and always has been for publishing companies to provide review copies to critics and journalists without the reviewer having to disclose this relationship, whether it is Thomas Pynchon or Sandra Lee’s latest work. All publishers now see bloggers as an important part of the critic universe (which they are). But it is the blogger’s ability to earn a payout from the book (even if just 26 cents — love that detail, Amy) that makes the difference and compels disclosure. Still, as all content migrates over to digital, I think this is a bit of a gray area — many mainstream news outlets include a link to the book for buying and I have to believe the company, if not the writer, is earning something off that. Since I was a reviewer in the old-media world, I still receive review copies, but I generally don’t mention them on my blog unless the author is someone I admire, know or have worked with, or the book just blows me away. Then I will say something like “chef/author ABC had a copy of her new book sent to me to take a look at” to establish that connection. It would seem so weird to me to write “Publisher ABC gave me this book to review.” The question is, is that transparent enough? Thoughts?
Thank you Tori! Actually it is I who said that about the $.26, in my post.
Re payouts, publications pay freelance reviewers for their print reviews, but the reviewers don’t have to disclose that they received the book for free. Bit of a double standard, eh? And as you said, websites link to affiliate programs too, not just bloggers.
I think people will know what you mean if you say that the book was sent to you. It means no money changed hands.
Maggie @ Snag A Bargain says
This is getting ridiculous. I wonder if a disclosure at the bottom of every page stating “This post may contain affiliate links” would be enough. By bottom, I am talking about the very bottom where the copyright is.
Maybe. And if you could link it to your About page, where you disclose more about the affiliate program, that might be sufficient.
Update: Nope, that is insufficient. I just reread the guidelines. The FTC recommends you disclose on every post.
Is it enough to have one disclosure policy covering your whole blog, or so you have to have one on each review post?
According to the FTC guidelines, you need it in every post.
Great post Diane! and great conversation to follow it. Beyond posts and tweets, I recently heard of a large website paying bloggers to leave positive comments on sponsored posts.. I wonder if/how that might be disclosed?
Thanks, Julie. Where did these sponsored posts appear? On the company’s website? If so, the company is supposed to disclose, in each post, that the blogger had been compensated.
Heavens – this will change the way I view any positive comments left on commercial sites in the future! I’d always assumed the comments were “cherry-picked” for the best ones, but never thought they’d be paid for. That’s a bit like the old payola scams on radio in years gone by.
I haven’t seen any of the comments yet – I just saw the request go out this afternoon… it’s a big online web community with lots of bloggers working for them.
Also – paid pins! I imagine as technology evolves there will be more and more platforms and ways to pay for endorsements.
Definitely. Just got an email from BlogHer asking if I wanted to work with sponsors on Pinterest, Google+, etc. Uh, no.
Interesting! It must be the new thing… it wasn’t BlogHer I was talking about!
Susan Cooper says
This was very good information to know. I have bookmarked this in permanent file to refer to at a later time when it becomes something I need to be refreshed on. Thank you for posting it.
My pleasure, Susan. Thanks for taking the trouble to post.
I have wondered how this FTC thing affects non-Americans? While I have no issue with disclosure, I wonder how fussy I need to be about it as a Canadian.
IE where is this FTC rule/guide legally binding? Only in the USA?
Yes, the FTC is part of the American government, so the recommendations are not binding in other countries.
Thank you for the reply Dianne 🙂
Roberta Roberti says
Thanks for the info, Dianne. I have not yet been in a position where I’ve had to disclose anything, but it’s good to have this going forward.
You never know, right Roberta? You might decide to become part of an affiliate program, or accept a free product for review.
Nate @ House of Annie says
I used to put “affiliate link” in the ALT text of a link to any product I recommended on Amazon. But it sounds like that isn’t clear or conspicuous enough.
I’m curious about how other bloggers are going about disclosing their affiliate links.
Some people have made suggestions in their comments. I’m going to put a note at the bottom of the post.
Lauren, Ephemerratic says
Thanks for sharing this new interpretation of the FTC rules. On my blog, I’ve labeled the advertising blocks and put a general disclaimer site-wide. And of course, I always mention if a post is sponsored — it’s not a big source of my content though, since I want to always keep my voice and (ample!) opinions as the dominant tone on the blog.
Full disclosure and honesty are personally important to me, and practically important to my site marketing and growth, since the only people that matter, really, are my readers!
You are absolutely right. The only people who matter are your readers. It sounds like you are treating them with respect, Lauren.
Kristina Brouhaha says
Dianne, thank you as ever for providing insightful and concise posts. I have been lurking ever since I bought your book “Will Write for Food”. As an erstwhile all-over-the-map blogger and recovering lawyer, I have found your tips on writing and focus (as well as your writing exercises) invaluable. As a result, I intend to start a food-focused blog for fun and creative release – in my other blog I found my spirited voice but perhaps let that voice speak too hypomanically. (My strength in my legal career was plainer language editing for other workers: “Physician, heal thysel!”)
Thanks ever so.
You are most welcome, Kristina, and thanks for reading both my blog and my book. As a recovering lawyer, I get you have lots of insights on this subject. But it’s probably more fun to start a new food blog. Good luck with that.
CJ at Food Stories says
Very good information … Thx for sharing 🙂
You’re welcome. I glad you found it useful.
Adrienne @ Whole New Mom says
Is it enough to have an affilate disclosure on your blog footer or does it need to be at the end of every post w/ affiliate links as well.
It needs to be at the end of every post that has affiliate links in it, Adrienne.
Hi Dianne, this is great and something we have found very useful.
We quite often ask for guest content, and in the majority of cases we then get that content with external links in it (normally there will be one from the site the writer has come from). Is it enough to disclose something like this “This post was written by XXXX from XXX.com)”?. In this situation no money has changed hands but we have received a service in getting some specialist expert content we couldn’t write ourselves.
It depends what the links go to. If they are just to the guest’s website, no problem. In fact, it is a courtesy for you to link back, and if no money has changed hands, the guest writer probably expects it. If the guest is endorsing a product, then you have to disclose.
Hi Dianne, that’s helpful and thanks for taking the time to reply, but what if the users website is also the product? For example we have asked for travel articles about particular destinations in the past. We get some great content, but they will then link back to the writers company which is a commercial site….
Oh I see. If you are not sure, best to disclose.
If I blog about the product, then tweet the link to the post, which has the disclosure, do I still have to mark the tweet as #ad? The tweet doesn’t mention the company, just the blog post. Would love to know if that’s ok or not! Thanks!
Yes, you need to ad #ad or #spon to the tweet.
Michele C. Hollow says
I’m so glad I came across your post. I often get guest post offers with embedded links to advertisers. I have run a few of these posts and disclosed that these are sponsored posts.
However, today, I got an offer from someone willing to pay to have her advertorial on my site. The condition was that I could not disclose that this was a paid advertorial. I declined. She wrote back saying she is sure someone else will accept.
This was not the first time this happened. It really annoys me that more and more companies are trying to pass off advertorials as editorials. Thank you for this post.
Good for you for turning her down. What annoys me is the number of bloggers who say yes! I don’t think they understand what it does to their credibility.
Elizabeth @Mango_Queen says
Hi Dianne! Just reread this post again and I apologize if I already left a comment earlier. Thanks for all the info about the new FTC rules. I recently was “gifted” a gift certificate for an outdoor apparel clothing company and in exchange they expected me to do a live tweet chat, mention their brand repeatedly, link to their site and make sure to say on my blog they were a “shoe & clothing” company. I refused to do any of the above and returned the gift certificate, which I never asked for anyway. And more importantly, their “outdoor shoes & apparel” had nothing to do with my recipe and story in the article, which was about my family’s traditions. What was even hilarious was that the Brand and the organizers of the event kept insisting it was “not a sponsored event”. I hope more bloggers and companies who want to sponsor events get to read this post so they can be properly educated on what is the law.
Natalia _ComiendoenLA says
Hi Dianne! I am a food blogger and I review restaurants in LA (no compensation at all), should I write a disclaimer at the end of the post?
Marvin M. says
I think rules only apply for strict companies and as a blogger we still have the freedom on how can we derive into a quality review post and make it sell.
These rules were made mostly for bloggers who are paid to promote products. While a quality review is always a worthwhile goal, it just depends on whether you received a product, meal or service for free.
Helene Dsouza I Masala Herb says
I haven’t worked as such yet with any companies, but I d love too if it is a brand I believe in. For that reason I haven’t taken the time yet to add a disclosure part to my blog, no idea either if it makes already sense to add it.
There is one thing I am confused about. The internet is global right? Now the rules you have stated above make sense to me and I agree, but they are concerning the US. So, I guess that every country will have their own rules. a country like Austria where blogging barely exists and where it is not considered as a business niche, wont have any rules about that. But the Internet is global and its owned by the US.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
Hi Helen. It is true that these rules apply only in the US. You have to decide if they make sense for you, when the time comes when you want to feature a product you received for free, or one you have been paid to discuss on your blog.
I’m not sure anyone “owns” the Internet, but it was invented in the US.
And p.s., what a fascinating life you have in Goa. Thank you for reading my blog.
How exactly do we “disclose” the Amazon Associates stuff? I post product links straight from AA. Is that good enough? I don’t understand (or see anything on Amazon) about anything else we have to include?
You say in your post that you make money from an affiliate program when people follow links and purchase. That’s all there is to it.
Money Infographics says
As if the FTC give a stuff about some small blog that happens to have a mention. It’s just a blatant attempt by authorities to create a bit of moral panics!
Actually they’re not so interested in small fish like us. But the rules still apply.
Money Infographics says
No they’re not. I have several blogs and they have never come after me. The same people believe this is legit are the same people who watch Fox News and spread moral panics! Probably the same doomsdayers who thought the Mayan calendar meant the end of the world was yesterday!!!
Rizwan Hameed says
this is the very important article oh i am so impressive to read this thank for sharing
Sure. Glad you found something useful in it.
So, I did a review and full disclosure over the summer for a relatively expensive coffee machine and now the company is planning on issuing a 1099 for full retail price.
I’m thinking: no.
But what is the experience of others here? No amount of googling has found me an answer, but the link to the FTC regs was fabulous and clear.
Hah! That’s a good one.
Yes, they have the right to issue the 1099. If you don’t like the idea, you could always ask to buy it at a reduced rate. Or sell it to try to mitigate any expense this will incur for you.
Hi Diane, I am trying to see the example on your http://diannej.com/blog/2011/12/5-writing-books-for-holiday-marking-and-underlining/ page, though could not find it. Is it because the post was written in 2011 or am I missing it on that page?
Lea, you couldn’t find it because I forgot to include the disclosure! I just added it. Thank you for pointing it out.
“New FTC Rules on Writing Reviews, Affiliations, and Sponsored
Posts” was indeed a terrific post. If perhaps it owned much
more pictures it could be possibly even more effective.
I only use Amazon and have a book/media recommendation page for all women to post books that were helpful in their self development and career journeys as they step up to theire career potential. Can I make One Post on that main page the the Amazon affiliate linnk will be used to provide workshop discounts for non-profits? It would be extremely difficult to control it or add to every post.
I’d appreciate your expertise to know what is best since my mission is to help women excel and have career fulfillment.
According to the paper I read, disclosing only in one place that you are an affiliate is insufficient, versus disclosing in every post.
Laura @ Family Spice says
The biggest bone I have to pick about the new FTC laws are in regards to tweeting. Tweeting to me is like free speech. I am not a lawyer, but I seriously don’t see how the FTC can regulate what your tweet says. And what if someone else tweets about your sponsored post. It’s murky water and I’m sure these regulations will morph some more over time.
Your blog is free speech too, but you are morally obligated, in both cases, to be honest with your readers when you promote something in return for payment or payment in kind.
harvard mba says
I rarely drop responses, but i did some searching and wound up here
New FTC Rules on Writing Reviews, Affiliations, and Sponsored Posts | Will Write For Food.
And I actually do have 2 questions for you if you do not
mind. Is it just me or does it look like a few of these responses look like
they are left by brain dead individuals? 😛 And,
if you are posting at additional sites, I would like to keep up with
anything fresh you have to post. Would you make a list of all of all
your public sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?
I can’t tell if this is spam. I will give you the benefit of the doubt.
I do not think of my commenters as brain dead!
The link to the BlogHer post is new.
My twitter page is https://twitter.com/diannej.
Oh my goodness! So much work! I just started blogging. First I read about the no-follow links, then I ended up hear after reading about disclosure! I am trying to decide how to disclose. Your information was so good that I read through dozens of comments too just to read your responses. Thank you very much! Sometimes I have a hard time deciding what is spam too. I use Askimet, which helps. It does flag some comments as spam that aren’t exactly spammers, but it does save me time.
Yes it is all kind of confusing at first, but you will get the hang of it. The bottom line is to be honest with your readers. As for spam, sometimes it is hard to tell, but if you analyze the email name or click on the links you will see that, most of the time, it is rubbish. So annoying.
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D.J. Paris says
I just put “this post was sponsored by X” – I’m pretty sure that’s all I really have to do. Agree/disagree? Great post!
I think so. They want it at the top of the post too.
I think, for the most part, it’s ridiculous. In my opinion, to endorse a product or to simply advertise one are two different things. Endorsing by giving a review and stating anything specific, good or bad, should be regulated. However, just having a simple ad, with a link seems crazy to me. Should the big chain stores be held to the same expectations while advertising? I don’t condone being misleading by any means, but I should be able to earn a living without someone crying that I got paid for it. What difference should it really make to someone if I’m being compensated to just advertise something? It’s just goofy to me, but it is the law.
There’s nothing wrong with having ads on your site. The point is that ads should be clearly recognizeable as such. If you put ads into your copy in embedded links, you have to disclose. That seems perfectly reasonable to me, Zach.
‘If you were paid to try it and you thought it was terrible, you can’t say it was great’
But who would ever know what you really thought?
Not endorsing lying, just being practical.
Typically people have these black and white views that something was either good or terrible. So if they decide on the latter, they decide not to publish a review. We’ll never know!
Daniel White says
Some great information here for us bloggers. I plan to do some reviews of my own on my blog, but I don’t think I’d fall into the FTC’s view of an “arrangement” as I wouldn’t be taking any money in from whatever I’m reviewing (plan to do mainly video games and Windows software).
Still a great post though for reference in the future should I ever fall into that arrangement category. 🙂
Thanks Daniel. Re an arrangement, all you have to do is receive a review copy of software and you are on the hook for disclosing.
Jane H. says
So answer me this I wonder about: A publishing house sends out a book to Publishers’ Weekly or Kirkus or zillions of media outlets, mostly newspapers, all over the country. THEY don’t have to disclose that they got that book for free. But of course they did receive it for free and the implied idea is for the media outlet to review it and post the review.
So why aren’t they doing that, at the end of each review, and why do we little indie authors have to do it again and again?
I’ve answered this several times in the post, but I suppose there are too many comments to read now. It’s because there are so many fake reviews on the Internet, where people are paid to write positive reviews. That doesn’t happen in newspapers and magazines, generally speaking.
Jane H. says
Also, Diane, having researched it more, I understand the justification for the legal distinction is that books are given to the media organizations but it’s individuals who write the reviews so the FTC views that differently. If a media outlet has only one book reviewer, which most have, it seems an unfair distinction.
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Thanks for discovering this blog post and linking to it. Just for the record, this is not a food blog. I write for other writers who happen to write about food. So you will find a lot of crossover info about freelance writing, writing in general, and interviews with publishers. Hope you come back!
Thanks for the link!
Thanks for the link, Lia.