Kerry O'Shea Gorgone

Writer, Speaker, Lawyer, Educator,
Host of MarketingProfs Podcast
Orlando, Florida
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Bloggers and brands alike should be aware of the FTC’s recently updated guidelines for making necessary disclosures in sponsored content. The guidelines had been in place since 2000, so clearly some touch ups were in order.

I’ll give you the short version: if bloggers receive anything of value (free samples, payment, sponsored trips, etc.), this needs to be made clear to the reader up front. Like this. (Nice job, Chris Brogan!)

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Disclosure rules apply to your social networks, too. If you’re tweeting about how great your new camera is, and you received the camera for free, you need to disclose that in the tweet. Like Steve Garfield does:

Yes, 140 characters doesn’t give you much space. No, the FTC doesn’t care. Disclose. If necessary, use a short URL that clearly indicates important disclosure information is available, and when using hashtags, use #ad or #sponsored. Readers don’t all understand what #spon means.

Make sure that disclosures display properly on mobile, as well.

Responsive design is an amazing thing, but it’s your responsibility to ensure that site visitors see the any required disclosures without having to scroll.

Realistically, you can’t know how your site will display on every browser and device, so you’ll want to present the disclosure and acknowledgement as an obstacle for site visitors: don’t let them proceed to make a purchase or visit the sponsor’s site until they acknowledge having seen the disclosure.

When disclosing, pay attention to the 4Ps:

  • Placement (Put disclosures close to the claim they qualify.)
  • Proximity (Don’t make users scroll or zoom to see disclosure)
  • Prominence (Make it stand out on the page.)
  • Presentation Order (Make it “unavoidable” that consumers see disclosure before they can proceed.)

Even 140-character tweets must comply with FTC guidelines. The FTC’s made it clear that if you can’t fit your disclosure on a platform because of limited space, then you shouldn’t use that platform. Sending a series of tweets (with the disclosure in one of them) is not sufficient, because people most likely won’t read every tweet in succession.

Also be aware that it’s your responsibility to monitor your website’s analytics and confirm that site visitors are seeing your disclosures. If there’s any reason to suspect they’re not, you need to correct it by adjusting the placement, proximity, prominence, and presentation order of the disclosures until everyone sees them before proceeding. If you don’t correct the problem, you’ll run into trouble if someone files a complaint with the FTC.

Blogger outreach and influence marketing are great additions to a company’s marketing mix, but everyone (bloggers and brands alike) needs to ensure that any content they create complies with consumer protection laws and truth in advertising laws.

For more information, visit FTC.gov.