Disclosure – What Is Best Practice?


Disclosure. It’s something we are very passionate about, because we believe in transparency in blogging and that bloggers can create good content even when they have been paid in money or product to share something. In the UK, the government division that should be providing guidelines and advice to bloggers is the ASA – Advertising Standards Authority. Unfortunately, the ASA is very reactive rather than proactive when it comes to producing guidelines about what bloggers and influencers should do.

We wanted to put together a guide to disclosure that would be more comprehensive for British blogs, and for inspiration, we looked to the FTC (which we talked about in this post about whether UK bloggers should follow US guidelines). The blogging industry in the US is a lot more developed than here in the UK, and it could be in part due to there being more defined situations for when disclosure should be used and how – by having such detailed documentation, it helps to clear away any of those disagreements that come up between brand and influencer about how to declare something to the audience, and provides the readers with a stronger assurance that they’re not being sneakily advertised to.

If there is anything you want to discuss within this, please leave a comment or get in touch – we will be updating this as and when necessary and we encourage you to share this with your audience to see what they would want to see from bloggers and influencers.

It’s important that you understand that none of this is legal advice and if you are unsure about what your legal requirements are, then you should be speaking with a lawyer – however, to the best of our knowledge, the types of disclosure we’ll discuss should be more than sufficient.

When To Disclose

The ASA says “A key principle of the Advertising Code is that ads should be obviously identifiable as ads”. However, editorial and advertising on social media, blogs and vlogs can get a little blurred together, so knowing exactly when to disclose is pretty important.

The most obvious time to disclose is when you receive a payment in money or product to promote a product or service. However, something else you may want to disclose is when a company sends you a product in the hope that you’ll promote them and you open it up on Instagram stories (for example). Another time to disclose may be when you have an interest in a company and promote them. Any time that there is an influence in getting you to post something should probably be disclosed, but it’s up to you to decide at what point you should disclose. Erring on the conservative side of disclosing more than is needed is going to be better than not disclosing at all.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a great way to make some money talking about things you would link to any way, but they should also be disclosed, albeit in a different way to sponsored and paid for items. The ASA has a whole section on their website about affiliate marketing, but essentially, it should be obviously identifiable when you’re using an affiliate link. It’s not difficult to do, you just need to be consistent.

For blog posts, the ASA says that using a symbol next to the links that are affiliate links is sufficient – however you should note at the top of the blog post that an asterisk (or whatever symbol you choose to use!) means that you could earn money from users clicking those links and making a purchase. The ASA specifically says that “A disclaimer of this nature at the bottom of such a post is unlikely to be sufficient because there is the potential that the links and any ‘directly connected’ claims would not be considered obviously identifiable as advertising at the time they are encountered by the reader”

On social media, the ASA recommends using #ad to represent any affiliate links, but we think this is a little misleading – to us, #ad implies you’ve already received payment, whereas affiliate links will only pay out if users click the links and/or make a purchase. They note that it’s important to consider any limitations of the social media network you’re using so we would suggest using #affiliate instead.

How To Disclose

Each form of content will need a different way of disclosing, but if we look at the FTC guidelines, they recommend to disclose at the very start of the content. This means the reader goes into the content fully understanding that the creator has been influenced to post this content in some form – money, gifting or otherwise. Disclosure means making something obvious, so making sure that your form of disclosure for the medium the content is produced in is clear and easily understandable by someone who has no clue about anything like this is super important.

Blog Posts

Blog posts might be the most obvious starting point for talking about disclosure, because there are so many ways to do it. The most popular way to disclose is to put a note at the bottom – however this goes against the FTC guidelines previously mentioned, and could be considered to go against the ASA guidelines of making something obviously identifiable.

Some bloggers put an image at the top of the post that says “Sponsored Content” (or whatever it is) – while this makes it obvious to someone who is able to read an image and makes it easier for the blogger to include their disclosure in relevant posts, the image should use alt text to explain to those users who are using a text reader. You may also want to create a separate page to explain what sort of thing you choose to disclose, and what your disclosure means and use the image to link to it.

Many bloggers (including ourselves!) use phrases like “the brand were kind enough to supply {product}” or “the restaurant invited me…” which is a form of disclosure, but for transparency purposes, you may want to define exactly what the relationship was (“The brand sent me {product} for review purposes” “The restaurant comped a three course meal for myself and my dining partner”) and whether you promised specific items in return (“in return for a blog post” “in return for an Instagram post, but I loved {product} so much, I wanted to share it here as well”)

YouTube

YouTube has been in the news previously for some of the bigger vloggers out there not disclosing fully both in the UK and the US so they have created some useful tools. The requirements from YouTube is that if your video contains paid product placements, endorsements or other content that should be disclosed to the view, that you tick the “video contains paid promotion” box in the advanced settings menu. It’s also a good idea to say at the start of the video (and if necessary, at the point you discuss the product or service involved) that brand X has sponsored the video, just to make sure your viewers are fully aware.

Twitter Post

Posts that are solely on Twitter are less likely to be sponsored now (compared to posts that have been cross posted from other platforms) but this is why it’s even more important that social media posts in particular have the disclosure at the start of the post so it’s not accidentally cut off. (As an aside, this is also why it’s important to tag people in the caption of things on Instagram instead of just tagging the image – when you cross post that item to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc, the tag in the image doesn’t carry over and people who don’t follow you on Instagram may not know. Make sure to check out our post about how to credit an image on Instagram for more details!)

Instagram Post

Instagram talks about how they have a feature so influencers can easily tag and disclose when they’ve been working with a brand, but unfortunately, it’s only available to verified users – and there’s no easy or obvious way for most of us to get verified. This is pretty frustrating as it’s a feature that we think should be available to all users – regardless of size of following or even if they have a personal account instead of a business one.

Most users will pop #ad at the end of their caption as well as any other tags requested by the brand, but we’d like to suggest turning that around. A good example of what we mean is with Kristabel’s post below:

Adding #ad (and any relevant brand tags) at the start of the post means it’s obvious to the reader that this was a sponsored post and also means that when the post is shared over to Twitter or Facebook, the users over there will still know this was a sponsored post, even if the rest of the caption gets cut off.

The ASA does say that “In contexts where only an image is initially visible, for example on Instagram, it is likely that an identifier like “Ad” should be included on the image itself so that the nature of the content is clear before consumers engage with the post by clicking on the image.” This can be done by putting the #ad identifier in a corner where it won’t interfere with the actual content, but it seems that in providing this advice, the ASA is not considering that Instagram is a mobile only app (in theory of course – users could be using apps like Flume to access it on their desktop or editing their images on their laptops before transferring it over or using a service like >Planoly to upload it)

We talked recently about whether Instagram Stories should be disclosed which comes under your choice again – it’s likely that you’re saying that the brand has sent you something when you’re unpacking it or filming it, but for , it may be worth adding a hashtag in the corner.

Facebook Post

Facebook has their own tool to mark when posts have been influenced by payments etc called the branded content tool, which we have posted about previously. (This is what makes the Instagram branded content tool not being available to everyone even more frustrating!). You will need to apply to use the tool, but once you have, you can then use it to disclose any posts that have been sponsored or influenced in any way. The downside to this is that Facebook can sometimes get a little too aggressive in their automated flagging and could flag posts where you haven’t been sponsored to say anything!

Podcasts

Podcasts are a relatively new platform for sponsorship although adverts have been on them for almost as long as podcasts have existed (are you even listening to a podcast if Squarespace or Casper haven’t been advertised to you?). Because of their relative newness to the UK especially, there are not yet any guidelines on how to disclose, but it’s pretty simple really if you consider the other rules that have been previously set out – at the start of the podcast, say that {brand} has sponsored the episode, and define what they did – did they send you products for review, or pay for a specific topic to be covered? If your podcast is made up of separate elements, then it may be worth mentioning again at the start of the sponsored section, although you could just incorporate this into the conversation rather than having a separate section. If you use the notes section on the podcast episode, then you should mention at the start of the notes who sponsored the episode and how (and provide links to them or the products – it will be useful for your listeners!)

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! But seriously – we appriciate you reading this and would love for your thoughts and comments, and for this to be shared. Leave a comment below, or get in contact in the usual ways.

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