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A lot of people start blogs without ever considering the legal issues like taxes and copyright laws. It’s not that they’re trying to buck the system, it just doesn’t cross their mind. But if you’re making money with your blog, even if it’s just a little, you have certain legal obligations. And one of them involves any type of sponsored post you publish on your blog.
What are the legal issues?
The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guide addresses the issue of ads but it applies to blogs in the following ways:
Descriptions of products and services must be truthful and not misleading.
If results can vary from user to user, then the blogger must state this in his content. For example, you can’t state that someone will make $1,000 in 24 hours if they follow your step-by-step method because you have no way of knowing if they will follow your steps exactly as stated, and you have no control over their marketplace.
The blogger must disclose his relationship with the marketer of the product, including whether or not cash, gifts or review products have been provided in exchange for a product review.
What about affiliate blogs?
When looking at the legal issues, it’s important to remember that these guidelines apply to review blogs as well as affiliate blogs. As an affiliate blogger you’re endorsing the products you promote, so your content must be truthful and not misleading.
If you’re telling your readers that you personally achieved certain results when you used the product you’re promoting, then you should also include a statement telling them that those results may vary and they’re not guaranteed.
If the manufacturer of the product has paid for your review, given you a free gift or provided you with a free review product, then you must also disclose this information on your blog.
Now, those are the legal issues and it’s up to you whether or not you choose to follow those guidelines. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of bloggers who don’t. But what about ethics? Is there an ethical reason why you should follow these FTC guidelines?
Why non-disclosure is a bad idea
These guidelines were designed to protect the consumer. It’s easy to see how a blogger might be tempted to give a stellar review for a crappy product if he’s being paid by the manufacturer to do it. It’s a fine line, though, between a review blog and an affiliate blog.
Technically, since you’re only promoting a link, you can generally say anything you want to about an affiliate product because you’re sending your visitors to the advertiser’s sales page and it’s their responsibility to take care of the buyer. But you are still being compensated for promoting that product because you get a commission for every sale.
Again, it’s up to you, but your reputation is always on the line.
Let’s say you’ve built up a nice little business, making some good, steady sales with affiliate links. One day, an advertiser approaches you because he sees all the targeted traffic you get. He offers to give you a free notepad in exchange for a glowing review and you accept. He has one condition, though – You can not disclose the fact that he gave you a free notepad to review. If you do, the deal’s off.
When you actually test-drive that notepad you find out it’s a real piece of junk. It works for about 2 hours then the hard drive crashes. But he’s paying pretty good money for that review and it’s too good to pass up. So you go ahead and write it, without disclosing that you’ve been paid for the review, knowing that some of your readers are going to buy that notepad because they trust you, they’ve been following you for years.
And sure enough, the angry comments start rolling in. Your loyal readers are all having the same problem you did – and some of them are losing some very valuable data they had stored on those drives. And they’re wondering why you endorsed such a lame product. Could it be that you were paid for your endorsement?
And there goes years of hard work, down the drain. Your readers no longer trust you and they’re not buying anything you review anymore. They’re not even visiting your blog. And they’re spreading the word to all their friends that you are a scammer. Your whole business goes down the tubes over one lousy review.
It’s an extreme example but it only takes one dissatisfied customer to start the ball rolling. One negative comment on your blog or on Facebook can affect your entire business.
You owe it to yourself and your readers to be as transparent and honest as possible. If you’re being compensated in any way to promote a product then you need to disclose that information for your readers so they can make an informed decision. If you’ve always been truthful with your readers then your disclosure will only help increase your credibility.