Why Non-Disclosed Sponsored Posts Are a Bad Idea

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.

Sté Kerwer
Article written by Sté Kerwer (1995 Posts)
Bonjour from a french guy. My name is Sté Kerwer and Dukeo is my blog. I do most of the heavy lifting in here but from time to time, you may see some guest posts. To receive updates from Dukeo, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.
If you enjoyed this article, Get email updates
JOIN FOR FREE

7 Comments (Add one)

  1. Lisa Thornbury

    Full disclosure is the only way to go. Whenever I read a post that is clearly promoting something, but there’s no disclosure at the end, I always wonder… This is why I include, “This was not a sponsored post, I just really like the product” or something like that, at the end of any post that wasn’t sponsored. Just to be extra clear. I’m all transparent like that. ;)

    1. Sté Kerwer

      Lisa, explaining that the post was not a sponsored post (if it wasn’t) is a very good idea. It gives even more power to your review since you wrote a post about the product just because you liked it…

  2. Aaron Brinker
    Aaron Brinker

    Sté Kerwer,

    In reality, all a blogger has is their reputation. Content and products do not matter if you can not build a trust with your audience. People want to feel that you are the voice of reason and authority. I think the only one you are hurting when you do not disclose is yourself.

    Aaron Brinker aka DadBlunders

    1. Sté Kerwer

      Aaron, I think there will always be some shady people and the ones who don’t disclose sponsored posts probably think that they will get away with it, and it won’t hurt their reputation.

      As bloggers, our most important currency is trust, it’s important to never forget that.

  3. Michael Aulia

    It’s really easy to fall into the trap of “I’m going to write a great review, give this product a 5/5 rating, so that people will buy it through my affiliate link”

    But in the end, it’s your credibility and integrity at stake. Some may not be concerned about this if making money is all you are after (since you can squeeze search engine visitors out of their pocket and be done with it).

    But it’s also about your credibility to the vendor/brand, because you should give a constructive feedback for them to improve their future products even better, and not always giving them a perfect score

    1. Sté Kerwer

      Michael, I think it all depends if you are trying to build a brand around yourself or not. Some people don’t care about this and the’ll do whatever they can to close the sale, even if it’s against law and morals.

      In current economy, I can’t really blame them for trying but that’s extremely short-sighted. They might make a few sales from time to time, but they’ll never be able to make a full-time income from that because they’ll never have any recurring customers.

      1. Michael Aulia

        Yeah, that’s true. And it’s always saddened me when sites like that actually rank higher in Google than the “legitimate” ones. Ah well

Leave a Reply

When posting a comment, please use your personal name, not your business name. I find it a lot more interesting to talk with people instead of talking with brands.