FTC, Disclosure And Your Blog

In December of 2009, the new FTC policy on blog disclosure went into effect. Here we are well into 2010, and nothing much has changed. In fact, even the FTC has said it is unsure how it will actually enforce the new policy. Is this something publishers, bloggers, or social media consultants need to worry about, or will this turn out to be a paper tiger without any bite?

While the FTC doesn’t have a game plan yet, that doesn’t mean it’s something you can ignore, it’s something you are going to have to address sooner or later. First you should read and try and understand the original FTC document (PDF link) and not rely just on summaries from the web. One of the main complaints in the document, had to do with unsubstantiated claims, or claims that were not typical (IE lose 30 pounds in 5 days with XYZ herbal supplement).

If you publish a website that sells products that make claims like this, or are an affiliate who runs ads with claims like this, you will probably need to make some adjustments. Check your content and any user generated content to make sure you are in compliance.

The second part of the FTC guidelines, which deals with advertising in “non traditional contexts,” and is much more problematic. An example of a non traditional context would be blogging a statement like “I had a great time on my Caribbean Cruise last week” with any part of the sentence containing an affiliate, or otherwise incentivized link. There are several types of arrangements that would be affected by these guidelines:

Paid

The simplest and easiest to understand is where a person or organization pays you directly with cash for making a post, putting up a link, making a tweet, Facebook post or other social media engagement.

Cash in kind

A cash in kind arrangement can be a significantly less clear situation. Basically, a company or person will give you something that has a cash value in exchange for you making a post, putting up a link, making a tweet, Facebook post or other social media engagement. This can be something like a free hotel visit, free spa treatments, or free cell phone.*

Incentive

This type of arrangement constitutes a cash or cash in kind payment at a later date for hitting traffic milestones, generating leads, generating sales, for making a post, putting up a link, making a tweet, Facebook post or other social media engagement.

The context of the action is what’s really important, accepting payment for a sidebar banner isn’t what the FTC is concerned with as they are almost always labeled as advertisements. It’s the links or tweets that are in areas that generally aren’t used for advertising and aren’t labeled as advertising, that will be most likely to cause problems.

If you are publisher or an affiliate, it’s probably a good idea to disclose anywhere you think there might be confusion. If this happens with any regularity on your website, you should also look into incorporating a disclosure policy into your website or creating a page that deals specifically with disclosure.

If you’re looking for an extremely in-depth example of a disclosure statement, you should look at Kara Swisher’s or Walt Mossberg’s from AllThingsD.com. If you are looking for an example of something more appropriate for an affiliate website, look at the disclosure policy for Shawn Collins on AffiliateTip.com.

At this point in the game, the rules are a bit fuzzy and enforcement is almost non-existent. However, that doesn’t mean should throw caution to the wind, and proceed ahead at full speed. Take this opportunity to get ahead of the curve and figure out how you are going to disclose. Don’t think approach disclosure from a negative position, look for ways you can turn disclosure into a selling point.

*Editor’s disclaimer: Search Engine Land’s coverage of the Nexus One phone launch would still have been published whether ‘free’ phones were given out or not.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social

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About The Author: has over 10 years experience in website development and internet marketing. He has helped companies with internal search engine optimization strategies for both ecommerce and informational websites. He publishes controversial industry thoughts and observations on his blog at www.wolf-howl.com

Connect with the author via: Email



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  • Wynne

    I was always wondering how the FTC would pay for the policing of this new policy. In theory it gives them more teeth to bite wayward marketers, but in practice it just costs too much to run after everyone. And let’s face it there are probably millions of online marketers who fall short of the FTC’s requirements. So good luck with hauling in all those bad boys.
    I’ve written a little blurb on my blog http://drivingonlinesales.com/?p=274and linked it back to this article.

  • http://disclz.me Rob Clark

    It’s important to note that if you have your blog set to syndicate your content to other sources, such as Twitter, Facebook or Google Buzz, that your disclosure be included. Make sure that whatever plugin or extension you’re using for that allows you to append such.

    The easiest way to include a disclosure statement within a tweet or status update is with a link (as recommended in WOMMA’s disclosure guidelines). My company http://disclz.me offers a number of standardized statements http://disclz.com/free-of-charge/ for people to use free of charge, for a small annual fee, a unique url and page in which you can enter in all of your material connections and disclosures (mine, for instance is http://disclz.me/RobClark).

    The FTC has stated that their intent is not to target individual bloggers, but rather the marketing agencies and corporations that are the ‘beneficiary’ of posts without disclosure. But then, there is a more important reason to disclose than mere compliance. IMHO, disclosing your material connections is a courtesy and sign of respect to your readers. It shows you trust your audience enough to understand your opinion can’t be bought by a mere trinket or gift, but that you extend them the courtesy of the knowledge that such a transaction has occured.

 

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