Sponsored posts offer a way for professional bloggers to make a little extra money. But you need to be prepared to disclose your relationships.
Professional bloggers have enjoyed an increase in influence in recent years. Major brands — and even not-so-major brands — are anxious to reach new audiences with the help of bloggers. If you are approached about running a sponsored post or using your influence to endorse or promote a product or service, it’s important to understand what’s expected of you.
First of all, it’s important to retain the trust of your community. Many professional bloggers are trusted and authoritative voices in their communities. Your audience turns to you for information and insight. If you want to maintain your audience, you can’t betray that trust. You can see your influence dissipate if your audience doesn’t feel it can trust you.
This is one of the biggest reasons to disclose sponsored posts and let your community know that you are being paid for an endorsement or for promotion. I’ve been approached by several brands in the last year or so about using my small influence in the personal finance blogging community. These brands have asked me to include them in my content, and to share information about them on social media. I am paid for these efforts.
However, since I want my community to be aware of what I’m doing, I disclose these relationships. When I write something as part of a blogger campaign, or as part of some other online marketing effort, I include a disclaimer on the post. When I’m paid for a Facebook post or tweet, I make sure to include the #sponsored hashtag. This at least warns my audience that I am being paid for something. While I do my best to avoid letting this payment influence my opinions and writing, I still think it’s important for my audience to know, and make their own judgments accordingly.
FTC Requirements of Professional Bloggers
Of course, it’s not just a matter of maintaining some level of integrity and community trust. The FTC also expects professional bloggers and others to disclose sponsored relationships online. This state of affairs came about as a result of the large number of reviews that are published online. Many professional bloggers receive affiliate income or other payment for publishing reviews of products and services. Other writers receive payment simply for linking to a specific website.
Because the FTC expects consumers to have access to information that might let them know that a bias exists, we are required to disclose these relationships. Right now, I have an agreement with Discover to include a mention of a product — and include a link — in one post each month on my personal finance blog. All of these posts are written as I normally would write, including information that isn’t any different than if I wasn’t getting paid. The only difference is that I work in a link to a product or service offered by Discover. At the end of each post, though, I include a disclosure that clearly states my relationship to the company.
These disclosures are also required, in many cases, by law that is binding on the brands themselves. These brands can be fined by the government if they are paying for links and promotion from professional bloggers and not disclosing the relationship. Most major brands will require you to include disclaimers or disclosures in order to meet their own compliance requirements as well as the law.
You should also realize that you are expected to disclose sponsored social media postings. The #sponsored hashtag is one of the easiest ways to do this, since it can quickly alert your followers across all social media platforms that you are sharing material that you have been paid for.
While it might seem silly to disclose this information, remember that the law expects it of you. On top of that, Google expects it as well. If you are caught publishing sponsored content without disclosure, Google might penalize your site — and you might also be fined by the government. The combination of losing traffic (and the revenue it brings) plus the fine could be enough to end your professional blogging career.