If you’re a blogger, and you work with brands from time to time, it’s good to be up to date on the Federal Trade Commission’s disclosure laws.
At its most basic, FTC law states that in order to present a fair and transparent online environment, influencers must disclose each time they are being paid to review a product or a service. This often means a short statement at the top of a post, saying that the influencer received some form of compensation for the post. On social media, it might be only a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored.
However, these rules are becoming even more tricky to navigate, and as bloggers, we have to decide what we think is the ethical thing to do. Which is why I think it’s important to share what happened to me.
I’ve received sketchy requests from “brands” before asking me to post their content without disclosing their name. I always turned these down because I know what they’re doing is illegal. BUT, some of these companies are finding workarounds.
I recently did a post on how I got my first sponsored post (it’s now been taken down because I don’t want to help promote this company anymore.) The company I started working with would send me a full post written by one of their team members, and I was free to edit it before I published it. The company makes money by making posts that contain links to their clients’ sites. I got paid for my first post, which included a disclosure at the top mentioning that it was in collaboration with (insert company’s name.) Seems pretty easy right?
Well, after I’d published my second post, they send me an email asking me to remove their name from my disclosure line. If you’re like me, you might be wondering how that is legal.
It turns out that FTC law doesn’t require disclosing links that turn a profit if the influencer or blogger isn’t working with the client directly. This means that because this company was working as the middleman, they believed it was okay for me to not disclose that they were paying me for the post. They also argued that because I got to choose whether or not I published each post, the post was more collaborative in nature than a traditional “paid post.”
Sorry, but what a load of shit.
If this is truly an FTC loophole, then it is one that needs to be fixed. Because in my mind, I am still being paid for the post and I think that needs to be disclosed. Maybe this company’s clients weren’t paying me directly, but that seems a moot point. The bottom line was that I was being paid to put content on my site, and the ethical thing to do is to share that. I also have a problem with the collaboration argument, because when I work with fellow bloggers, they don’t pay me to work with them. But this company does!
In the end, I decided to stop working with them. I wasn’t going to cave to their requests no matter the legality because it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Sometimes, you’ve got to stick to what you believe in.
My advice to other bloggers is to be picky and wary about who you work with. Research the companies and brands that ask to work with you, ask other bloggers if they’ve heard anything about them. If any red flags pop up, however small, listen to your intuition. If you’re wondering whether or not you should disclose, think from the point of view of your readers. If you were reading that post, would you want to know there was money behind it? For me, the answer is always yes.
And if it comes down to money or ethics, I really hope you follow what you think is right.
Have you had any problems working with brands or companies? What advice would you give to other bloggers?