By Tom Chernaik
As a blogger, I’m willing to bet that trust and transparency with your audience are things that you take seriously. Disclosure may not be the first thing on your mind, but it’s important that you understand when disclosures are required and how to make those disclosures when they’re needed.
Recent updates from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) address issues presented for disclosure in social, mobile and other digital channels. Two reports provide the greatest guidance in this area:
- The 2009 Guide to Endorsements and Testimonials, which focused on emerging digital channels being leveraged in word-of-mouth marketing campaigns and promotional programs.
- The 2013 .Com Disclosures (published in March), which outlined how to make disclosures in context of the modern marketing landscape.
The FTC took a hard line in the .Com Disclosures report. While most of the focus is on brands and their agencies, it’s important for individuals to understand the rules of the road so that they can comply with the policies of the brands that they work with.
Don’t worry! Disclosure doesn’t need to be complicated or take away from your content. Disclosing information can be as simple as stating that a post is sponsored or that you have a connection to the brand or product that you’re writing about. As long as your statements are clear, conspicuous and unavoidable to your readers, your bases should be covered.
It’s Time To Get Serious about Disclosure
Say What You Mean
You can no longer rely on ad-hoc solutions —such as generic links and vague hashtags like #SPON — to disclose. Disclosures need to be written in clear, plain language that readers can easily understand and should be placed as close as possible to the claim they refer to in your content.
Technological restrictions on space, the design of certain social media tools or the size of a given advertisement in a small screen or window — none of these exempt you from making required disclosures and notices on the platforms mentioned above.
For example, if a disclosure is required for a space-constrained ad — such as a tweet or status update — it should be made each time the ad is posted. Don’t assume that readers will see your posts in sequential order. If the disclosure doesn’t fit, the FTC says the ad should be changed to include the disclosure, or that particular media platform should not be used.
Hyperlink Do’s and Don’ts
Disclosures should not be buried behind a hyperlink when they can be written out and displayed in context. In situations where a hyperlink is unavoidable (such as in space-constrained formats like Twitter), it should be labeled as clearly as possible and used in such a way as to maximize the chance that the reader will actually click through to the full information.
Disclosures must be responsive and account for device limitations (such as screen size) and technology constraints such as the fact that mouseovers, popups and PDFs that may not function as intended in all contexts.
Disclosures have to be present across any device and platform (across all media) that a reader may use to view your content.
Don’t forget that there are also other use cases (e.g., contests and promotions) and challenges (e.g., cross-platform syndication) that must be taken into consideration when disclosing information via digital platforms. For more information about disclosure changes, you can download CMP.LY’s full white paper at www.cmp.ly/resources.
The Good News
Developing and applying disclosure best practices doesn’t have to be difficult or stand in the way of your communication.
When it comes to disclosure, all you need to do is think about what requirements exist, come up with a plan, and make sure to use you communicate your disclosures clearly and consistently.
About Tom Chernaik
Tom has more than 20 years of experience, innovation and insight in marketing, law, social media and entrepreneurship. He is the founder and CEO of CMP.LY (pronounced “comply”), a company purpose built to help marketers and business take control of social media communications, addressing legal obligations and measurement challenges with centralized reporting while increasing openness and transparency on the social web. He is also the Co-Chair of WOMMA’s Members Ethics Advisory Panel (MEAP).