Affiliate Disclosure – What is it and How to use it for your BlogNovember 18, 2018
In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in social media posts, blog articles and YouTube videos that contain various products or service
In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in social media posts, blog articles and YouTube videos that contain various products or services. Directly proportional, there has been an increase in the affiliate disclosure necessity. How else would you know that a particular social media post is actually created because a brand told/asked/paid that person/blogger to create it?
There is a number of celebrities that post about things, and the law says that their fans should know whether they endorse a brand because they want to or because they are paid to do so. These celebrities fall now in the Influencer category, a relatively new one. It doesn't mean that influencers just appeared, it's just that in the last few years there has been an increased amount of people that created a big enough audience, as well as enough content, to be called an influencer.
These people are called influencers because they…well…influence people into buying and doing things. Sometimes they are paid to do so, but sometimes they are not. They've established themselves as people whose opinion is valuable to a big audience. Hence, they have the “power” to influence.
Now people have become more skeptical, or the skeptical generation grew old enough to also have an opinion about situations. Therefore, growing up in a world full of advertisements, they want to be sure if what they are reading is actually a free review or not.
I'll try in this article to point out the most important things about the affiliate disclosures, creating a guide to affiliate disclosures. It will include mentions regarding social media posts and YouTube videos, not only blog articles. I chose to do so because having a blog usually means that you also have a social media account where you promote it, or you also have a YouTube account to complement it. Here's what you'll find:
- What is an affiliate disclosure?
- Reasons why you need an affiliate disclosure?
- How to write your affiliate disclosures?
- Where to add the affiliate disclosure links?
- Add an Affiliate Disclosure plug-in
Important: I'm not a legal adviser; for the 100% legal opinions regarding affiliate disclosures, you should contact an attorney. This article is purely informative and tries to help you create a general idea about affiliate disclosures.
An affiliate disclosure is a statement that helps:
- you to tell your readers/fans that you are paid to create a post/blog article/YouTube video.
- your readers to distinguish between paid content and free content.
An affiliate disclosure can come in various types which you'll read about later, but it's always a requirement if you are in a “relationship” with a brand or a company.
This disclosure is basically a statement of various lengths, where you are clearly informing your audience that you are (sometimes) paid to review or use a product.
The most important reason why you should use affiliate disclosure is the legal one. There is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that oversees this kind of behavior and takes legal action if someone doesn't comply with the rules. FTC enforces more than 70 laws, trying to prevent fraud or illegal business practices.
The FTC has an Endorsement Guide that clearly states what you have to do in order to be legal in terms of endorsing a company or a brand. This endorsement has to do with your blog articles, your social media posts or your YouTube Videos.
This guide not only refers to bloggers or simply people that are part of an affiliate program. It also refers to those influencers and people who are just endorsing brands and companies, by creating social media posts or YouTube Videos and being paid to do so.
To be clear, being paid to create content and endorse a brand or a company doesn't necessarily mean that you will actually see money in your account. A brand can also send you a specific product just for you to use it and write about it. They (brand and companies) can also simply offer you a product, let you use it for a determined amount of time, then ask for it back.
So whenever there are an involvement and a relationship between you and a brand or a company, you legally required to specify this.
With this comes TRUST, which can be classified as a second reason. Being transparent in a world full of fake news and fake brands it's clearly a power act. You'd never want your audience to find out that your blog articles have been written simply because you've been paid to do so. This situation will cause a tremendous drop in your number of readers and fans.
What you want to do is to be legal. Which even though it's normal, it's still appreciated by people, considering what I've written in the last paragraph. Therefore, if you are part of an affiliate program or you simply use endorse a brand which paid you to do so, then the first thing you should do is to inform your audience.
In April 2017 FTC announced that it sent over 90 letters regarding the proper brands' disclosure. They did this after carefully reviewing various influencers and celebrities.
The idea here is that you don't have to actually be in an affiliate marketing program. There are lots of cases that can drag you into the world of regulations and disclosures. Hear me out.
The most simple example is a blogger that writes and (maybe) creates youtube videos just as a hobby. This person also has an Instagram account and all of the social media platforms. As this person's opinion about (games, clothes, products of various kinds etc) has been heard by lots of people, brands can put an eye on him/her. They can send some of the products they have, just so that person can do a review.
Now even though that blogger loved the received products, maybe he/she would've bought it sooner or later, the situation described changes things a bit. The fact that a brand sent some products and the blogger chooses to a review of them, means that the blogger should announce its readers of this situation. As I've said, maybe he/she was about to buy that product, but he/she got it as a “gift”.
It's the blogger's duty to inform its fans that even though he/she likes the products very much, this time he/she didn't pay for that product. He/she genuinely reviews the product, but there was a brand involvement which has to be clearly stated.
I tried to explain this as generally as I could. But let me put it in a real situation, too. It's related only to a social media account. I have an Instagram account where I love to post photos from my travels, including fashion outfits and sometimes beauty products. Most of the time, I add a hashtag that leads to a specific brand, and sometimes I even tag the brand.
But this is purely as a hobby. If one of those brands were to contact me and say they will send me a product to post about it, I would have to clearly say in my Instagram post (right at the beginning) that it is sponsored. It can be a little tricky at times, but according to FTC's answers regarding this whole situation, I could write “sponsored by X” (where X is the brand), and I would be fine.
The same can happen if I was to have a blog. I would have to do the same thing. Not to mention that if I'd want to create an audience, I'd have to share the blog articles links through social media. Therefore, I would have to take action on two platforms.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Did you start thinking “How should I write my affiliate disclosure, I know nothing about legal terms”? Really, don't worry about this. Let me explain why.
If you're part of an affiliate program, then you must have read something in their Terms and Conditions. Also, the brands that are there, may have already stated exactly what you have to write. This can be really helpful, as you'd have to write word-by-word what they've said. Sure, you'd have to make sure it's understandable, but in most cases it is.
If there's the unlikely case that the disclosure is not fully understandable, try to reach the company you're promoting. Explain in a polite way why you don't understand or why you think your audience won't understand. Try to reach an agreement in order to make everyone happy.
Even FTC says that you don't have to use legal terms in order to write your disclosure. They go by the fact that every single person should understand what you're saying. Hence, whatever your writing type is (informal, formal, funny, sarcastic etc.), just clearly write that you're endorsing/promoting a brand because they paid you or because they sent you a product for review.
This part can also be added to the next paragraph, but let it stay here as it has a connection with writing and phrasing, too. So, there are a lot of cases where people just add a link to their disclosure blog page and say that it's enough.
Well, it's definitely not enough. Writing an affiliate disclosure means that you have to clearly state from the beginning your relationship with a specific brand. Let me put it this way: if you will write a blog article about a product, reviewing and maybe recommending it, it's not enough to say “Check this link for more details regarding my affiliate disclosure”.
Your readers need and have to understand exactly if the article you wrote it's an endorsement or not, if it has affiliate links or not. That is why you should write something like “[Insert brand's/company's name] has sponsored me (by paying me, sending me this product, letting me borrow this product) to write this article. Check more details here”. Now your readers will know for sure that a brand offered you something so that you can write that article.
Now that we've talked a bit about what are affiliate disclosures and what should they contain, let's see where to add them.
Most of the time, bloggers think that adding a single disclosure page on your blog is enough, but IT IS NOT. People will most likely not read it. Think of yourself: how many disclosures have you read until now? Do you honestly go on every single blogger's website that you follow and search for the disclosure page? I'm guessing that no, in general. Of course, there are exceptions.
Regarding other forms of content, adding an affiliate disclosure in the description of the video or podcast is not enough. Make sure you clearly state about the relationship right in the video, to make people actually hear, therefore know that you are doing an affiliate post.
Social media platforms fall also in the category “one word is not enough”. Some influencers or some people think that just by adding a hashtag like “thankyou_[company name]” is enough. Or just tagging that brand on their photo, or just adding a hashtag of a company.
Lots of people do this, but this doesn't mean they are actually paid to do so. If you are one of the lucky persons that are paid to present products/services through your social media account, then you should let your followers know exactly what you are doing. Consider adding a short phrase like “Sponsored by [company name]”, or “Paid advertisement for [company name]”.
Character limit isn't getting you out of stating the disclosure. The social media platform that has the lowest amount of characters is Twitter. FTC stated that adding 2/3 characters at the begging of your Tweet will not put you in the situation where you'd have to rethink your whole tweets. Hence, you can add the hashtag “#ad”, which is short enough to keep all of your words.
ATTENTION: Even if the product you're promoting is free (people can get it for free, I mean), you still have to add a disclosure. Mostly if you'll get a commission (tied to the free resource by an affiliate cookie).
WHATEVER platform you're using for writing paid articles/post, be sure to add the disclosure at the beginning of the article/post. Being transparent also means that people should know right from the beginning what they're about to read, and what they're seeing.
So, right when you start writing your blog article, be sure to add a quick disclosure. It's not ideal to add the disclosure at the bottom of the article. Your readers will most likely click on affiliate links before they will reach the disclosure (if they will actually scroll all the way down to see it).
In case you write a long article, be sure to also add the disclosure right before or after the product's link (if let's say, the link to the product is nearly at the end of the article). In this way, you'll be sure that the people who will click on the product link, will remember and know that that it's an affiliate link.
You also shouldn't be afraid of repetition. It's better to remember people multiple times that they are reading an article with affiliate links, rather than just writing once and “being over with”.
Just at the beginning of every post (published on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc.), you should add that hashtag (“#ad_[companyname]”, “sponsored by [company name]” etc.) right before you start writing your own thoughts. Adding a hashtag or a statement at the end of your post it's definitely not easily visible. Most people will skip reading through the end, therefore they can miss the disclosure part.
Whenever you're recording a YouTube video, clearly say at the beginning of it that it's a paid advertisement, and maybe how. If you're doing vlogs that contain placed products, you can even add captions to the video right when the specific products appear. But don't forget about adding the disclosure in the video's description, as well.
Remember that FTC says it's your duty to bring attention to the disclosure. Therefore, don't be sneaky! Write the disclosure in bold or italics (or between “*”), at the same font size as your article.
Think about technical limitations. Not everyone uses the same laptop or the same smartphone as you do. You are the one responsible with making sure that your affiliate disclosure is visible to everybody.
Therefore, plain text is the safest way to go. To check your blog on multiple devices, you can use the tool called Mobile-Friendly Test (by Google). You also have the option to use a more complete tool, such as BrowserStack (you need an account, and the first month is free).
If you have a blog like ours, you might find yourself in a situation where you mention a lot of tools or services. We created lots of lists of products, but only because we found them. We either thought that they were a good option for our readers, either we use them.
Reading the questions asked about the FTC Act, I found that could help in this situation.
The first one clearly says that if you paid for the product you're mentioning, then there's no issue. “FTC is only concerned about endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser”(source…)
There's also the case when you might add a link to a product just because you like it or use it. In this situation, it's best to simply say that you mentioned it precisely because you use it or prefer it. But you're not required to do this. In the situation I'm referring to, you don't have any relationship with that particular brand or company.
Here are the answers that you can take into consideration.
ATTENTION: Keep in mind that it's your duty to accept or not the products you are offered. And it's your right to make an honest review of that particular product. Even if a brand sent you a product, you accepted to write a review. You honestly didn't like the product, and I believe it's your right to write a genuine review. Of course, while still adding an affiliate disclosure. You can even find an answer about this here.
To make your life a bit easier in the blogging world, there's a solution. It's called WP Affiliate disclosure, which I found by informing myself about this affiliate disclosure subject.
This plugin appears to be very helpful because it lets you customize your message. You can add a full page, containing the full disclosure regarding your affiliate links. If you're not constantly writing articles that contain affiliate links, then you can customize this plugin. Add a disclosure only to certain blog posts. Besides, you can even use an image as a disclosure, instead of text.