If you are a blogger (and I assume you are, since you are reading this post) then chances are you have included affiliate links in your posts, reviewed product that you received from a brand (with or without compensation) or have been paid to write a post for a brand. And if you haven't yet, you probably would like to.
I read a lot of blog posts and see a lot of ads on social media, as I'm sure you do as well. I also consistently see the same mistakes being made by bloggers and influencers when it comes to proper disclosure, as outlined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In case you are unfamiliar with the FTC, it is an independent government agency that began in 1914, as part of The Federal Trade Commission Act. Here is their mission statement:
To prevent business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers; to enhance informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process; and to accomplish this without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.
Obviously, we have come a long way since 1914 but the FTC grows with the culture and does apply to bloggers and social media influencers. The FTC has a PDF that answers a lot of questions specific to bloggers and social media influencers.
I would encourage you to read it but, in the meantime, here are two mistakes I see in the blogging and social media world every single day:
Not providing a disclosure.
I see this most on social media but I am sure there are some bloggers that are not disclosing their relationship with brands when endorsing a product. If you have received any form of compensation, including free product, or if you will receive a commission for purchases made through your link then you must have a disclosure. According to the FTC, this disclosure must be "clear and conspicuous". For example, "I got this from xyz company" is not clear and conspicuous. Your audience may not automatically assume that you "got" it for free.
Of course, if you are doing a sponsored tweet you are limited in how much you can say. For social media a #ad or #sponsored is sufficient. I have seen #sp or #spon quite a bit, however, these do not fall under the category of clear. I have also recently seen #partner popping up. Personally, I am sticking with what the FTC suggests, #ad or #sponsored. (I usually do ad because it is less characters!)
Update: As of 2017, the FTC has stated that Instagram disclosures must be within the first three lines. They FTC have also started issuing fines to influencers that are in violation of their guidelines and Facebook has implemented a branded content tool that must be used when doing sponsored posts. Apply for the branded content tool here.
For a blog post, again, you need to clearly state your relationship with the brand when doing an endorsement of a product. I always link to my disclosure as well.
Another area I frequently notice bloggers miss the disclosure is in emails. I have to admit, I have done this myself! Since I don't email a lot, I will sometimes forget. This is not an acceptable excuse but I imagine that this might be why other bloggers miss it, too. Anytime you include an affiliate link, you must disclose it. (Please note, make sure you refer to the terms of said affiliate before including a link in an email, as some may not allow it at all.)
Improper placement of the disclosure.
Again, the disclosure needs to be "clear and conspicuous" and it should be before the product or link that is being promoted. I see many influencers place the #ad or #sponsored at the end of the post. Here is the problem with that, on platforms like Instagram when the caption reaches a certain length, the full message does not appear. This means the reader may not see the disclosure. While this may not be a problem on other social media platforms or in a blog post, the reader may click the link before even getting to the disclosure. This is why the FTC says to put it in front and to place it in close proximity to the product mention or link. I generally do an introductory paragraph in my sponsored or affiliate posts before even getting to the product mention. For this reason, I don't place my disclosure until just before I get into the part about the product.
Many bloggers include a disclosure as part of their header, footer or sidebar which is fine but it still needs to be included in the post because, again, it needs to be clear and conspicuous. Chances are if it is in your sidebar or footer a reader won't notice it when reading your post. In fact, I just had this happen the other day. I was reading a post about Amazon products. I was positive that they were affiliate links but I re-read the post and didn't see a disclosure anywhere. It wasn't until I went back to the blog a second time that I noticed there was a disclosure in the sidebar. Most readers are not going to search for your disclosure. (Typically I wouldn't either but I knew that this was a new blogger, so I thought I would give the person a little heads up. But, of course, I didn't want to look stupid if it was actually there!)