Let’s talk about disclosure, baby.

Yo, I don’t think we should talk about this
Come on, why not?
People might misunderstand what we’re tryin’ to say, you know?
No, but that’s a part of life

Come on

Let’s talk about ***, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about ***.

***Disclosure. It’s that thing – that dirty, taboo thing – no one in the Canadian blogging, digital and PR world wants to talk about. (Thanks to Salt ‘n’ Pepa for that musical introduction). 

A few years ago, I was sitting in a session at Podcamp Toronto with a bevy of communications professionals learning about disclosure. It had recently become regulated in the US and we were hearing about the potential Canadian implications. At the time, it seemed so common sense: if you’re getting paid to write about something, endorse a product or attend an event, tell your readers. If you were sent something for free in the hopes that you’d write about it (and you do), tell your readers. As we all sat there nodding our heads, I vowed to always disclose my affiliations, be it relationships with brands or my own clients.

Unfortunately, it’s become glaringly obvious that this isn’t the norm in Canada. It’s gotten to the point where we’re forced to view blogs through a completely different lens. As bloggers and social media personalities increasingly use their influence to lure clients and build relationships with brands, it’s becoming more and more difficult to see blogs as true to their origins: a trusted source of information. Blogs used to be a place to go for an honest, unbridled opinion – be it on a product, current event or campaign. Now, whenever I see a cool product on a blog or read a review, I find myself second-guessing the source. Each post begs the question: would I even be reading about this product, business or event if money hadn’t exchanged hands?

Brands, bloggers and their representatives need to start being more transparent. It’s a given in this brave new digital world we’re living in that perks, product & payment will exchange hands. Whether you’re a blogger doing a sponsored post or product review, a community manager sharing a client program or a blogger-cum-strategist testing out the waters for a new client, disclosure needs to happen.

Without transparency and disclosure about perks, product & payment, the trust-based social media world we’ve worked so hard to build  will come crashing down. Blogs won’t be about discovering a new product or hearing the real story; instead they’ll be yet another extension of paid media, no better than an advertisement. There’s an easy way to protect the investment we’ve all made: disclosure. It only takes a minute…

Does disclosure make you nervous? Here’s a handy how-to guide of how to tell your readers about perks, product & payment.

Disclosure for Dummies

  • Did you get that thing/go to that event you’re writing about for free, courtesy of an agency/brand/etc? Disclose.
  • Are you writing about a brand you’re paid to represent? Are they your client? Disclose.
  • Is that post you’re writing “sponsored” by the brand? Disclose.
  • Do you write for multiple outlets? If you’re posting on a personal blog about something you received because you write for a more established outlet… Disclose. All of it.
Seems pretty easy, right? Let’s go one step further.
  • Don’t just disclose at the end, disclose throughout. Mention that the product you’re reviewing or event you’re attending was courtesy of the agency/brand/etc.
  • Writing about various products, only some of which were gifted? Consider a marker that indicates which products were free
The following are not excuses for lack of disclosure:
  • People know who my clients are – why should I spell it out?
  • Every blogger gets free stuff!
  • No one else is doing it…
  • I have a PR policy that tells people I accept payment for posts, especially giveaways. Everyone reads it before they read my individual posts, I’m totally in the clear.
  • I disclose when the brand/client/agency demands it. If they don’t care, why should I?

 

How do you feel about disclosure? Is it a must-have, a nice-to-have or something you don’t care about at all? Do you disclose?

Follow:
  • I completely agree with you Stephanie! I believe that bloggers should always be transparent. Great post!

    • Thanks, Hilary! I couldn’t agree more – there’s no reason to leave your readers wondering whether or not you’ve been paid. You should be able to read a blog without being too critical about why a review slants a certain way.

  • Definitely a must-have! GREAT post, Steph!

    • Thanks, Maria! Lack of disclosure is something I’ve been noticing far too frequently these past few weeks.

      • I’ve also worked with companies who require you to disclose that you’ve received a product/service from them, but rarely when it’s “free”. Shouldn’t make a difference, in my opinion.

  • What a great post! You write very candidly about things that everyone always wonders about…and that is greatly appreciated. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Sandy! I figure if I’m thinking it, other people must be, too.

  • daly_beauty

    Sending me free stuff does not guarantee a good review, or even a review. I only review things I like so….
    A disclosure should be in every “About Me” page on every blogger’s site. Period. Yes, we get stuff. And just because it’s free, doesn’t mean I will tell you I love it.

    • In my opinion, beauty bloggers are the best at disclosure. Not only do most include it on their “About Me”, but most go the extra mile and include it at the bottom of each post as well. I prefer the latter: I shouldn’t have to dig around to find out whether it’s possible that someone has paid you or sent product.

      Like you, I generally only take the time to review something I enjoyed, especially if it was free. In cases where I’m sent something or welcomed at an event and never end up posting about, I think my silence says more than a negative post would. The exception for me is when I pay for something (like that Oprah show I went to last year) and it’s greatly below expectations.

  • Michelle

    I think the disclosure should be included in the review. Just because you do reviews, doesn’t mean that every item you blog about came from the Brand. I am part of a word-of-mouth campaign company, and often I don’t get invited to test a product (so I don’t get anything from them) But, I go out, pay for it, and still tell others about it. They shouldn’t have to guess if I got it for free or not!

    • Agreed! If anything, reviewing something you paid for has an even greater weight than something you were given for free.

  • Pingback: Bloggers Spending Money - Jamie-Leigh T.O.()

  • TOBeautyReviews

    Another great post Stephanie! I do appreciate disclosure always. To be honest it sometimes just slips my mind to disclose and then I have to do back and edit that I received a product or service for review consideration. Not making excuses for myself or anything I think I’m just in a rush to get the post out I forget – so no bad intentions behind it but when I do realize I edit right away.

  • Anum Khan

    Agreed! I always make it an effort to let my readers know when something was paid/sponsored or given to me for free. There is no reason not to hide that information, it just makes the review more realistic.

    The one thing I hate is when PR companies/brands tell me to only publish an opinion if it’s positive. Say what?! Why are you asking me to review it then? This happens to me almost every week.

    Great post. Love the honesty and how you broke it down into constructive criticism.

  • Pingback: The value of disclosure in social media: keep your readers from second-guessing the source | Food Bloggers of Canada()