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?