Disclosure is not a Dirty Word

When I started blogging nearly seven years ago disclosures weren’t something that we really talked about. There weren’t any real regulations and carving a career through a blog or social media channels was still so new. There were no real industry standards and people just did what felt right to them, learning as they went along.

I remember back then that people often wouldn’t disclose paid work. Or, they’d disclose it at the end of the content – which became quite common practice. Many would also make the writing so small that you didn’t see it unless you were really looking for it. Others would make links in posts appear exactly the same as the main text on the page – no underline, same text, same colour – so that you wouldn’t know they were there unless you looked at the page code or accidentally scrolled over a link and the mouse pointer changed.

Since then, times have changed. We have ASA and CAP giving us so much advice and making sure that, as time goes on, the influencer industry is getting regulated. There are rules we have to abide by and, slowly, we are getting clear guidelines on how we have to work. This is something I am fully on board with and really, I just wish it had happened sooner.

The main part of the guidelines is about disclosure and it’s not rocket science. We have to disclose a paid relationship before someone starts to consume the content we have created. That means putting #AD, ADVERT, GIFTED PRODUCT, PRESS TICKETS or whatever at the start of our content to make sure that people know what the relationship is before they read it or click a link. And being paid can be anything from physical cash to vouchers, product or an experience. It’s not just actual payment but payment in kind too.

So if you’re not an influencer and you’re reading this, it should be really clear when you watch Instagram Stories or scroll through social media whether something has been gifted or paid or whether the influencer just loves the product/event and is sharing because they want to. One day, we’ll get to the point where you can read a blog post or scroll through social media and you’ll be confident that if something is disclosed it’s been compensated in some way and if there’s no disclosure then there is no commercial relationship there. That is the way it should be.

But, many influencers still see disclosures as a dirty word. They hide #ad at the end of a long Instagram caption or in amongst 29 other hashtags in the first comment. They’ll mention three paragraphs in that a brand asked them to talk about a product or they’ll get to 1min 33secs of a video and drop in that they’ve been sent something to feature.

I recently went through all of my old blog posts to add disclosures to the top of them. I actually laughed at myself during this, looking back and thinking jeez, I was sent something to feature and thought it was enough to mention really off hand at the end that it had been sent. What if someone didn’t read that far?! What was I trying to hide? Now, the disclosures are all clear, at the start of the blog posts. I’m going through and editing post titles and scheduled social media posts too but, I’m only human, I make mistakes and miss things off every so often and, this is all taking time. With ASA’s guidelines you don’t have to amend historic content. The rules were what the rules were at that time. I’m just happier knowing that if anyone stumbles onto my website and sees a post from 2016 that it’s disclosed in exactly the same way it would be today.

The main thing for me is that I have been doing my best to be transparent with readers. And that is what disclosure is all about. It’s about being honest about a relationship. Making sure anyone reading knows why you are sharing something and understanding that relationship.

Do your readers know what #aff means? Would it hurt to write ‘Affiliate link’ just to make sure? Do your readers know what #sp means? Do they read your whole blog post and see that tiny writing at the end? Or, would it be nicer to readers to be upfront and disclose any commercial relationship at the start?

When it comes down to it, if you don’t disclose at the start, what are you trying to hide? And why are you not being upfront with your audience?

ASA’s guidelines change often. But, the latest update was really clear. And since then all my disclosures have been at the start of content. And you know what? I feel so much better for it.

Disclosure is not a dirty word. Disclosures are a really important part of the work that we do and there is no need to hide them at the end or halfway through content – or leave them off completely – unless it’s a genuine oversight. The influencer world wants our industry to be taken seriously, to be seen as a valid form of advertising. But, to be taken seriously we need to act professionally and to lead by example. Disclosure is a big part of that.

Disclosure is not a Dirty Word

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  • It makes me really sad to see people not disclosing correctly or not disclosing at all. I think if I’m honest I’m slightly over zealous with it but there is so much buzz around consumers and readers feeling like they are being ‘cheated’ so by making it clear it sets that boundary. Unfortunately those choosing to not disclose correctly are going to impact the way we are seen as an industry. It’s also completely unacceptable to be pressured by a brand, PR or SEO to not disclose correctly and there should be a way to report this. Great post Donna xx

  • I sometimes think I over use #Ad #Gifted but I’d rather be too honest than mislead people and get into trouble. I am planning to go over my old blog posts and add better disclosures to them. All 7 years worth of them. Eek! x

  • I totally agree. I haven’t gone back to old posts (because I’m lazy). Some did have disclosures at the start because that’s what the network I worked with required. But others were a mention in the first paragraph and at the end. But I think the clearer the better. I’m not sure that that many people worry about it (although if they’re regular readers or IG users they’ll be a lot more used to seeing Ad). But as a blogger I notice and am so suspicious of people who I know have lots of paid work and ads, but don’t have noticeable disclosures. It’s just so hard to tell.

    But then I do a lot of personal reviews and write ups of places we visit that others have been paid for. I do wonder if others think mine are ads too, but I don’t see why I should disclose them not being ads.

  • Having worked in magazines all my life, I think the same disclosure rules should be applied to them. When did you see a book review page admitting that all books had been sent free? I see you live in Camberley- my family home for 43 years though I didn’t spend much time living there.

    • Oh it’s a small world! 🙂 For some reason traditional print – magazines and newspapers – people just acknowledge the things in them are adverts. Like, because it’s in a magazine or newspaper the disclosure can go unsaid. It’s not right really and the same rules should definitely apply – they should disclose too. Unfortunately though I think some bloggers feel that because magazines don’t disclose they don’t need to either.