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.