Five Ways to Comply with the New FTC Guidelines for Bloggers

Last fall, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued new guidelines that require bloggers to “disclose material connections” for product or service endorsements. In fact, according to The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “People who blog, tweet or use Facebook to post opinions about consumer products could be fined $11,000 for repeat violations of new federal disclosure rules.”

Warning Tape Wrapped Around Laptop - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/DNY59, Image #1520756

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/DNY59

I don’t know how serious the FTC will be in enforcing these guidelines. I have read some reports that indicate they will be primarily focused on advertisers who attempt to influence bloggers without requiring them to disclose that they were either paid or received free goods or services.

In an attempt to decipher the new FTC Guidelines, the PRSA says,

The FTC dubs them [bloggers] “endorsers” and makes endorsers liable, along with advertisers, for false or unsubstantiated claims or for failing to disclose material connections between the parties.”

What does this mean? It means that if you have a “material connection” with a third-party advertiser or sponsor, you must disclose it. Specifically,

Bloggers who receive cash or in-kind payment (including free products or services for review) are deemed endorsers and so must disclose material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”

So how do we do this practically? A new Web site called Cmp.ly (as in “comply”) makes it simple for advertisers and bloggers to comply with the FTC guidelines. They have created a series of easy-to-use disclosures and codes that you can use in conjunction with your blog posts, tweets, and other social media interactions. They provide a standard list of six disclosures:

  1. No Material Connection
  2. Review Copy
  3. Free Sample
  4. Sponsored Post
  5. Employee/Shareholder Relationship
  6. Affiliate Marketing Links

They provide graphic “badges” that you can insert in conjunction with your posts. The FTC does not require this and personally, I find them intrusive. I want to comply with the law, but I don’t want an additional distraction or clutter.

Originally, I thought it would be less intrusive to just insert a note after, for example, every affiliate link. As you probably know, if you mention a book on your blog and use your Amazon affiliate code, then Amazon will pay you a small commission when someone clicks through and buys the product. This approach looked like this:

Screenshot of an Affiliate Link

However, after living with this for the past 30 days or so, I feel this is also cumbersome and intrusive—especially if you have numerous links within one post, like I do here.

Therefore, I have decided to include one blanket disclosure at the bottom of every blog post. Rather than using a badge, I am using a simple block of text. I am using a smaller font (though still readable) and a slightly lighter color. This approach looks like this:

Screenshot of Disclosure of Material Connection Example

You can scroll down to the bottom of this post to see how it looks “live.” I currently have the following six disclosure templates. I am inserting at least one at the end of each post.

  1. Disclosure 1: No Material Connection. This is the standard disclosure I use when I don’t have any embedded links or a relationship with any of he products or services I have mentioned:

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
  2. Disclosure 2: Affiliate Links. This is the disclosure I use when I included an embedded affiliate link from Amazon or some other provider:

    Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
  3. Disclosure 3: Review or Sample Copy. This is the disclosure I use when I am reviewing a book or other product that I have received from someone in the hope that I will review it:
    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    If you are a Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogger, you might want to use this disclaimer:

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
  4. Disclosure 4: Sponsored Post. This is the disclosure I use when someone pays me to write a post for a product, service, or conference. I turn down more of these posts than I accept, because I have to be genuinely excited about the product:

    Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
  5. Disclosure 5: Employee/Shareholder Relationship. This is the disclosure I use when I am writing about a book my company, Thomas Nelson, has published.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I am the CEO of Thomas Nelson, the company that published this book. Regardless, I only recommend books that I have personally read and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Feel free to borrow this method or any of my disclosure copy. If you improve upon it, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

If you are using WordPress, you can also automate this whole process by using a plugin called Add Post Footer. Just put your default text in the plugin configuration page. I use Disclaimer 2 above for my default. Then you can then override this on a post-by-post basis, using a custom field. The plugin documentation explains how.

What are you doing to comply with the FTC guidelines?
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  • http://thenetworkmarketingtaxexpert.com/ R Darren Sanford CPA

    Awesome tips and actually just what I was looking for. However, based on what I’ve read on the FTC site, I would have to disagree with you on a couple comments. First, the placement of the disclosure cannot be at the bottom of a post such that one has to “scroll” to be able to see it. It must be immediately conspicuous. Second, the disclosure statement must be in a darker color and larger than the font size of the majority of the post.

    I think the whole concept is going a bit too far. In similar terms, every retailer would add to their products, “We are selling this above cost and will make a profit on your purchase.” As long as there is a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither of whom is forced to buy or sell, and who agree upon the price, what’s the relevance of the disclosure?

    Thanks so much for sharing these awesome tips.

  • http://pamelamkramer.com/ PamelaMKramer

    Fantastic! Thank you so much. I’ve been cleaning up the back end of my site. These are very useful templates.

  • http://www.amberdegrace.com Amber DeGrace

    Thanks so much for this! It makes disclosures sound much more professional than what I was using previously. Cheers!

  • Glenda @ So What to Twenty!

    Thank you for sharing your information. Very helpful indeed.

  • http://kingdomlifeandblessings.com/ Machelle

    Are these still your recommendations with the new guidelines .comDisclosures? I am new to blogging and struggling with the best way to handle disclosures.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yes.

  • KolchakPuggle

    One presenter who spoke at an event I attended suggested that disclosure as a post footer may not be enough, as the disclosure had to be found in a place that the reader was likely to see it before there was a reasonable chance that the reader would click away through a link. He advocate disclosure at the beginning of the post, which I hate the look of. Your thoughts?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      People can get really paranoid with this. I have never had any problem with the disclosure on the page. It is more than 99% of bloggers do.

  • http://gregkocis.com/ Greg Kocis

    A few questions, I’ve seen on other sites that the Disclosure has to be within view.

    “Scrolling: Your disclosure must appear “above the fold,” meaning the visitor does not have to scroll down to see it.”

    On your example and this page you have to scroll down to see it. Is this OK ?

    Also the WordPress plugin “Add Post Footer” hasn’t been updated since 2008.

    Any other recommendations for a good plugin ? I would like to use one that adds text to all post by tags or tags or categories. Thanks

  • david

    useful info and helps everybody if kept simple . what about bloggers who are not from the usa. does this apply to them as well???

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      You’ll have to check your the laws in your country. I really don’t know. Thanks.