It seems the overall trend in social media tends towards transparency when it comes to disclosure of interests and relationships. If you’re being sponsored by, have been sent something for free by or have a “conflict-of-interest” relationship with a company, then you disclose it in your blog/podcast content.
But what is the policy when it comes to affiliate links? Linking to recommended products & services in exchange for a commission is a potentially lucrative way for bloggers and podcasters to monetize their efforts. But is the affiliate relationship always clear? How explicit do you need to be when mentioning or linking to an affiliate partner in your content?
Is it necessary to break the flow of content in your blog or podcast and give a disclaimer every time you stand to profit? Or is it sufficient to have an understood respect and integrity in the relationship with your audience that you will never knowingly lead them astray and…yes…you will make money from time to time. I admit that when it comes to affiliate offers, I often default to this position.
Brian, an attorney and avid marketer, made a stir on Copyblogger this morning when he posted his view of a recent FTC declaration regarding word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM). The conversation merits reviewing if you do any sort of affiliate marketing.
Here are the basics:
- From the Washington Post:
The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships.
The FTC said it would investigate cases where there is a relationship between the endorser of a product and the seller that is not disclosed and could affect the endorsement. The FTC staff said it would go after violators on a case-by-case basis.
- This is not new law. This is the FTC bringing to our attention that some current word-of-mouth marketing practices could be construed as deceptive and illegal.
- It’s not clear whether this includes affiliate marketing. It’s not specifically mentioned. But they do point to situations where there is: 1. recommendation 2. compensation 3. lack of disclosure
I’m of the opinion that transparency is needed in in social media, but it’s too bad if the actions that are required to cover our behinds get in the way of the user experience either in the form of confusing copy such as overly
intrusive disclaimers all over the place.
Does Donald Trump stop in the middle of The Apprentice to state that Domino’s Pizza has paid to be in tonight’s episode? To some degree that would destroy the flow of the entertainment. Ideally a nice balance is struck that relies on a relationship of trust that has been previously established, but try explaining that to the FTC.
Granted, if you receive something for free or are paid a sponsorship in exchange for a mentioning a product in your content, it definitely needs to be disclosed. And at all times respect the relationship with your audience or risk becoming what Seth Godin calls a promiscuous sneezer. Exploit them and you lose their trust.
How do you handle this on your podcast? Is a statement in your site’s Terms of Service sufficient? I’d like to get the opinion of Paul Colligan on this. He’s done a lot of podcasting and affiliate marketing. Maybe Colette Vogel, an attorney who is very active in podcasting, can chime in as well.