Blogging and disclosure

In America the Federal Trade Commission have come out with some interesting rules on the disclosure required by bloggers and twitter users that are seeded free “stuff”. Locally we have no such regulations and it’s interesting to see what sort of regulations have been put forward:

  • Where and how to disclose: As far back as 2009, the FTC was already publicly recommending that disclosures not be buried at the bottom of a post or on a separate page
  • The disclosure needs to travel with the content: The disclosure must be in every Tweet. You can’t tweet a single disclosure that covers the whole conversation; there is no guarantee that readers will see the disclosing statement. The hashtag #spon is not sufficiently clear. The word “ad” is sufficiently clear, but needs to be in a prominent place. The FTC also suggests not using a #ad hashtag after a URL or shortlink as it could be overlooked.
  • Longer disclosure required: When an advertising claim merits a longer disclosure than is practical for the format, a hyperlink to additional information is acceptable, provided that anything material, or “triggering” is included in the original advertisement and the link is clear and conspicuous. In other words, you cannot bury CRITICAL disclosures in hyperlinked pages, but you can provide additional details.

All good points but I think the important issue to consider here is what is needed to disclose? If someone sends me to drive a car do I need to disclose considering the post is my opinion? I suppose the reality is that my post is still tainted by the fact that I was given the opportunity and send on a plane for free. Ultimately I want to be sent back to drive more cars so I will be slightly biased towards the product.

The issue gets more complex when you’re paid to write a post or paid by an advertiser for a banner or advertorial. I’m obviously going to be particularly pro a company that is paying me money. However, the important issue to consider is the credibility of the writer. If a company advertising kids toys approached me with a financial benefit for featuring their product I’d have no desire to feature anything unless it had a great technology or business angle. Long story short: bloggers without integrity are the problem and theoretically these writers will come across as inauthentic so they’ll rapidly be “caught out” for their blatant brand whoring.

I’m not convinced a disclosure is necessary; it makes a post automatically seem like a useless advertorial to me and this defeats the point. What we need is for the average blogger to become a little more discerning and not chase after a freebie or cash prize. Unfortunately if an advertiser came up to almost anyone and offered them a few thousand rand to write about any old product they’d most definitely take it.

Is money ruining online writing or making it better? I’m convinced making “amateur” online writing more professional by adding a financial incentive is a winner in terms of everyone benefiting and a disclaimer only makes someone look “bought”.


Charging for your blog is career limiting

Prolific blogger Cape Town Girl has come out with a post about how you should start charging for content on your site. Her argument is summed up in one sentence:

The short answer is: start charging.

I must applaud CTG for her stance on this. For too long bloggers have been taken advantage of, excited by the free “stuff” that PR companies fob on them. As a blogger if you receive said “free stuff” you’re considered to have “made it” and are someone worth listening to. PR people call you “influential”. Sadly, free stuff doesn’t pay the bills and you can only eat so many canapés at the latest launch event. Charging for space on your blog makes sense; you’ve got an audience so make some money hawking stuff to them.

There is one problem that I don’t think CTG has considered: she looks like a brand whore pedalling other people’s crap. This quote by Mad Men’s Don Draper pretty much hits the mark on what I’m talking about:

“What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.”

To illustrate my point I’ve childishly cribbed from CTG’s Instagram stream. This a real picture, I have in no way modified it (except maybe for the writing in red):

You don’t go around telling people how much money you made last month (unless you’re nouveau riche, which in that case how is the Range Rover Evoque treating you?) and you really shouldn’t go around telling people you can be bought. I’m not naive enough to talk about integrity, morals and ethics but I can tell you it’s bad business to only do things for a profit. I have no idea if “Bread Milk & Forgot a comma” paid for that that image and even if they didn’t, I’ll avoid it like the plague from now on.

You know those annoying 30-minute fillers on TV where a family of four talk about how much they love Maggie Two Minute Noodles? Everyone knows that’s an advertorial and the same goes for magazines, newspapers or radio. Anyone with more than two IQ points knows that the moment you’re basically putting a rate card on your blog the content becomes bumpf and insincere. Charging for your work is great, making yourself look like a gigantic billboard is really silly. As someone who has worked in real online publishing I’ll give you a tip: begging is probably more lucrative.

Charge for your blog so you can make enough money to buy everyone at &Union a round of Weiss beer but don’t be so ignorantly blunt about it.