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10.2.15

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BLOGGING, THE LAW & DECLARATION

If you're looking to turn your blog into a commercial space, want to collaborate with brands or are starting to seek paid-for campaigns, then it's essential to understand your obligations. Blogs are still relatively new territory, unlike television and magazines which have been around for decades, so there's a huge grey area where regulatory bodies still haven't put clear guidelines into place. However, blogs are high on the agenda for the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and they've frequently published opinion pieces, reports, outcomes of investigations and guidelines that we should all be taking note of. From understanding what classifies as a 'sponsored post' and how they should be declared, to ensuring you adhere to guidelines and being clear on consequences if you don't, this is a whole new area of law we need to be aware of as publishers.


The ASA recently published an article that was written in response to an increase in queries from bloggers and brands that required guidance. The outcome was clear: the UK advertising code states that ads must be 'obviously identifiable marketing communications' and we must make every concerted effort to ensure they're labelled as such. However, the majority of bloggers don't come from a PR, marketing or brand background (I'm lucky that I do, so I understand how this whole industry works) so decoding and translating the ASA's statements can be incredibly tricky. I've sat down and researched all of the different issues and found specific responses from the agencies we rely on to oversee our industry, the result of which is below. Hopefully this will clear up issues and ensure we're all operating ethically and within the parameters that have been set for us, setting the way for future generations of bloggers and brands.

Regulations Don't Impact Gifting Or Samples
"The rules don’t prohibit PR companies sending free gifts or samples to bloggers in the hope of receiving a positive review."
In the UK you don't have to declare samples or gifts that have been provided by brands or PR companies, as they theoretically should have no impact on the editorial copy you produce. For example, being sent a new mascara to review doesn't have to be declared - the mascara brand have not specified a positive opinion or outcome as a condition of the mascara being sent, so you're still free to give a 100% truthful review. (However, if money changes hands it's a completely different ballgame.) I've come under a lot of stick in the past for not labeling every single sample as such, but this is neither a legal requirement nor something I feel necessary. Many bloggers have followed the US guidelines and state every sample featured within every post, so the best way to approach this is to do what you feel personally comfortable with.

If You're Paid To Say Something Nice, Declare It.
"If it’s an opinion, then we have no remit or interest in regulating that space. If, however, (a blogger is) paid to say something positive then it becomes an advertisement and they must disclose."
If you've been compensated financially for saying nice things about a product, posting to either your blog or social media, then you have to clearly state it's an advert. This isn't just a sponsored post, but your readers or followers are being fed a marketing message that you wouldn't be spreading otherwise. For example, the ASA recently highlighted an Oreo campaign where YouTubers were paid to talk about Oreo biscuits positively while eating them in the traditionally marketed way (you know, the twist, lick, dunk thing!) Although the YouTube stars stated the video was produced in collaboration with Oreo, the ASA deemed this not to be strong enough and that viewers didn't necessarily know they were being marketed to. 

Declaration Parameters Are Simple.
"How can bloggers make it clear if their blog contains paid for content? Signposting it as 'ad', 'advertorial' or 'sponsored content' is a simple way to make it immediately clear to readers."
If you've been paid to feature something then you have to declare it appropriately. If you've been paid to feature a brand or product but your opinion has not being swayed, a 'sponsored post' declaration is sufficient. However, if you've been paid to feature a pre-written piece of content to support a brand's marketing campaign then it can be classified as 'advertorial'. YouTube videos must be declared as an 'ad' in the title so viewers are clear on what they're clicking on before they click on it; it's also important to label WHO is paying to be featured otherwise what's the point of a declaration at all?

Legally, You Don't Have To Declare Compensation For Your 'Time'. 
"If you choose to write a new article on your own site and the advertiser has no control over the content, then the article is unlikely to be considered advertising."
There have been so many rumours flying around the bloggersphere, stating that if the brand in question has no influence over written text within an article (even if you've been paid) then you don't have to declare it as sponsored. This is factually correct, but ethically unsound. I always declare whenever I've received payment for an article because I'm not ashamed that I make an income from this site; I personally feel it's important to be honest when you've been paid to feature something, regardless of whether you've been paid to say something nice.  

You Don't Have To Declare Support Of Sponsored Content. 
"Sharing links socially is not advertising.  Being paid to share would be."
If you write a sponsored piece of content and share that content across your social networks (i.e. via a tweet,) then you don't have to label that individual piece of content as sponsored; the main reason is that readers will click on the link and see the article clearly labelled as a collaborative piece. If you're choosing to promote that piece yourself, without being asked, then there's no need to mention that you've been financially compensated. However, if you've been paid to send five tweets or upload three instagram pictures to promote your written piece, then they do have to be declared as sponsored. 

Image Declarations Are Permitted Under Current Guidelines. 
"Using graphics to indicate advertising content is likely to be acceptable, but could be problematic if consumers cannot read them."
One common trick deployed by sneaky SEO agencies is providing you with an image that features a declaration, rather than letting you specify it's a sponsored post within written text. This helps them from an SEO point of view, as Google's spiders can't necessarily read images and don't classify the content as unnatural. Although this has been identified as outside of guidelines and widely accepted as a little bit dodgy, the only issue the ASA and CAP have is that the image can clearly be seen by readers. To cover yourself, it's always a good idea to state with written words when you're working with a brand - just in case something goes wrong.

The Blogger Isn't Completely Responsible
"Under the Advertising Code, although the blogger would be named as part of any ASA investigation into misleading advertising, ultimately the buck would stop with the advertiser. If a paid for entry on a blog wasn’t disclosed we would investigate the advertiser and hold them accountable."
The ASA understand that the blogger is the end platform and that the brand or agency should be doing their utmost to work within ethical boundaries; they understand that this is a whole new area for many bloggers that have never worked within advertising or marketing, so they need to be guided responsibly by the people they're working with. Although you don't want to get burned, it's good to know that the brands trying to generate positive coverage without declaring it's been paid for will be held fully accountable. Although, as bloggers, we're responsible for our own content and sites, the brands working with us are also subject to accountability. 

The ASA Will Out Non-Cooperative Bloggers
"If a blogger is unwilling to cooperate then we can consider a range of sanctions to bring them into line. One (sanction) is to shine a light on those blogs that aren’t playing by the rules."
Although there's not a huge amount the ASA can do when it comes to blogs, as we're independent creators that are responsible for our own content, they have made no quarms  about the fact they're prepared to 'name and shame' bloggers and sites that refuse to abide by their regulations. For a blogger, our reputation is everything; we build our entire sites on the principles of honesty, integrity and transparency, so being publicly named as a blogger operating outside of the law is not going to to us any favours.

I'm aware that's still a lot of information to take in, but essentially if you've been paid by a brand it's always best to declare it in the clearest way possible. Statements such as 'this is a sponsored post in collaboration with xyz brand' are well understood, offer clarity and ensure you're covered if anything would to go wrong. However, it's worth nothing the following...
1. There is no indication of where you should declare a post as sponsored, i.e. at the beginning or end of a post, in the title or within the description box.
2. There's no specific wording provided as an example; you're still free to declare in the way you see fit, as long as your readers clearly understand they're being 'advertised' to.
3. Much of the current guidelines are still open to interpretation: this is all new territory and the only thing the ASA and CAP can do is to offer guidance and wait for someone to do something really wrong that they can use as an example. 

I've no doubt that the regulations and expectations will continue to evolve over time, but these statements provide us with a starting point and a clear understanding of what we have to do in the here and now. If you have any further questions, comments or concerns, then please do let me know if the comments below and I'll do my best to address them as best I can.

1. The ASA's own blog post, from which I've taken quotes, can be found here.
2. An article written by CAP, which features questions from bloggers and brands, can be found here
3. The Guardian's article on YouTubers and the Oreo campaign can be found here
 

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24 comments

  1. Very useful! I'm not in the realms of being paid for content or advertising yet, but it's good background knowledge to have! Even just as a reader of other blogs! Thanks!

    Stephanie xx

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  2. Lots of useful info, thank you (:
    ABlogByPhilippa

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  3. I have a disclaimer that states that sponsored posts and PR samples are shown by an asterisk, is this still allowed? I'm unsure whether to state sponsored post in the article instead now as maybe an asterisk isn't enough? Thank you for this amazing help!
    Mary-Ann xx
    Angel Flicks

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    1. Unfortunately an asterisk isn't enough - you need to properly declare either at the beginning or end of a post 'this is a sponsored post on behalf of xyz'. An asterisk wouldn't be deemed to be clear enough as readers can't be expected to either understand or go hunting for what it refers to. Hope that helps.

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  4. This was soooo helpful to me and has cleared a lot up for me . xox

    http://www.rainbowsandunicornsblog.co.uk/

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  5. Great post Hayley! As always extremely helpful! I have bookmarked it for future :-) x

    http://www.mrsdloves.com

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  6. That's really helpful, thank you. I'm not remotely close to being of interest to advertisers, but it's good to know what to do if that ever happens!

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  7. Interesting post Hayley. And very on point as I've just had to have a few emails regarding sponsored content that I wasn't sure on...so thank you for this!

    Annabel ♥
    Mascara & Maltesers

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  8. This is an incredibly informative post, thank you! There's so many things to try and keep in mind when you are starting out blogging so it's really nice when I come across these kind of articles. Thanks for clearing some stuff up for me & I am loving your blog!

    xx
    jaimeraphaelle.blogspot.ca

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  9. Is this only applicable in the UK? I'm from Malaysia, and this is interesting, but many Malaysian bloggers do NOT practice all the rules stated above.

    www.coquettishmish.com

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    1. Yes it's a British body, so you'll have guidelines for your own country - these will help, but it's always safer to research what's applicable in the country you're hosting.

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  10. Fantastic to have this info. Thanks for distilling it in a way that's easy to read and implement.

    http://thewardrobeangel.blogspot.co.uk/

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  11. This is all incredibly useful and broken down in a way that is easy to understand, thank you for sharing.

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  12. Thank you for such a brilliant and interesting post. I'm new to blogging and haven't even launched my blog yet. I was wondering whether you could answer a query on including links within blogs.

    My blog will just be a hobby and a place for me to share my interests with other people. However, are there any rules concerning linking products or items in blog posts. For example providing a link to a beauty, homeware, fashion etc item on websites such at Boots, Sephora or Debenhams, to name but a few!? This is of course not for any financial gain, it is simply for ease of reference for the reader.

    I am also interested in the rules regarding linking other blogs. I don't want to take credit for things I have learned or discovered through other blogs and want to be able to link the blog and give the blogger the credit for the info. For example, I want to discuss how my skin has transformed and improved drastically, however, this is after taking the advice of a skincare expert who has a blog. I don't want to steal the knowledge and words of another blogger, instead I would like to make sure that I am giving that blogger the credit and linking to their blog and/or post so that other reader can benefit. All I want to do is talk about how my skin has changed and what I use (thanks to the bloggers advice) to help keep it at it's current state.

    Is this allowed or should I be contacting companies and bloggers before linking to their website?

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    1. Whatever links you place are at your discretion - you can do whatever you like to aid your reader's journey. As long as you clearly credit other sites/bloggers you can quote/use imagery etc - it's nice to ask permission if you can, but if you're clearly quoting/linking you're covered.

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  13. Great article with lots of helpful tips and info!

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  14. What a brilliant post - thank you! I have, for a long time, been concerned about advertising on social media, especially on YouTube because I think a lot of bloggers and vloggers aren't always honest about the products they are advertising. Especially in the realm where young girls are such huge fans of vloggers, they want all of the things they talk about - from make up and clothes to suitcases and sweeties - I think it's really important these people are honest with their viewers/subscribers/readers about what they are getting paid for. As you say, there's nothing shameful about it (and I applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of social media icons) so long as you are up front and honest about the situation. The legal status of the online world has been tricky for a while, and so it makes sense that the advertising situation would be too, but it's really refreshing to read a piece from someone who not only acts honestly and ethically, but explains it all too. Thanks for posting Hayley!

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  15. This is a great post - bookmarking for later, thank you!

    http://cutenoir.net

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  16. Great post, super informative and easy to read

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  17. Thanks for this post Hayley, it's really useful and important for bloggers to know legal implications and obligations. How does this all fit with follow / nofollow links? Am I right in thinking that if you have been paid to take part in a campaign, you should always use a nofollow link as well as declaring it's a sponsored post? I have been told recently by a big brand that bloggers should actually charge brands if they want a follow link in a post but I am not sure that this sounds right! I've also heard that if you are being paid to take part in a campaign you should declare it, but a follow link is fine, as long as you're not being paid to say positive things (and in this case you should declare and use nofollow links). I am one very confused blogger!!! Any information you had would be really appreciated, thanks :D

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    1. As far as I'm aware, the follow/no follow issue is a Google one and not an ASA one. Apparently it's 'against google guidelines' to include a follow link when you've been paid and not declare it. It's essentially to prevent brands from cheekily manipulating their SEO. However, I don't think it's a huge issue to worry about - if you're in doubt, add no follow. This tells Google to ignore the link; brands shouldn't necessarily pay for anything, it's about your own guidelines.

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    2. OK great, thanks Hayley! You mentioned about being paid, not declaring this and using a follow link being against the guidelines, does this mean that it is fine to be paid and include a follow link as long as you do declare it is sponsored? Sorry for all the questions, just want to make sure I am not flouting any rules! I like to be as open and transparent as possible on my blog and want to make sure I have the follow / nofollow rules down too! :D Thanks so much for your help xx

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    3. Yep that's fine - google can identify the 'word' sponsored and act accordingly.

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  18. You're a star thank you! I've been approached by a brand to receive payment for a sponsored campaign with them, they are happy for me to declare it is sponsored but would like a "follow" link. Thought I'd better make completely sure this was ok before accepting! Thanks so much for your help and confirmation, it really is appreciated xx

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