The big news yesterday?
Blogging is finally being taken seriously.
The Federal Trade Commission announced that they will begin going after bloggers – as well as the companies that compensate them – for any false claims or failure to disclose compensation, free gifts, and other conflicts of interest.
This isn’t really a surprise.
Content marketing is the most powerful online advertising strategy there is, and the FTC regulates advertising. Arguably, the FTC could go after bloggers who don’t disclose compensation for reviews and endorsements right now, without issuing these additional guidelines.
In fact, I made that suggestion way back in December of 2006 (wow, has it been that long?). As a former commercial litigation attorney who tangled with the FTC for clients, I’m familiar with the existing “endorsement” guidelines, and saw how they could apply to anyone (even so-called “amateurs”) who received compensation for reviews or recommendations of products or services.
The new FTC guidelines will show that’s a fact, Jack.
Like it or Not, Affiliate Links Must be Disclosed
Many of my friends in the affiliate marketing industry did not take kindly to my legal observations at the time. And a lot of people are upset right now, but the FTC will still remove all doubt about the fact that disclosure of compensation and conflicts is required.
Now it becomes clear that even something as small as an Amazon affiliate link to a book or DVD requires disclosure. That represents a big shift in the way things have worked so far.
Not everyone sees this as a bad thing. Izea has been requiring disclosure from its bloggers for years after an initial rough entry into the uncharted waters of compensated reviews. Izea CEO Ted Murphy is happy to see that everyone plays by the same rules.
When Ted asked me and other high-profile bloggers/marketers such as Chris Brogan, Wendy Piersall and Missy Ward (among others) to serve on an advisory board for Izea, he didn’t want a bunch of cheerleaders. He wanted a group of people who knew the space to candidly tell him if Izea was screwing up, so the stock options we were granted wouldn’t become worthless.
Wait, what just happened there?
Disclosure Doesn’t Have to be Bad
Let’s face it… things have changed online since CDNow pioneered affiliate marketing in 1994 and Amazon popularized it in 1996. People are more savvy, and less trusting, of online content and advertising.
What gets you past that?
And you develop more trust by (wait for it)… telling the truth.
And I don’t mean telling the truth back on your heels like you’re ashamed of what you’re recommending to your readers. I also don’t mean putting some stupid distracting notation like (aff) next to the link, either (unless you’re on Twitter where space is limited).
I mean disclosing with confidence.
Disclose With Confidence and Make More, Not Less
When I mentioned Izea above, I did the right thing… I disclosed that I serve as an advisor to the company and that I have the prospect of making some money if the company succeeds. You’ve never seen me promote Izea anywhere, because that’s not my role… and I was candid about that as well.
I wasn’t shy about it, either.
Being completely frank with your readers about compensation can be scary, because you think people will think less of you. But in a cynical world where everyone thinks everyone else is on the take already, honesty becomes a selling point.
Take a look at this disclosure I did for a review of the ebook Desperate Buyer’s Only two years ago:
I once commented on a review of Desperate Buyers Only that this is the ebook about creating ebooks that I would have written had I been inclined, so I have no problem recommending it to you (and using my affiliate link).
Did it enhance the recommendation?
No matter how you do it, the key is disclosing with confidence. If you’re delivering value to your audience on a regular basis, they should have no problem with you being compensated for an occasional affiliate review or recommendation.
Here are some other examples of confident disclosure from people who make real money from affiliate marketing:
- Fitting her personality, when Rae Hoffman does a review or tutorial that includes an affiliate relationship, she’ll say something like “Damn right it’s an affiliate link.”
- Frank Kern goes to absurd lengths to entertain his followers even while disclosing, using tactics such as this: “<<----- BIG scary affiliate link!”
- Chris Brogan says “If you buy this from me, I get some beer money (not enough for a pony).”
Rather than hiding the compensation, the compensation is presumed to be fine, and therefore revealed confidently.
What gets you there in the first place is the value you deliver and the trust you earn. So yes… monetize with affiliate marketing.
But deliver the value and build the trust first.
Are You Afraid of Your Audience?
So many bloggers want to make money from their blogs. And most have realized by now that banner ads and AdSense ain’t gonna cut it.
And yet they’re scared to death to level with their readers and say “Look, I’m working my ass off delivering value to you. I know about products and services that you’ll be interested in, and I’ll make some money by doing it that will help me keep this rolling.”
What happens here is that good people end up hiding things out of fear. They end up treating their readers worse than if they had just been honest, and now risk legal liability.
If you’re delivering constant value, most people won’t mind… as long as you’re honest. Sure, you’ll have a few vocal readers with an enlarged sense of entitlement who expect you to work for free, but ignore them.
And if it turns out that the majority of your audience actually does mind you making some money for your efforts while delivering honest reviews and recommendations…
Perhaps you’ve attracted the wrong audience.
About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.