7 Must-Know Answers About Disclosure & Compliance for Publishers
By Jennifer Moor, Senior Manager, Brand Quality & Compliance
This article first appeared on the Rakuten Marketing blog
(Note: This expert article is written only to be informative, and should not be used as legal advice. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of Rakuten Marketing and it has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.)
Q: Okay, what’s the most important thing I can do to be compliant as a publisher?
A: If you’re looking for the most important thing you can do now to be compliant, the answer is simple: follow the guidelines of your advertiser partners. More advertisers are starting to roll out compliance programs for their publishers to follow. Electronic Arts is a great recent example of this, having just announced a set of standards, complete with hashtags and watermarks for videos, that their publishers can use to remain compliant.
Q: Wait, my advertiser doesn’t have any compliance terms and conditions written out! What do I do?!
A: Don’t panic – just because there aren’t clearly defined terms doesn’t mean you can’t be compliant. If your advertiser doesn’t offer guidelines for compliance, follow compliance best practices and err on the side of honesty. Use disclosure language (more below) and follow guidelines laid out by the FTC.
Q: What platforms do I need to post my disclosures on?
A: Anywhere you promote an affiliate link or an advertisement – from Twitter and Facebook, to YouTube or your personal blog – you must have some form of disclosure that this is some sort of sponsored content. Google recommends for things like blog posts you put them more towards the top or close to the advertisement so visitors know right away that the content is sponsored, and social media posts should have some form of disclaimer as well.
Q: Even something like Twitter? Those 140 character limits are pretty rigorous…
A: Yes, even something like Twitter. But don’t fret – just because you’re limited to 140 characters doesn’t mean you need to use all of them disclosing lengthy terms and conditions. Using language that, well, discloses the relationship between yourself and the advertiser should be helpful. Note that this is not a “one size fits all” or 100% fail-safe solution, just a guideline. If you want to know more about what’s legal, consult your advertiser or someone “in-the-know” to help you.
Q: Okay, but what if I used an image to show the disclaimer? Or, rather than have a blurb in my video, what if I put the disclosures in a description below the video?
A: Your disclosure should always be in the same format as your content. Ask yourself a question: when a visitor looks at the medium you’re promoting the advertisement in (blog post, social media, video, podcast, etc.), will they know the content is sponsored? Chances are that if they’re visiting your YouTube channel to watch a video they’re not going to go past the video to see if there’s a disclaimer anywhere – that’s why it’s so important you keep the disclaimer tied to the format your content is in. A good rule of thumb to help you out should be to always keep the disclaimer and the content in the same format, same post, same everything.
Q: You’ve mentioned ‘disclosure language’ a few times – what is that?
A: Great question. A lot of publishers are using some disclosure terms to quickly highlight that their content has been sponsored in some way. A study by Polar (as found on Digital Content Next) indicates that "sponsored" is actually the most frequently used term by publishers to disclose their relationship with an advertiser in some way, with 55.2% of publishers using that phrase in some way. "Promoted" is the next most popular, at 17.9%, followed by "presented (by)" at 6%. It should be noted that while "promoted" is the most popular of these phrases, all three have a very close CTR percentage: .19% (promoted), .16% (sponsored), and .12% (presented). "Partner," though used less frequently, has a CTR of .17%, so if you want to use a less common disclosure term, try out partner!
Q: This seems like a lot. What's the "golden rule" of disclosure?
A: Asking for a golden rule can be a bit of a stretch, but there is one thing that every affiliate should be mindful of, and that's being clear to the person they're advertising for. When in doubt, ask yourself, "Is what I'm showcasing labeled as a paid placement/advertisement clearly to the visitor?" If you even have to guess at the answer then it's something worth revisiting to make clearer! You don't want there to be a shred of doubt in any visitor's mind - and that's a good thing. Your visitors will trust and value your perspective more if they know that you're not trying to hide something or pull a fast one. The disclosure shows honesty in your content, authenticity in your publishing efforts, and faith in the visitor's judgment. In a world of clickbait, false news, and fake advertising, it's authenticity and honesty that your visitors value most - and something they'll thank you for showing.
Q: Sounds good, so I'm good to go?
A: This is a good start, but FTC disclosure is an expansive, confusing topic to navigate, and this just scratches the surface. Be sure to always stay on top of rules regarding disclosure.
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