Blogging Tips: Following the FTC’s Disclosure Guidelines

FTC Disclosures

If you’re new to blogging this year, or just new to receiving review copies from publishers (ARCs), you may be wondering exactly what obligations you have to disclose to your readers that you are reviewing books or other bookish products that you received from free.  Most bloggers seem to be aware they have to include some type of disclosure, but I see questions on Twitters every few months about what those disclosures should look like.  Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has some pretty explicit guidelines for this, so you don’t need to put that much guesswork into complying.

The General Rule

The FTC’s primary requirement for disclosures is that they need to be “clear and conspicuous.”

At first glance, this sounds open to a broad range of interpretation, but in many cases you can probably use common sense to determine whether you are disclosing that you have received a free product in exchange for reviewing or promoting it in a way that is “clear and conspicuous.”

On a base level, this means no using confusing wording trying to actually hide that you received a free product, no using tiny font, no hiding the disclaimer on a separate page from the review, etc.  On a more practical level, this just means you should put the disclaimer near the beginning of the post (not the end) and that you should say something really straightforward like “I received this book subscription box from Uppercase in exchange for an honest review.”  Easy.

On Your Blog

Reviews

The FTC specifically addresses blog posts in their FAQ, stating that you should disclose your source on the individual review and suggesting that placing the disclaimer at the beginning is better than the end because not everyone may read to the end of the post. (“Have the disclosure at the beginning” is a running theme.) You should also be explicit, in case some readers don’t understand abbreviations or other shorthand.  This is something I can get better at myself. For instance, I frequently write something like “Source: Netgalley” because I know other book bloggers will know what this means–but more casual readers of my blog may not understand it means “I received a free ebook from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.”  That is being is “clear and conspicuous.”

Here’s what the FTC actually says:

Where in my blog should I disclose that my review is sponsored by a marketer? I’ve seen some say it at the top and others at the bottom. Does it matter?

Yes, it matters. A disclosure should be placed where it easily catches consumers’ attention and is difficult to miss. Consumers may miss a disclosure at the bottom of a blog or the bottom of a page. A disclosure at the very top of the page, outside of the blog, might also be overlooked by consumers. A disclosure is more likely to be seen if it’s very close to, or part of, the endorsement to which it relates.

Affiliate Links

You are also required to disclose to your readers if you have affiliate links on your blog and if you will receive money if they make a purchase after clicking on the link.  In the same vein, the FTC suggests that you say this explicitly: “I will receive money if you buy a book from this Amazon link.”  The theory is that simply saying “This is an affiliate link” will not be clear to all readers.  Again, this disclosure should be placed near any and all affiliate links; you should not hide this information on your “about” page or someplace else where the reader may not see it.

On Social Media

Similar rules apply to any products (books or bookish goodies) that you are promoting on social media, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.: You need to place the disclosure near the beginning of the post, and it needs to be obvious to your followers what the disclaimer means.

Last April, the FTC sent letters to a number of “influencers” on Instagram reminding them that they need to use clear wording (not just hashtags like #sp or #ambassador) and that these disclosures need to be in the first three lines of the post because many readers will not hit the “more” button.  They also suggest not simply saying “Thank you, [Brand]” as this can be unclear, but you could say “Thank you, [Brand], for sending me this free book.]

Here’s what their FAQ page says about Instagram:

What about a disclosure in the description of an Instagram post?

When people view Instagram streams on most smartphones, descriptions more than four lines long are truncated, with only the first three lines displayed. To see the rest, you have to click “more.” If an Instagram post makes an endorsement through the picture or the first three lines of the description, any required disclosure should be presented without having to click “more.”

Similar rules apply to Twitter. Make the disclosure obvious, and don’t hide it in 20 other hashtags:

What about a platform like Twitter? How can I make a disclosure when my message is limited to 140 characters?

The FTC isn’t mandating the specific wording of disclosures. However, the same general principle – that people get the information they need to evaluate sponsored statements – applies across the board, regardless of the advertising medium. The words “Sponsored” and “Promotion” use only 9 characters. “Paid ad” only uses 7 characters. Starting a tweet with “Ad:” or “#ad” – which takes only 3 characters – would likely be effective.

On Youtube

If you run a Booktube channel, you also have to disclose any free products or any payments you received, and, as always, the FTC wants you to do this at the beginning of the video (I said it was going to be a theme).  The theory is that many people will not watch until the end of the video, and they would miss a disclosure there.  You are also supposed to include this information in the video itself and not just in the video description:

If I upload a video to YouTube and that video requires a disclosure, can I just put the disclosure in the description that I upload together with the video?

No, because consumers can easily miss disclosures in the video description. Many people might watch the video without even seeing the description page, and those who do might not read the disclosure. The disclosure has the most chance of being clear and prominent if it’s included in the video itself. That’s not to say that you couldn’t have disclosures in both the video and the description.

Conclusion

Basically, there are actual guidelines on how to clearly disclosure, so there’s no need to be confused or to worry about whether you’re doing it right.  If you have more questions, check out the rest of the FAQs on the FTC website.  Also keep in mind that the FTC tends to “go after” people with far bigger audiences who are receiving far bigger payments from brands than most book bloggers, so you’re probably not on the verge of getting into any kind of legal trouble.  Just do your best to be “clear and conspicuous.”

Briana

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46 thoughts on “Blogging Tips: Following the FTC’s Disclosure Guidelines

  1. whatcathyreadnext says:

    A small point, but the FTC is the U.S. regulatory authority; other countries will have different regulatory bodies and may have different rules. As it happens, here in the UK the rules about disclosure where products have been received free are similar to what you’ve stated. Our equivalent body is the Competition and Markets Authority.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      That’s quite true! I believe Briana focused on the FTC because we–and the majority of our readers (according to our stats)– are in the U.S. Readers should certainly be aware of their own countries’ laws, however. Though I do wonder if individuals who use WordPress aren’t expected to use the platform in accordance with the laws of the company it is based in? Maybe someone can clarify that for me?

      At any rate, I think the general idea would hold for most countries: acknowledge your source in clear words in a conspicuous space.

      Liked by 2 people

      • whatcathyreadnext says:

        Yes, interesting question about jurisdiction where something is so global. However the article did actually prompt me to add something more to my review policy page, so a timely article.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          I tried to look it up, but it’s a difficult question to get search engine results for, unfortunately. 😦 But I’m glad you found Briana’s post helpful regardless!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Daniela Ark says:

    I think all these regulations is why I decided not to have affiliated links, do giveaways etc. This is awesome information. As well as everything else on your Blogger Resources Page! I’ll add it to my Blogger Directory!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Haha, that’s true. Sometimes it’s easier not to do certain things. My understanding is that affiliate links don’t bring book bloggers any money, anyway. It’s not readily admitted, but most book bloggers seem unable to monetize their blogs in an effective way. I’ve even seen people who sell bookish merchandise admit that they don’t actually sell much from their stores. I’d need a greater guarantee of profit before I put that much time into a venture.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Got to admit, I treated this like a checkbox, to make sure I’d been doing it right (cos I just presumed about sticking a disclaimer at the start for ARC reviews and never realised there was somewhere to check!) And yeah, someone said something about other countries, but I imagine it’s much the same- it doesn’t seem overly complicated. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  4. Jared @dabook.club says:

    Interesting! I love how informative you are in your post! Thank’s for making this! I’ve been recently looking into affiliate links, but haven’t found a way to find specifics. Good post!
    -Jared

    Like

  5. Zoie says:

    I’ve never thought about this in the past because I haven’t had any books to review, but that has recently changed so this was a really helpful article. Thanks for sharing this information! 😊

    Like

  6. Adam says:

    Thank you for providing such a thorough explanation about ARC review statements. I admit, I only recently received my first ARC, so this was very helpful, both in raising awareness and providing concrete information.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beware Of The Reader says:

    WOW Krysta I did not know it!!! I usually tell early on that I got an ARC but I was not aware we HAD to write it. Thanks for opening my eyes and following your very interesting blog from now on! I don’t want to miss something LOL

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed Briana’s article. Yeah, for sure we don’t always talk about transparency when it comes to our sources. It seems like you just used your common sense, though, so that works, too! But it might be helpful if bloggers who give out blogging advice or who talk about how to book blog could throw in some more information about the guidelines. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember reading any other posts that mentioned the FTC rules….

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight says:

    I’m super paranoid about this kinda stuff, and I can be a stickler for the rules sometimes, so it frustrates me when I see reviewers not even mentioning at all that they got a free copy of a book, etc. It doesn’t change my opinion of their review, but it’s that rule-follower in me lol. I’m pretty sure a lot of giveaways being done are technically not entirely legal either (which is why I avoid having giveaways other than US-based, 18+, rafflecopter ones where I’m pretty sure I’m following all the rules). Chances are little ol’ me isn’t going to get in trouble, but still, I’d rather be safe than sorry!

    Like

    • Briana says:

      Yeah, giveaways are another tricky part. I think a lot of people don’t realize there are legal guidelines for those, as well. It’s just another instance where book bloggers are so small that there aren’t likely to be legal consequences for not getting everything quite right.

      Like

  9. Charlotte says:

    In 2009, just when bloggers were become aware of the FTC, a representative from them came to Kidlitcon. Here’s my recap post http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/2009/10/federal-trade-commission-and-book.html ….they were not particularly concerned about getting books for review!

    It bothers me a bit when bloggers say they received a book in exchange for an honest review, because in general receiving a book is actually in exchange for review consideration, with no obligation to actually review it, and there’s no point in adding to the pressure by feeling obligated.

    Like

    • Milliebot says:

      I add the honest review bit to be clear that I’m saying what I feel because I’ve heard of people paid for reviews or expected to only give positive reviews.

      Like

      • Krysta says:

        …What? I thought it was understood that giving a book meant you were getting an honest review! (Well, I have heard of authors who were shocked/angry not to get a glowing review, but I thought they were aberrations who somehow missed the memo on how the industry works.)

        Like

        • Milliebot says:

          Well it should! But I’ve heard of paid and false reviews. I mean, it should be clear that my reviews are honest if you actually read what I’m saying. There’s plenty that I received and disliked. But, just in case! I might simplify my wording some though.

          Like

          • Krysta says:

            It’s probably a good idea, too, for people who access your blog from search engines. In that case, they might not be familiar with your blog or with the conventions of book blogging in general. (Not that they’d necessarily care. We get far too many searches from people obviously wanting the Internet to do their homework for them.)

            Like

        • Charlotte says:

          It’s not the honesty of the review, but the sense of promising to review it at all…the exchange isn’t book for review, but book for review consideration….

          Like

    • Krysta says:

      I wonder if things have changed since 2009. Looking on the FTC site, these seem to be the relevant questions:

      “Do I need to list the details of everything I get from a company for reviewing a product?

      No. What matters is whether the information would have an effect on the weight readers would give your review. “

      And also:

      “When should I say more than that I got a product for free?

      It depends on whether you got something else from the company. Saying that you got a product for free suggests that you didn’t get anything else.

      For example, if an app developer gave you their 99-cent app for free for you to review it, that information might not have much effect on the weight that readers give to your review. But if the app developer also gave you $100, knowledge of that payment would have a much greater effect on the credibility of your review. So a disclosure that simply said you got the app for free wouldn’t be good enough, but as discussed above, you don’t have to disclose exactly how much you were paid.”

      I suppose a blogger could argue that receiving a book free for a review would not “effect the weight readers give the review.” However, it makes sense to me to be safe rather than sorry. Especially since book bloggers do seem generally suspicious of books received for review. I see plenty of comments suggesting bloggers believe that other bloggers are nicer (even subconsciously) when they’ve received a book for review.

      I see what you are saying about the FTC potentially not being concerned about receiving books for review. In my case, I feel like adding the source isn’t any burden to me and can only be a good thing in terms of transparency for my readers.

      Like

    • Briana says:

      Ooh, interesting! Thanks for sharing the post! I do get the impression they are mostly interested in people who are getting much bigger perks than book bloggers with ARCs (like very influential Instagrammers who may be receiving large cash payments for product promotion), but I like the idea of disclosing the source clearly because some people really are suspicious your review might be “biased” if you received the book from the publisher.

      I also find the “in exchange for an honest review” thing a bit weird in terms of wording, but I think it’s something that’s just caught on in the community. Like, people see the wording on other blogs and think it sounds clear and use it themselves. I would assume the review was honest and, yeah, you’re not 100% obligated to review the book if something comes up. You don’t have to return it or something if you fail to review it. :p

      Like

  10. Milliebot says:

    I used to put my disclosures at the top of my most, but then I read somewhere that you should put them at the bottom…But now I forget where. I’ll go back to putting them at the top, though I know my following is much too small for notice right now. It’s harder on Instagram cuz I usually just put an abbreviated review, I usually mention it’s from Netgalley or something.

    I do notice a lot of people I follow on YouTube just say they’re an ambassador or that you should use their affiliate link and never specially mention they get money.

    Like

    • Briana says:

      I think it’s not a huge deal either way, but the theory is that people will be more likely to see it at the top.

      Yeah, I thought an interesting part of the guidelines was that you can’t necessarily assume that if you say “I’m an ambassador” people understand that means you’re getting paid, so you basically should say “I am getting paid” to be really, really clear. :p

      Like

  11. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    Great post Brianna,Thanks!! ❤ I didn't know placement mattered. I just moved my disclaimer to the bottom of the post because I have a new format but I guess up it goes. *le sigh* I'm not sure it matters much honestly (no one review should have that much weight with a consumer) but being compliant is only smart.

    Like

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