Honesty in Blogging: Blog Ethics and Disclosure Policies23.11.15
Bloggers are seen to be trusted sources of information by their readers and are expected to behave differently to traditional media by o...
Bloggers are seen to be trusted sources of information by their readers and are expected to behave differently to traditional media by offering personal opinions of consumer products and experiences. While traditional media is seen to "always be selling us something," we expect bloggers to be open and transparent with their content and reviews, always having the reader's best interests at heart. Yet these individuals are also trying to make a living from something which was once just a hobby, blurring the line between traditional advertising methods and the new emerging ones - sponsored content and product placement - making it harder to distinguish the ads from content.
How to Remain Honest, Open, and Transparent
Create a Disclosure Policy
Setting boundaries is important when it comes to blogging, working with PR companies and brands, and featuring samples, affiliate links, and sponsored content. Making sure we learn the law and write up a disclosure policy that is transparent about our content, is the best way of being truly honest with our readers.
Disclose Relevant Information Properly
Although the law differs from country to country on how to deal with PR samples and sponsored content, one way of making it absolutely clear what products or services we receive for free or any paid-for content we might feature, is by disclosing this information clearly in each individual post; whether that means marking products with an asterisk or c/o label, writing a specific disclosure within the content, or writing it in the title of the post itself. When bloggers try to hide or deceive readers by not disclosing this information, it results in a loss of trust, which is hard to regain.
Provide Impartial Reviews
The way we feel about products we have bought for ourselves versus ones we have been given will always be slightly different. Receiving things for free is nice, which is why we can sometimes look more favourably on them as opposed to ones we have paid for with our own money. I’m not saying that just because something has been received for free means we won’t express our true opinions about it but being aware of this difference is key to reviewing products and services honestly. Being completely impartial with our reviews and features is essential when other people might then go out and buy based on our recommendations.
A Few Thoughts on Working with PRs and Brands
When you start a blog, it’s fun and relatively non-time consuming and when a brand’s PR reach out, it’s easy to feel flattered that they want to work with you. When a blog starts to gain a bit of traction, a blogger’s inbox starts to fill up with pitches and enquiries, and the effort it takes to blog becomes more time consuming and costly. New rules (like what we’re comfortable “selling” on our blogs and the brands/products we will or won’t feature) and an updated disclosure policy is required to deal with the various requests made to bloggers and things generally start to get a little more complicated.
I have never encountered pushy PR although I know it happens; no one should feel pressured or bullied into producing content they are not comfortable with, which is why setting ourselves clear ethical guidelines, policies for content creation, and a media kit to outline payment for work is essential when our blogs become established. It's also up to the blogging community to start being more open with each other about work with PR and brands, and stop concealing it like it's a dirty thing to be ashamed of.
In the spirit of honesty, I think you should know about the decision I have made to monetise this blog. Blogging almost daily takes up a lot of my time, it’s intense, and while I do it gladly because I enjoy it so much, I'm finding it harder to balance the demands of my growing business with blogging and my personal life. I realised the time I spend blogging is time that takes me away from my business - the only thing that makes me money. Choosing to monetise certain aspects of this blog means I can justify taking that time away from my profession and continue blogging.
This blog will remain free of advertising in terms of affiliate links and banner ads but I will now be offering new services to brands including sponsored content. I want to be 100% honest and open about how and why I’m doing this, I don’t want any of you to feel disheartened by it so if you have any questions please ask.