Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Information Regarding Bloggers, Disclosures, & Giveaways

In light of the recent events in the blog world, "iHeartFakeSmiles" asked "melissaaustin" if she would be willing to share some information with all of us on the subject of blogger disclosures and giveaways.

Melissa has a blog of her own and has become familiar with these regulations over the past year. She was willing to write up the following post and we're hoping that it might help shed some light on how to properly handle these matters on your own blogs, as well as illustrate how giveaways should take place on the blogs that you read.

Thank you, Melissa!

* Keep in mind that the following guidelines apply to bloggers in the United States. Bloggers should research the regulations in their own country to ensure compliance with all current requirements.

Here is Melissa's post:

"Let me just preface this by saying, I am in no way an expert in the blogging industry. I am simply a blogger, who like many other bloggers, is interested in operating my blog in the most ethical fashion possible.

In 2010 (possibly 2009) the FTC handed down a series of rules, regulating bloggers. For some time, there was no "set in stone way" that we, as bloggers, had to operate. For the most part, the honest bloggers were already implementing the rules in some way or another on our blogs.

Specifically, the FTC set standards in terms of operating giveaways and reviews on our blogs. This was an issue in the past, because some bloggers often would have conflicts of interests among sponsors, that were not known. Also, some bloggers would receive cash compensation for writing favorable reviews and did not tell their readers about their connection to the sponsor.

Now, as I stated before, I am not an expert in FTC guidelines. But, in general this is what the FTC guidelines mean for bloggers.

1.)Bloggers must disclose, on every post, where the product came from. It is perfectly okay to purchase an item and give it away on your blog in the interest of getting more traffic.But, you must disclose that. If you receive the product directly from the company OR a third party you must disclose that on your blog.

2.)Blogger must disclose any compensation they receive. It is common practice for companies to offer either A.) a product B.)Gift cards to Amazon or C.)Cash compensation. You must disclose your compensation. Bloggers are also required to disclose if their compensation had directly affected their posts. If you post a favorable review of a not so favorable thing because you were paid to do so, you have to disclose.

3.)Bloggers must disclose any potential conflicts of interest. For example: I am a Beachbody Coach, promoting other fitness programs has the potential to create a conflict of interest. Same as if I worked for Tmobile, but say Verizon offered me a free phone to write a favorable review. Those conflicts of interests must be disclosed.

4.)Raffles (like JM's iPad giveaway): The FTC highly frowns upon a blogger hosting a raffle in the manner that she did. Now, they may occasionally let things like that slide. But, it's typically items of smaller value. People donated HUNDREDS to JM for a chance to win an iPad. Illegal. In fact, PayPal prohibits this type of thing.

So, how does a blogger disclose? If you went to my blog, you would see a general disclosure tab at the top. That is not enough. The FTC requires that we disclose in EVERY post (as you would see in my posts). It doesn't have to be fancy. Short and sweet and to the point is fine. This has to be on every post.

The FTC has and will come down on bloggers who don't adhere to their guidelines as well as potentially come down on the sponsor.

The FTC also prohibits bloggers from limiting who can enter. If you have an honest problem with a commenter, such as harrassment or threats, screen shot it and if possible, don't delete it. That way you have a "paper trail" if the FTC comes a'knockin.

Most honest bloggers will spell out when their giveaway starts and ends and how the winners will be chosen (via for the most part) and go as far as to include screenshots.

Any blogger who will not willingly disclose, or who doesn't spell out when the giveaway ends (ie: at some point tonight) is probably running a shady giveaway. Newer bloggers might make the mistake. But, in JM's case, it isn't a mistake if you keep doing it.

I hope that answers your questions. If I can be of any more help, let me know."

Melissa Austin :)

* One additional point to make (thanks to commenter "Lisa" here and I know Melissa has discussed this in some of her comments): "ANY compensation, or products received by the blogger for review, (they get one item to review and usually at least one other to giveaway), should be reported to the IRS as INCOME and taxed accordingly."

* For more information, you can visit the FTC's website here: