In 2017 advertisers and publishers are going to look towards various types of content to help boost their affiliate efforts. This movement will result in more sponsored content and product features being placed into content, from YouTube videos and podcasts, to social media posts and blogs. However, with this effort will have a lot of questions on what a publisher (and advertiser) should be disclosing to their followers. In this blog post, Brand Quality & Compliance leader Jennifer Moor answers 7 of the most common questions publishers and advertisers might have about disclosure, compliance, and how content is affected by the FTC. 

(Note: This expert blog piece is written only to be informative, and should not be used as legal advice)

(Note: This expert blog piece 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 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 in 2017?

A: If you’re looking for the most important thing you can do in 2017 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 them (and them some) disclosing a lengthy T&C. 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% failsafe 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 ‘partner’ out!

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 word 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: Maybe get started, but FTC disclosure is an expansive, confusing topic to navigate, and this just scratches the surface. But don’t worry, we plan on giving you everything you need to know in future blog posts, case studies, and video content. And if you want to talk to some of our experts directly, join us at Symposium Scottsdale on February 1-2, where we’ll have a 45 minute strategy session on FTC Guidelines and Best Practices. If you haven’t already registered, click the button below to get signed up today! And continue to check back on the blog for more FTC content.

Have more questions that need answers? Want to learn more about compliance? Join Jennifer Moor at Symposium Scottsdale on February 1-2, 2017!

Jennifer Moor leads our Brand Quality & Compliance team at Rakuten Marketing.  She has 6+ years of regulatory compliance experience and am a graduate of National Compliance School. Currently she is working to receive my CRCM (Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager), with a goal of completion in April. She serves on the Compliance Council for the Performance Marketing Association and is excited to host the compliance panel discussion at Symposium Scottsdale!

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of Rakuten Marketing and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.