Full Disclosure: How to Properly Disclose Your Affiliate and Paid Sponsorships

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Written By Brian T. Edmondson, Esq.

Hi, I'm Brian. I'm an internet entrepreneur & lawyer. I write about all things internet business & law.

Hey, it’s Brian. This article is for informational purposes and is NOT legal advice, cool? Onto the article…

Full disclosure.

You’ve no doubt seen this phrase pop up quite a bit in the last few years. 

It could be a YouTuber disclosing that a product they are endorsing was a freebie from the manufacturer. 

Or an influencer explaining that the luxury beach hotel they’ve been posting TikTok and Instagram videos from for the past week… comped their entire stay in return for the coverage. 

Or a fashion blogger highlighting their favorite menswear brands… that they just happened to receive samples of in the mail.

As you know, these affiliate relationships and sponsored content are a key way you monetize your brand… your online business. These opportunities are at the core of what you do, and it might have taken a lot of time and energy to make those connections.

You don’t want anything to derail that. But you could do just that if you’re not careful.

There are a lot of legal issues influencers and content creators cannot ignore … and proper disclosure is one of them…

First, it’s important to emphasize that having your audience know about these types of relationships goes a long way to creating trust, even if getting this free stuff didn’t influence your posts or opinions that you shared at all.

And it’s better that they find out from you directly rather than from some Internet sleuth’s social media post “calling you out.” 

Besides, with the widespread use of sponsorships and the like these days, most of your audience will be totally fine with it and it will not impact your reach or engagement.

People expect it and will accept – as long as you are honest and upfront. Just think about it. Unboxing videos are incredibly popular!

The ethical side of disclosing sponsorships or affiliate relationships is one thing. But what are the laws?

There are actually some pretty serious ones on the books!

As someone doing business online, whether you’re a blogger, e-commerce maven, Instagram star, YouTuber, influencer, or whatever else, you must know the rules in detail or run the risk of falling afoul of the authorities.

And just so you know, although the government is often thought to be well behind the times in the realm of technology… online businesses are definitely on their radar.

So it’s best to be informed with regard to these legal requirements.

The Legal Requirements for Sponsored Content

The Federal Trade Commission is the government agency tasked with monitoring advertising, trade practices, and the like, with the goal of protecting consumers. They’ve been around since the days of newspaper ads and TV commercials (remember those?).

To that end, they require that content creators tell their audiences when they are putting out sponsored content.

It’s a must.

This type of content is defined as that which is created for a company (the advertiser) or is influenced by a company.

This content will essentially promote a specific product, whether it’s makeup or a cruise line or a pair of headphones… in exchange for money, free products, discounts, or other compensation. Yes, even the free cocktails at the hotel bar!

So really it’s advertising, even if it’s wrapped up as a funny dance video or cute cat meme. And that puts these types of videos, social media posts, blog posts, and the like firmly in the purview of the FTC. 

And the FTC says, those sponsorships must be disclosed to the audience clearly. If you don’t, you can face legal consequences, including hefty fines.

In some cases, they might prevent you from engaging in sponsorships in the future. And that could be disastrous for your business.

I should also make clear that these compensated endorsements aren’t the only ones that require disclosure. Any message where you have a “material connection” to the brand must have a disclosure.

And that material connection could also refer to a personal, family, or employment relationship… aside from the financial one I’ve already told you about.

Best Practices for Disclosing Sponsorships

To tell visitors about your sponsorships, you have to be clear enough that the audience will see and understand it easily. No fine print in 2-point type at the end of the post or having the Micro Machines fast-talking guy read something at the end of a video.

On some platforms, these types of disclosures are built right in. For example, Instagram has a paid sponsorship tool. Each platform has its own tools and guidelines.

Whatever you use, be sure to investigate. And don’t pick and choose. Include proper disclosures on every platform you operate on.

But there are also some simple rules you should keep in mind everywhere you might have sponsored content online. The guideline from the FTC is that these disclosures should be hard to miss.

  1. Use terms like “sponsored,” “sponsored content,” “ad,” “advertisement,” or “paid partnership” in your posts. You could even include something like: Thanks to COMPANY NAME for the free PRODUCT!
  2. It’s a good idea to make these disclosures right at the top of your post, so the audience sees it immediately.
  3. And the disclosure should stand out from the rest of the post or content. Putting it at the beginning like I just recommended is perfect for that. But you could also use bold type, for example, if you want to place it elsewhere.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to disclose anything if there is no relationship.

So if you’re writing a blog post professing your love for a new brand of athletic socks you just discovered (and bought yourself), no need to say anything… because the sock company didn’t compensate you in any way. 

A few last things to keep in mind that are both ethical and required by the FTC:

  • You can’t talk or write about your experience with a product if you’ve never tried it.
  • If you are engaged to create sponsored content about a product, you can’t tell the world you had a great experience… if it was horrible.
  • You, of course, cannot make up anything about the product that the advertiser can’t prove.

It’s all pretty cut-and-dried…

Be honest. Be upfront. Make disclosing partnerships and the like part of your routine, and you’ll have no issues.

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