Why Disclosure Matters

The issue of users of social media disclosing their connections to the content they are sharing has been around a long time. In fact, it pre-dates social media and actually goes back to journalism (both print and broadcasting). But, with the rise of citizen journalists and easy to use blogging software, the issue needs to be addressed repeatedly so that the folks who don’t have a J-School background understand.

I first realized what a major problem this was back in 2009 when I attended BlogHer in Chicago. It was a rude awakening in many ways, but one thing that really stuck me was how demanding (and clueless) some of my fellow bloggers were. At the trade show, a representative from a major camera company shared a story of a blogger insisted that they “had” to send her two cameras (one to giveaway and one for her). Why? Because she blogged.

At a panel later in the conference on the topic of disclosure, the discussion among the members of the panel and the audience got a bit heated. Finally, one of the bloggers shouted, “But journalists get things sent to them all the time!” I couldn’t take it any more and yelled back, “But they send them back!”

A recent post on the Six Pixels of Separation blog raised the issue again. As Mitch Joel points out, with the FTC now monitoring blogs and now holding publishers responsible for “misleading consumers with native advertising”, disclosure is even more important now. Even Facebook or Instagram likes can be taken as a sign of you and/or your blog endorsing a product. Same can go for retweets on Twitter and so on.

Lack of disclosure also does something else. It makes your personal brand less authentic. And when it’s less authentic, it’s less valuable to your readers and to you.

On both RadioCarla.com and Hoperatives, I’ve tried to be totally open about when I’ve received a review unit or been invited to a soft open to try out a new better beer location as their guest. But, I’m planning to go back through all of my posts to make sure I was as authentic as possible.

I had an interesting Twitter conversation with a long time blogger and friend recently about this issue. She mentioned that she had started waiting to review Disney events/attractions later rather than sooner. She was skipping the private events and going when the general public could also go. She mentioned that it was “funny when you want to post a disclaimer that you did NOT get anything for free.” I replied that I had seen (and done) that on occasion and think it adds authenticity to the review or post.

It’s true. Unfortunately, because of lack of disclosure too often in social media/blogging, I’ve come to assume that when certain users use social media to talk about being at a play or new restaurant opening, I immediately think they must have gotten comp tickets or a free meal. At that point, nothing they say about the event or location is valid for me.

I’ve written before about how you need to be careful what you blog. It’s even more important now with the FTC watching. Now, please be careful how you share on social media too. If you are live tweeting an event for any kind of compensation, be sure to make an early tweet about whether you are being compensated or if you have a connection with the event or product.

And those of you who are trying to get your clients and their products placement in blogs and other social media? Please stop rewarding the ones that violate disclosure rules all the time. How valuable is that placement if the person giving you coverage isn’t authentic?

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