In Blog We Trust: Affiliate Disclosure and Community

In Blog We Trust: Affiliate Disclosure and Community

I think that affiliate links are a great way for bloggers to do business across social media platforms. Yet, they’re not always disclosed as such, and that’s a problem. Our success depends on the integrity of this community. A blogosphere built on trust and authenticity.

Affiliate programs offer the opportunity to share things we love with readers and, if they love them too, the potential to offset some blogging costs by making a small commission. I belong to two and like that I can be specific and personal in choosing what I want to advertise and when - be it a book that inspired me, a pair of shoes I am wearing, or a coffee table I covet.

I list my affiliate info in my disclosure policy, as well as any post that includes links because I believe this transparency is important in the blogosphere. It’s not about the FTC. I talk to bloggers in countries without such guidelines who agree it’s about ethics. It’s about honest relationships between bloggers and readers.

In BlogHer’s 2012 Women and Social Media Study, statistics show that:

“We purchase based on trust, and blogs drive highest percentage conversion from trust to action.”

This trust can’t be taken for granted. I think readers should know when we’re doing business with them.

Every time I see a disclosed affiliate link or sponsored post or an ad on a blog, a blogger reminds me they’re trying to make a living. That’s an honorable thing.

I love that this community can support one another with a click.

The value of time and talent is hard to quantify, but I think most bloggers don’t make what they’re worth. So, the fact I can buy a book on someone’s recommendation and at the same time give them something in return is a fabulous concept. It’s what led me to become an Amazon affiliate myself. I write about and reference books all the time on my blog. It felt like an organic way to support my site.

While I can use these links beyond my blog, and probably could have greater reach, I don’t. Because there doesn’t seem like an easy way to disclose within an update, pin or tweet.

Wait. Let me rephrase that.

I don’t use affiliate links beyond my blog because not everyone else discloses. Rather than worry that disclosure will make people less apt to click through, I choose not to do it at all. I fear they’ll see my disclosed one and judge it negatively, even though they’re clicking undisclosed ones all the time.

FACT: I’m putting the shame in self promotion.

I write If Emily Posted as a netiquette and social media ethics guide. As with all etiquette books, IEP has rules; guidelines to try and make sense of this Wild West Web. I’ve written regularly about the need for bloggers to balance self-promotion with interaction. With tweets, I call it “The 8 in 10 Rule.” In general, for every 10 tweets you send, 8 should be interactive and 2 self-promoting. It keeps things conversational and interactive. I think it applies well on Pinterest and Facebook pages too.

I know that most tweets, posts and pins are for a wider audience than just me, but sometimes it can feel personal when a blogger regularly uses affiliate links on social media platforms without disclosure. In fact, I recently found myself avoiding several sites because they were so far off the 80/20 mark that I began to find what they shared nothing more than ads to buy things. Undisclosed ads.

I hate the idea of not wanting to support this community. I hate questioning someone’s motives for not being honest about what they’re doing when deep down I wonder if they’re not disclosing for the same reason I’m not using affiliate links beyond my blog - they don’t know how to do it.

FACT: Affiliate links can be posted across a wide variety of social media platforms. They should be disclosed.

Often, the only thing stopping us from disclosing them is us.

So, here’s my plan:

I’m going to begin including affiliate links in posts and tweets with the hashtag #ad. I love that it's as simple and as transparent as it can be. It's already in use, by companies like BlogHer, and I like the idea of taking an existing hashtag and letting it grow until it becomes a reflex to use and no surprise to see.

  •  #ad to say there is no shame in an affiliate link.
  •  #ad to say that the blogosphere is built on trust.

BlogHer's commitment to transparency in disclosure is a reason I really enjoy writing for them. As Susan Getgood, Vice President of Influencer Marketing for BlogHer, says, "The audience needs to be informed about the material relationships of the influencers they follow." And with that in mind, BlogHer’s "sponsored tweets include a hashtag that identifies the sponsor and/or the campaign as well as the #ad hashtag. We chose the #ad hashtag for Twitter as the shortest hashtag that clearly conveys the sponsored nature of the tweet...We prefer #sponsored for Facebook since it doesn’t have such a strict character limit, but we know that many of our influencers use automated tools to push to Twitter and Facebook simultaneously, so #ad is acceptable."

I once read an article about disclosure by blogger and attorney Sara Hawkins. One line in particular really stayed with me:

“Disclosure is evaluated through the eyes of the consumer, not what we think we can get away with while being as vague as possible.”

RULE: Every blogger should have a disclosure policy easy to find and read. If you’re unsure where to begin, check out the disclosurepolicy.org free policy generator.

As a blogger, I expect readers to treat my content with respect, and I want to respect the way I present content to them. It’s a two-way street.

If I see the hashtag #ad on Facebook or Pinterest, I’m quite certain I will have greater respect for the blogger that put it there. I might even bookmark that link so that if I want that item at a later date, I can go back and be sure to give them the commission. To thank them for sharing what has value.

I like the idea of #ad being a badge of approval. Like the Good Housekeeping seal.

I believe in taking the shame out of self-promotion.

I believe in keeping affiliate links affiliated with something positive.

Photo Credit: Truth via Shutterstock.

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