This post was written by Natalie Taggart, Holistic Health Coach and author of Whole Plate Wellness.
Natalie helps her clients reduce stress, increase energy, and find their purpose through a healthy lifestyle. At Whole Plate Wellness she blogs about how to find the health strategies that work for you so you can live your ideal life!
This group discussion was led by Brandi Koske, respected health journalist, social marketer, and brand manager. Brandi is the editorial strategist for Evomail, a tech start-up producing a competitive modern mail app. She is also the director of publishing for the leading health destination DietsinReview.com. Brandi lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband and daughter, where she gets most of her exercise being a human swing set for the toddler.
Nothing can ever be just as simple as, say, blogging. If you want to do so much as one giveaway, place anything to monetize your site, or even protect your intellectual property, then you need to read the fine print of digital publishing. This session covered critical information bloggers need to know and employ to meet all the federal regulations around sponsored content, advertising, giveaways and contests, copyright, and more.
Brandi opened the session by mentioning that the slides for the presentation, as well as a cheat sheet to various links and resources, are available on her website, www.dietsinreview.com
Many bloggers don’t pay enough attention to the legalities of blogging, including Brandi, so in the course of doing her own research she wanted to pass along what she has learned. She noted that she is not an attorney and that none of the content was legal advice, just what she has found in the course of her research.
Sponsored content is a huge part of blogging. One area where we can save huge legal headaches is just by understanding how to present this kind of content from the jump. Sponsored content is any content where an advertiser or a brand has paid you to run an article or any kind of content about their product. In general, a sponsored article looks like any other article but somebody paid for the placement. For Diets in Review, they charge less if the sponsor provides them with content, and charge more if they have to write the piece.
There is a simple formula – endorsement + compensation = disclosure, no matter what. Bloggers should be absolutely clear and transparent as possible otherwise that’s where they get in trouble. Compensation is shoes, protein bars, vacations, cash, anything they’re giving you is compensation, and if you accept it, you have to disclose it. Disclosures should be at the very top an article and link to your full sponsored post policy. Make it clear, conspicuous, and meaningful. Most important, put it above any link taking a reader to the sponsor. Don’t make your disclosure at the very end with a teeny line. That’s a big no-no.
Social channels are also a place to publish sponsored content, so you need to be clear there too. Whenever you tweet or Facebook post, make sure you lead the post with the word sponsored or something else to make the relationship clear. Brandi noted that using the hashtag #spon at the end of a tweet is not enough because it’s at the end. Somebody could click through the link without realizing it’s sponsored, or not know the meaning of the hashtag. Best hashtags to use: #ad, #paid, #paidad, #sponsored.
If you ever have doubts, check with the organization you’re working with because they have to cover their butts too. For ongoing ambassadorships, you can use the hashtag #sponsor to make clear you’re a sponsored blogger. Always err on the side of caution.
Brandi noted she thought this would be the most relevant to everyone at the session. The language you should use is very finite and specific. Most of us use the word giveaway, which is not accurate. Most of us do sweepstakes, as the appropriate legal language. Sweepstakes is a giveaway with a random winner. A contest is when you have a subjective winner, i.e., upload a photo of your best yoga position, and we’re giving away yoga mats to the best one. To run lotteries, where people pay for entries, you need a lawyer. The language also breaks down by states. That gets into a really gray area because most of us aren’t contained within states, so it’s really important to have a void where prohibited line to cover yourself legally.
Prizes above $5,000 dollars (cumulative) need to be registered and bonded in the states of New York and Florida. Work with the brand to ensure this. You don’t have time to figure out the paperwork. Prizes valued at more than $600 have to be reported with the IRS. Talk to your accountant, because you are responsible for giving them the tax document required for reporting. You must have official rules, there is a link in the cheat sheet that takes you to a site with a huge list of all the details that need to be in official rules. Diets in Review always starts disclaimers that participants must be a legal US resident because they don’t ship outside the country. The rules need to be clear and conspicuous, don’t use 7 point font at the bottom.
For contests, you need to explain how the entry materials will be handled. For example, if someone is submitting their best yoga post, one of the things to do is include age requirements. There is a link to the Children Protection in Marketing and Advertising Act (COPPA) in the cheat sheet, and if you are giving away bicycles to kids for example, you need to follow those rules. Also need to explain how the prizes are handled and what happens to the material at the end.
For contests you also need to explain how the prize selection will occur. Judging, as subjective as it is, is safer than voting. Voting can be sketchy because what if someone has 10 accounts. Be sure you’re clear about what the selection process is, and are clear in directing people to the official rules. The full promotion goes on the blog, you can have the most information there, but when you use Twitter and Facebook to drive people back to participate, make sure that at the end you tell them to visit your site for the official rules.
Brandi then went into social promotion best practices. For Facebook: you are responsible for lawful operations, ie managing official rules. You must include a disclaimer with a release on Facebook and acknowledge that Facebook is not responsible, affiliated, or involved. You also may not use personal timelines to promote, ie, “share this post.” People do it all the time, but it’s not actually allowed and it’s against Facebook terms. That includes asking people for optional chances to compose their own post that mentions a brand. They can like the page, comment on a post etc., just not use their own timeline. If they do anyway but you didn’t ask them, that’s ok. You just can’t say in the rules, for you to win you must share this post. For Twitter, it’s much simpler. Just don’t do anything that will cause your followers to get their accounts suspended. Discourage duplicate posts, ie, most retweets wins. They do encourage you to ask users to @ reply in the required tweet because entries can get lost with hashtags.
Brandi didn’t dig into Instagram or Pinterest but says you should be able to find rules on FAQ pages, if you are running campaigns on those channels.
You have to disclose when you’re advertising. There aren’t actually any laws that regulate ads on your site, this more falls under the terms of service with your ad provider. There is an advertising body, IAB, that manages interactive ads online. They’re the standard bearer for how impressions are counted, whose server you count it from, in a dispute who wins, etc. They define the laws that everybody has to follow.
It’s best to have an advertisement tag underneath the banner, like the AdChoices tag which is built into google ads. Text links you don’t have to disclaim or call out, but read through terms of service to ensure you’re compliant.
You do need an advertising policy. Check out DietsinReview.com for their example and there a lot of other basic templates out there. Disclosure.org is a recommended resource.
Your content is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Anything you produce online is copyrighted. Make sure you have a copyright notice on the bottom of your site. It applies both to you as a publisher and as a consumer of content. Cite your sources, and always ask for permission.
To find your stolen content, use copyscape.com where you can put in your content and find every place it matches on the Internet. Piracy is not only bad for SEO, but it’s against the law. Legally you should go after it and protect it. You have every right to ask them to take it down. TinEye.com will find stolen images.
Do the same thing with guest bloggers. If you have a new writer, or a team of writers, run their first few pieces to make sure they’re not the ones stealing content. Only ever run original content and make sure everything you’re running on your site is clean.
Own your content, protect your content, and go after it. Don’t be nice about it, go in guns blazing from the start because otherwise you can get caught in a cat and mouse game for days and days. If you can’t find their email address, go to the hosting service, who.is is the international registration of web domains. Godaddy.com has a dedicated department to takedown notices. Brandi is happy to share her cease and desist letter, use the contact information on the cheat sheet.
You can’t just send an email to anyone you like. CAN SPAM are regulations for all commercial emails. It’s regulated by the FTC. You can send people an initial email to subscribe but any following emails must have a clear unsubscribe button and no deceptive content. Constant contact and Mail Chimp keep everyone buttoned up but use best practices and don’t be deceptive.
Cheat sheet: http://flwr.it/Fitbloggin