I had a conversation with a blogger friend, Emma recently about the new ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) rules for disclosure when it comes to content bloggers share online. This includes anything found on websites as well as social media. The reality is it can be very confusing for us as bloggers, but with the right research you can clear it all up! Here are my top tips for understanding if your content is an ad or not.
The two consideration factors
There are two important points to consider with any content a blogger (or journalist or other publication for that matter!) you put online. These will dictate whether the content is an ad or not.
Have you been paid to post the content?
Payment, regardless of its form, is the first step in creating an ad. There are three main forms of payment:
You have been sent a product to include in a blog post or on social media.
You have been sent a voucher in return for posting on your blog or social media.
You have been sent payment via PayPal or BACS.
If a brand has provided any of these, it may be an ad... but wait, there's more!
Have you been given instructions as to the type or timeframe of content you are posting?
The second stage of deciding if you are sharing an ad or not is to consider who has editorial control over the content. There are two parties involved, yourself and a brand. Here are the ways each party could be in control.
You have full control over the content. In this scenario a brand has simply sent some form of 'payment with so guidelines as to it's use. For example: a product sent for review where no outlines have been given as to the provision of content.
The brand has partial control over the content. This means in some way they have given instructions as to how the 'payment' is to be used. For example: they have asked for specific content to be posted, they have provided a deadline for you to post by, or they have final editorial consent prior to the content being shared.
If one, or both of these two factors have not been met then the content would not be considered advertorial by the ASA standards.
The full details of these two factors can be seen on the ASA website here where they outline in detail the points I have shared above.
Where should I disclose?
You should always disclose as early as possible (the ASA call it a 'timely' manner on their website here) within any content you share, regardless of its placement on a blog or social media channel. Here are three ways this needs to be done.
In the title of a blog post.
Whether it is an ad, a guest post or a review, it should be clear in the title. This will mean that it is immediately obvious from search engines and your home page what the content you are sharing is. I also include it in part within the URL. For example all my reviews are found with /reviews/ in the URL, such as https://www.mebecomingmum.co.uk/reviews/mudandbloom-gardening-crafts.
At the beginning of a blog post.
This can either be done in the form of a disclaimer seperate to the post, or within the text. For example I recently reviewed a Molly Brown London necklace which was gifted to Squidgy, and in the first paragraph text as you can see below, I have disclosed it was sent to review.
At the start of any social media content.
It must be made clear at the start of all social media posts (regardless of the channel being Facebook, Instagram both posts and Insta stories, Twitter or YouTube) if the content you are sharing has been paid for in some way. This is because people do not always click the ... more on Instagram or ... See More on Facebook. As well as being at the beginning the ASA website states here that all disclosures must be clear and understandable to the masses. Here are two examples of how I disclose on social media.
For an ad
Recently I was asked by Smyths Toys to put up a post about their new catalogue for Christmas. I knew it was an ad because it fulfilled the two criteria I explained above. I was paid (in the form of a gift voucher to spend in store) and asked to post by a specified date prior to the catalogue release (so I didn't have full editorial control). Before the Instagram content begins, I immediately make it clear it is an ad by using [AD]. Some people prefer to use hashtags, but whatever your preference it needs to be clear to everyone.
For a review or gift guide
For products that I have been sent to review, either in part within a gift guide or as a full review, I simply place it within the first sentance on the post. For example when Cheerz sent me some photo magnets to review within my Christmas gift guides, although I received 'payment' in the form of the magnets, they had no control over whether I decided to include them on my blog or social media, what I wrote or the time frame I decided to work within. Therefore I simply mentioned in the first sentance that Cheerz sent them my way.
What about days out and press trips?
In a section on the ASA website featuring frequently asked questions, they actually say 'freebies' such as press trips do not need to be disclosed. However the post was done in 2014 and with the the new guidelines brought in this year I would recommend using the same process as with other content to decide the type of disclosure you want to include. I use hashtags like #giftedforeview or #presstrip to show that I have been given free entry. For example we we invited to the opening of Rock Up in Watford, and they just wanted us to try it out; no strings attached. I regularly use Insta stories anyway so it was natural for me to include coverage of our time there, but I made sure to clearly show the hashtags on each post.
The Influencers Guide
I hope that I have made it pretty black and white now which a little research on the ASA website about how and when you should be disclosing. If you are still not 100% sure the ASA and CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) have created an awesome Influencers Guide to advertorial content which you can download here. It is completely free and has a flow chart that you can follow to decide how you need to disclose on any of your upcoming collaborations.
I am by no means an expert on this but I have done extensive research into the rules to make sure that I don't get it wrong. As you have seen I have shared the sources of my information throughout this post and all of it has come direct from research on the ASA website. I hope it is a bit clearer for you now and you can carry on posting online to your hearts content.