Blogger Crackdown: The New Commercial Laws Simplified

Tami Briesies 4 years ago

“With great power comes great responsibility,” states the famous Voltaire quote.

It’s a truth that is coming to home to roost among the world’s most influential bloggers as authorities move to begin regulating the powerful industry.

The move by the Competitions and Markets Authority and Google to tighten down on the growing influencer world was proof, were it needed, of the emphatic rise of the blogger in today’s world.

The growing reach of those running blogs, vlogs and social accounts has slowly been gaining the attention of the world’s brands and with it, the request for reviews has skyrocketed.

As a result, the authorities have been making it clear that reviews should be clearly labelled as ‘advertising'. But while we have heard lots from those imposing the rules, what about the actual bloggers it affects?

With existing relationships in place with more than 10,000 bloggers, Zazzle was perfectly placed to get to the bottom of the view from the other side of the fence. In an exclusive poll across those contacts a massive 83% expressed more nervousness about running any form of review or advertorial, with a further 71% saying they were still not clear on where the line was being drawn.

As part of the poll we also interviewed a number of influencers on the subject.

Poppy D recently wrote a blog post where she discussed her opinions and we decided to get her thoughts on the subject:

I do think people have got a lot better at disclosing paid work, but I think there's still a problem with disclosing freebies and press trips… It still feels ‘cowboyish’ when stuff like that happens, but I feel like there has generally been a bit of a backlash across forums and social media, and bloggers are aware of this and have got better at disclosing to help build back that trust. There are still some serious offenders though and if they can sleep at night then part of me can't blame them, seeing as they seem to 100% get away with it.”

Interestingly enough, Poppy also ran a poll via her Twitter account recently that revealed many disagreed with her opinions that PR/brand approaches to influencer engagement had improved.

In fact, 38% thought it had worsened while 32% felt it had stayed the same. Only 30% thought it had improved. Is this, however, an issue around payment, not disclosure?

What’s more is that this non-disclosure could be having a negative effect on the generation now growing up to think that living the high life of an influencer is entirely attainable. In her blog post, the analogy she uses around airbrushed images in the magazines hits the nail on head; this digitally airbrushed lifestyle is something that will have young men and women thinking it’s entirely ordinary, when it may not necessarily be.

What is missing from the equation is the hard work and dedication that influencers have put into living this lifestyle - but it certainly needs to be disclosed - why would you be ashamed of having the chance to collaborate with incredible brands?

Amazingly, Poppy admitted to a lack of knowledge around the new rules that Google has rolled out.

I didn't realise Google had actually issued any rules, which perhaps shows how ineffective stuff like this is and what a grey area disclosure still is. I've looked them up, and I still think the guidance is too wishy-washy (or what I read was, anyway) and I don't think it's Google's place to step in either - I want the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) to be the ones making the rules and, crucially, enforcing them.”

So the question here is this - are we taking Google seriously? If this is a problem that is increasingly common among this industry, perhaps this is something that should be addressed.

Megs at Wonderful You also stated her opinion on the subject:

I think it’s totally OK to say. But it hasn’t impacted what I do. As long as the content is authentic and genuine, it shouldn’t matter - at the end of the day, the blog is about you, not about a product.

We believe this is a fair comment; if it’s a reflection of you, whatever the collaboration may be, it shouldn’t matter if you’ve got to disclose. If you’re not, would that make you - for want of a better word - shady?

We asked Joey London the same questions, to which he replied:

It doesn’t really bother me to be fair as I normally state when I’m working with a brand on a post, but it is a bit annoying that we could all have the Google police chasing after us if we don’t mention it’s a collaboration.”

This was certainly echoed by the rest of the community, with the poll revealing their wariness around Google’s new rules - 29% felt that there were just so many of them, while 19% felt they needed to be more cautious in case they were hit by a penalty.

What do you need to know?

The rules issued by Google:

Use the nofollow tag where appropriate. Links that pass PageRank in exchange for goods or services are against Google guidelines on link schemes.

Companies sometimes urge bloggers to link back to:

  • The company’s site
  • The company’s social media accounts
  • An online merchant’s page that sells the product
  • A review service’s page featuring reviews of the product
  • The company’s mobile app on an app store

Bloggers should use the nofollow tag on all such links because these links didn’t come about organically (i.e., the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide free goods or service in exchange for a link). Companies, or the marketing firms they’re working with, can do their part by reminding bloggers to use nofollow on these links.

Disclose the relationship- 

Users want to know when they’re viewing sponsored content. Also, there are laws in some countries that make disclosure of sponsorship mandatory. A disclosure can appear anywhere in the post; however, the most useful placement is at the top in case users don’t read the entire post.

Create compelling, unique content-

The most successful blogs offer their visitors a compelling reason to come back. If you're a blogger you might try to become the go-to source of information in your topic area, cover a useful niche that few others are looking at, or provide exclusive content that only you can create due to your unique expertise or resources.”

If you’re working with brands, then there must be some sort of disclosure regardless of what it is you’re doing. Bloggers are now fortunate enough to be invited to Coachella for the week, the Maldives, New York, LA, working with the biggest and the best; Fenwicks, Olympus, Dior, Chanel, YSL and so many more. It’s incredible, and there certainly is a degree of pride you feel for a community that has grown so much, and is now recognised as a legitimate source of influence.

In a nutshell, this is what it comes down to:

A. Your blog won’t get deleted
B. Build links FOR your blog - trust us, it’s for your own benefit
C. Having genuine do-follow links scattered around your blog is absolutely fine and will not damage your blog, nor will it get you in penalty; in fact, it’s the best thing you could do - if you’re linking to genuine sources then it’s fine
D. ALWAYS disclose if you’ve been sent an item for review, or whether you’ve been paid. It’s in your own interest to. The CAP have previously stated that “a key rule under the CAP Code is that if the content is controlled by the marketer, not the vlogger [or blogger], and is written in exchange for payment (which could be a monetary payment or free items) then it is an advertisement feature and must be labelled as such.

The result

Despite such a large amount of bloggers from our poll expressing their nervousness around reviewing items, it’s important to remember that it is still OK. Relationships that have been built with brands is not a negative, however the way that you could perhaps go about highlighting this relationship and what they give you could have implications.

The gist of the whole situation is this - there is no need for nervousness. As much as we hate rules like this, we have to remember they are there for a reason, and Google’s goal here is to maintain genuine content across the web. Gone are the days of spamming and hiding whether you’d built a relationship with a brand - be proud of the work you put into your blogs. Particularly when this is full time, be sure to shout about it. There is no shame in sharing.

Now the question is, will these new rules begin to creep in anywhere else? Possibly. Perhaps with the need to declare ads on Twitter and Instagram, Snapchat will follow suit but verbally? Poppy told us:

I actually think people are quite good at disclosing on Snapchat because it's a much more real platform so people are often saying, "look what came in the mail today," or what-have-you. It's more natural so the disclosures just flow as part of the narrative. It's more on Instagram and in blog posts that I think people don't disclose freebies.

So, who knows, but where payment is concerned, transparency will always need highlighting.

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