Wednesday, 22 January 2020

AD Content in Blogging Explained | Blog Stuff

I've been asked a few times about the usage of AD declarations on my content so I've had this blog post on the back burner for a while. Mainly because it's all so confusing and as a lay-person, I was concerned about not knowing all of the finer details but I think I have a fair gist of it all a year on from the introduction of the regulations so I'm going to try to explain it as best I can.

And I say 'try to explain' because despite the regulations, it's still a bit confusing whether you're inside or outside the blogging business...and that includes brands. What doesn't help is that people are still bending the rules and being vague about their content. That serves to not only make readers think that their content must be organic, non brand-driven but it also brings the spotlight onto honest bloggers who are declaring everything as per the regulations. It can make the latter seem like they're earning bucketloads of cash from their blog or selling out constantly, whenever that's not the case. In fact, these bloggers declaring according to the law are the authentic ones you need in your life! 
I'm not going to get into the in's and outs of the regulations here as that would be boring but on a very basic level, here are the 4 broad AD categories that everyone who mentions a brand on an open social media account needs to be aware of. With all the legal disclaimers here...do your research to be sure you're compliant.

Paid posts - if you're being paid money to feature a brand, it is an AD. As soon as money exchanges, there's no getting around this. You should use AD at the very top of your post, in the title of a blog post or at the top of an Instagram or Facebook grid post. It is not acceptable to put it at the bottom of the post or amongst the rest of your hashtags. Nor should you use other words like #spon or #iworkwith<insert brand name>

Gifted items - if your post isn't a paid post but you're writing it to feature something that's been gifted to you, it becomes an AD. This is a tricky one because oftentimes, people will assume you're being paid when in fact, you're not. So you'll sometimes see the use of AD-gifted or AD-prsample, and in those cases, it's often the case that the blogger hasn't been paid for the post, simply gifted the item in return for the mention. Some bloggers will just use #gifted and it can be argued that is absolutely open and honest and clear to the reader. It's not exactly in line with regulations though. Interestingly, in the Republic of Ireland, it is sufficient to use #sp (for sponsored) or #gift because their regulations only require that the blogger makes any commercial relationship clear to the reader in an understandable way within the content. It doesn't demand the use of the AD tag.

Affiliate links - these are identifiable links that bloggers use to allow a brand to track back the visit to their site to help them measure the success of a campaign. Authentic bloggers with genuine following will get a click through response appropriate to their audience so it's a great way for brands to assess if a blogger's following is real or bought (this is still a massive issue!) and it also may determine whether a brand will work with a blogger again. 
On top of the tracking of links, the brands will usually track purchases that followed from the link and pay the blogger a commission on this.  Rates vary depending on brands. Some brands pay 1%, others can pay up to 10%, usually where the brand is new or less well known. For me, it averages out at about 2% of the VAT adjusted price of the item. So for a £20 top, the commission is calculated on £16 and working on that 2% average, it would be about 32p. This is paid only if the item is kept by the person. If you return the item, the commission is deducted. Hence, there's a 3 month turnaround on that commission so for items with links I post today, I'll be paid the commission in April once the brand is sure that all items are paid for and won't be returned.

With regard to using affiliate links on social media or on this blog, it must be declared. Generally I'll use AD-affiliate at the top of a social media post but I'll post a longer sentence explaining that affiliate links are being used at the top of a blog post because I don't think 'AD-affiliate' explains it properly to the person on the street. Despite the AD tag, a blogger isn't (usually) being paid a lump sum for placing the link - just a commission on referred sales. Occasionally there will be both a payment of a link but the tag wouldn't change - confusing eh? 

In terms of earnings, I've done campaigns where I've earned £5 in commission....I've done others where I've been paid £70 or £80 and that for me would be towards the top end of earnings. Contrary to popular belief, affiliate links do not earn 5 figure sums for the majority of bloggers. You'd need to have more than 50k followers (I think) to really see a liveable income from links. It constitutes about 10% of my annual income currently and while they make business sense, they are time consuming and finicky. I could see them far enough most days but I always think about the fact that they cover off (almost exactly) the running costs of the blog in terms of URL costs, hosting, email server, graphics and photography.

Employment - this is one that lots of people don't understand but if you give a shout out to your workplace on your own social channels, you need to declare. So for instance, when I worked at the candle company, if I shared any of the lovely products just because I was on my coffee break and had a few minutes, it had to be declared an AD. No payment has taken place, other than the salary you earn for doing your job. It's not sufficient to say 'I'm in work, look at this new candle', under regulations, this is an AD.

The other iteration of this which applies to some bloggers, is where you help out a business with their own social media as a job. So a blogger might be paid £300 a month to go into a particular shop every week and post content on their channels in an anonymous way. Lots of bloggers do these kinds of gigs on the side and no AD declaration is needed as long as the content is on on the shop's channels. However, if that blogger then posts on their own channels to say 'wow, this shop is lovely' or 'buy this top', they need to declare it as an AD. This is one area that's grey and in lots of ways, difficult to police but it is unfair to consumers to on one hand if an influencer is bigging up a brand on their social channels when actually they're working for them behind the scenes managing their channels and cross referencing content across both.

Which brings me onto why I think the declaration situation isn't working one year on:

1. As mentioned above, you can't easily decipher in the case of someone using AD-gift or AD-affilite if they've been paid AS WELL as having been gifted an item and/or using a commissioned link (all three can be in place for some campaigns). This is a big failing. If AD was only used on paid partnerships, this would be clearer for consumers.

2. On Instagram, they've got things set up whereby you can tag a brand to say it's a paid partnership. However, the brand has to approve you to use this tag and most brands are not aware of the functionality. Instagram's systems picks up the use of the word AD however so as soon as I put content up with AD mentioned, I'm tortured with alert messages telling me to mark the item as a paid partnership, but in many cases, I can't because it's not in my power to do so. The onus should lie with the brand to be on top of this so that bloggers don't get penalised for non declaration.

3. In the same vein, on Instagram, if I tag an item as AD but it's NOT a paid partnership, e.g. it's an affiliate link or a gift only, I'm once again alerted for not declaring a paid partnership. Even though I wasn't paid. I have no way to dismiss this and it's likely that Instagram could (or will in the future) hold this apparent breach of regulations, against me. This, I think is preventing some bloggers from putting AD wording on posts in the first place.

4. Different countries have different regulations and that's a challenge if as a blogger, you have an audience across different jurisdictions. There should be more commonality otherwise a blogger in say Ireland could mislead UK consumers because they don't have the same obligations to use AD tags.

5. The only policing of the system is via anonymous reporting which is subjective and can (and has done this year already) lead to bloggers being targeted unfairly. It's also not watertight - it's so often the case of one person's word against another. Compliance needs to come from the brand and PR side of things in the first instance with penalties for businesses who do not demand correct declarations from the influencers they work with. 

6. Essentially, it's all confusing and people are still not declaring properly. The fear of being blacklisted by Instagram or being accused of earning bucketloads by followers...even of being pursued by HMRC on that basis, is definitely having an impact on where and when declarations are used. It's leading to some vagueness in post wordings too - blogger friends have told me they've been told 'don't declare if you can get away with it'. More than once this past year, I've see people declaring gifted items as just that and not indicating that payment has taken place whenever I know the terms of the campaign included both payment and a gift because I was asked to take part in it also. 
What's disappointing is that none of this is in the interest of the consumer, the very person who was supposed to benefit from the regulations in the first place.

So overall, this is a frustrated blogger venting a bit - sharing my desire to be open and honest but feeling a bit let down by a set of regulations that are too unwieldy. I think if the requirement was to be honest in your wording and to use #AD for paid stuff, #gift for a gift, #affiliate for a link and the use of both where a campaign is paid and gifted or paid and linked, it would be easier for all of us and lead to more transparency overall. 

I hope however that this post has maybe shed some light on the process and helped you understand it all a bit more?! Look for authenticity and you'll not go far wrong. If you trust a blogger from the honesty of their content, you can only assume they're going to declare when they should in the correct way and the best way to register your disappointment with a blogger who doesn't appear to declare properly, is to unfollow.

Do share any questions or views on this as always....I hope I have accurately assessed it all but once again, I am not a legal expert and can't claim to understand the precise ins and outs of it all. 
If you're a blogger or a brand and you're not sure, do your research! 

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2 comments

  1. I found this interesting because as well as a blog reader, I’m also a data protection specialist. The rules on electronic marketing in particular are strict. The ICO is running consultation on a new Code of Practice on direct marketing and I strongly recommend you take a read. I was surprised how much is going to be specifically outlawed that would previously been down to interpretation. I like you and people like Midlife Chic or Stylist magazine because I know you care about the law I handle every day so wanted to let you know.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Victoria - I've had a read...lots of changes! Appreciate you sharing this - I wasn't aware of it up to now. It's become such a meaty topic hasn't it and almost beyond the understanding of the people it's there to protect. So good to see the lookalike audience and Facebook pixel stuff being targeted as I've always been surprised it's something that's allowed!

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