What Online Freelancers Need to Know About Sponsored Content
It’s only a matter of time before many online freelancers and bloggers are faced with the decision about whether or not to accept sponsored content for publication.
In the world of online writing, it’s common for you to be approached and offered the option of publishing or creating (or both) sponsored content. Before you accept, it helps to know where you stand, as well as what is expected of you by the government — as well as your readers.
What is Sponsored Content?
Sponsored content is content you provide as yourself, usually promoting a product, service or company, for a price. Basically, it means that you are publishing something that you wouldn’t normally publish if you weren’t being paid for it.
This is an interesting line to look at, especially for online freelancers like me. I write content for others on a regular basis and am paid for it, but it’s part of a content creation program and the person I write for owns the content and decides what to do with it. When I write sponsored content, it’s what I write for my personal financial blog, or it’s content I write for the purpose of influencing consumers to feel better about a specific company or encourage them to use a particular product or service.
Whether someone is paying you to post something they’ve written (like the advertorials of the days of print publishing past), or whether you are being paid to write about a product, service or company, that’s sponsored content. I currently write sponsored content for two different companies on my blog — properly disclosed of course.
Disclosing Sponsored Content
One of the most important things you can do as a provider of sponsored content is to disclose it properly. In some cases, a general disclosure about affiliate programs on your site or other advertising can work just fine. In other cases, though, it’s important to disclose that you are being paid for your content because it meets certain criteria that the FTC considers an endorsement or that it considers important for consumers to be aware of.
If you are being paid to promote something, or if you are promoting something that you have a relationship with, even if you aren’t being specifically paid for that action, you are supposed to disclose it. The FTC is cracking down on sponsored content, and that means you need to be transparent about what you’re doing. You need to be careful, whether you are promoting something on your blog, or whether you are tweeting something or posting it on Facebook.
I include disclosures at the end of my sponsored posts on my blogs. That way, my readers can see that I am being paid for some of the posts. They can choose to consider my words with a grain of salt. I rarely write something I don’t agree with on my blog. (What I’ve written as a ghostwriter putting others’ words down is another story.) But if it’s on my blog, I usually write what is relevant and real to me. Any sponsored shilling I do as part of that usually fits in with what I would write anyway.
When you write a tweet or Facebook post, or when you are compensated for Pinterest, Instagram or other social network activity, you should also disclose that. I often hashtag the posts I’m being paid for with #sponsored. I know others that use the #ad hashtag as well. You can even use both. The idea is to make sure that you divulge your relationship so consumers know that, at least in some way, you are being directed, whether you are linking somewhere you wouldn’t normally link, or whether you are talking about a specific product when normally it wouldn’t be called out on its own.
Sponsored content can be tricky, but it’s important to be transparent. Not only could you be on the hook with the government (and subject to a fine), but you could also lose the trust of your audience. Whether or not you decide to accept sponsored content or write it yourself, the reality is that your readers deserve to know what you’re up to. Disclosing helps you maintain your integrity, and the trust you’ve built with readers.