The Critics Were Right About This One Thing

I am terrible at receiving criticism. Even constructive, valid feedback feels like a knife in my soul. I usually go through about 5 stages of acceptance:

  1. What the? They don’t know me. They don’t get me. They’re wrong and what’s more, they’re jerks. I hope they get a flat tire today.
  2. I can’t believe they think/said that about me/to me. I mean, maybe they meant it to be helpful, but seriously, they’re way off-base. I don’t want them to get a flat tire, but I wouldn’t mind if they stubbed their toe or something today.
  3. Maybe I misunderstood what they were telling me. I still think they’re wrong, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Wow…now that I think about it…their criticism had a few valid points. Mostly, it was crap, but there was one nugget of truth in there.
  5. HOLY CRAP EVERYTHING THEY SAID WAS RIGHT AND HOW DID I MISS IT??

I’m especially bad because for the most part, I try my level best to make smart choices, especially when it comes to blogging. I’m not an authority on any topic, and a self-admitted hack at the stuff I do share, but I’ve made a name for myself on playing by the rules. So when someone calls me out (or, like in this case, I eavesdrop on a conversation about bloggers on the whole) it really kind of stops me in my tracks.

The thing is — the critics can be right. The jerks, even when being jerky, often have really valid points.

Why you need to disclose paid and sponsored posts on social media platforms and how to do it

There’s a nasty forum and several Twitter accounts whose sole purpose is to attack bloggers on the basis of their looks, their lives, their posts, etc. I don’t go there because it hurts my heart, whether I read something about myself or someone else. But when I have, I’ve often left thinking:

“Man, they’re right about A, B and C. If only it wasn’t hidden in so much garbage.”

That’s a lot of lead up to tell you that I’m vowing to make a change in the way that I disclose posts, tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram pictures (et al.) to make it crystal clear when I have received free product, compensation, etc. I always do it on the blog (see: http://katywidrick.com/about/disclosure-policy/) but have been less diligent on social media accounts.

I’m not alone, as the Twitter account @FatFluential noted in a series of tweets about how bloggers choose opportunities and at the lack of transparency (it wasn’t directed to me, but I watched it unfold with great interest).

So, I’m vowing to do a better job on all platforms. And I hope you’ll join me.

Examples of this disclosure:

  • #spon, #paid, #ad
  • notes about free items that have been sent (I get goodies by mail a lot)

A year ago, I tried to give you full transparency on why I do accept some (recently, a LOT) of sponsored opportunities: “Why I Sometimes Post Sponsored Content.” I know that it’s not always the best content to read, but I give as much — often more — of my energy to those posts because I don’t want to just be another shill. I want to give you relatable, interesting, entertaining posts that also help me justify an often expensive hobby.

Help me help you. If you ever question one of my posts — why I agreed to it, who paid me, what I got — holler. I may not always like the criticism, but if you are respectful and professional, I promise to listen and learn.

UPDATE: Just hours after posting this, I was hit with a conundrum: I was out running errands in an Ergo Baby carrier that I’d been provided months ago for review. At the time, I disclosed. But in the time since, I’ve snapped pictures of myself using it, sent tweets about how much I love it, etc. Those updates were not sponsored nor were they a requirement of the review. I just love the product and use it all the time! So, what’s the half life for disclosure? I’m still working on it, but I’m moving forward with this: when the posts are directly related to a sponsored post, review, giveaway, etc., OR for the first mention — a free case of Chobani, etc. — I will disclose. But updates past that don’t necessarily need to be disclosed. Agree? Disagree?

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    I love, love, love this! I have also noticed the lack of disclosure among some bloggers and want to make sure I do my best to disclose and be HONEST on my blog. Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. 2

    says

    Oh man. I SUCK at taking criticism. Ask my husband. I have a step by step process very similar to yours. When my husband tells me something I need to do, I pretty much always argue — then the next day I’m like, oh – you were right. sigh. If it didn’t take me to the next day to accept his critics – I think we’d both be in a better place! thanks for sharing!

  3. 4

    Sharla says

    I appreciate your transparency and I am the exact same way when it comes to criticism. HATE it…even when it’s good and probably a little necessary.

    • 6

      says

      Sonja,

      My best advice — don’t wait for people to find you…go find them! I have spent years cultivating relationships with brands and PR companies, but I think there’s a lot of value in taking the first step. Try listing all of the products that you love or want to try, and email them your media kit and cover letter. Just introduce yourself and let them know you’d love to work with them on any projects they have or products they are launching.

      You can also join one of the blog networks I’ve talked about (I have also blogged about where to find business opportunities, which is a good list to start with).

  4. 7

    Marcee says

    My sisters (AND acquaintances/friends) are the same way.

    OMG …. you do not want to ever cross them. They will murder ya. Be advised: STAY AWAY.

    Well, I don’t know. But I can comment.

    By nature we are all sensitive creatures. Female or other, we hurt easily. The thing is, if you try your best, and not be a horribly stubborn (there are sooooo many) individual, you can plainly see the writing on the wall. Right? I think common sense is so very necessary in life. Either you are born with it, or not.

    Some folks do really, really crazy/nutty/stupid/silly things. (Just sayin.) But you knew that already Katy!

  5. 8

    says

    Very good idea! I often have to remind myself to take a step back and ask myself if there is any validity in someone’s criticism. Because often…there is and then I can choose what to do from there.

  6. 9

    says

    I feel the same way about disclosure and transparency and am diligent about doing it in blog posts, but I agree though, I need to do it more on social media. A couple of questions for you if you decide to do a follow up post :) 1) I know you mentioned it on Twitter earlier today, but at what point can you stop using the disclosure hashtag after you receive a free product. 2) What is the difference between #ad #samp and #spons ?? I have an idea of what situations I think each would apply to but I am curious to know if there are rules behind it.

      • 11

        says

        What Julie said…but with my note (because seriously, can I ever let something go by without my opinion?):

        As I read it, the FTC says you need to *start* with #AD. I don’t love this for several reasons, and I’m trying to wrap my brain around the best way to follow the rules but also be clear.

        I think there is a big difference between an ad — a copied and pasted message directly from a brand — and a sponsored opinion — my own words/thoughts but compensated by someone.

        I also think the FTC is selling readers short. I think that people understand #spon, or will if that becomes the standard. So I’m a little annoyed that more care wasn’t taken with this, or that public input wasn’t considered.

        • 12

          says

          Yes, I forgot to mention the whole “you must start your message with #ad” part. Their reasoning for it is that people don’t read anything after the link. So perhaps if you put it at the end of your message, but before the link, it would be okay? That’s the best way I can think of to get around it without ‘breaking the rules’ so far.

          And I agree, I think people understand #spon just fine. The situations in which I’d use #ad versus #spon are completely different, and most of the time, #spon is a better fit for what I’m writing about.

  7. 13

    says

    You always get my wheels spinning with your posts! I never thought about disclosing via ALL social media platforms. Great point! I guess I try to get as much out of my 140 character limit as I can! ha ha!

  8. 14

    says

    Great post – the lack of transparency and disclosure on posts (blog and Twitter) drives me crazy. That said, I have often wondered about my own disclosures of my relationship with my sponsors for triathlon – for example, my ambassadorships are on my blog and on my Twitter bio, but when I post about their products (which I BUY and are not given to me) I never label #spon — what are your views? Does every shout out merit a tag?

  9. 16

    says

    Katy, I think you are always extremely clear when it comes to disclosures. I’ve always been able to discern when a post is sponsored.

    I notice it a lot on instagram. For example, Chobani took up my feed for a good couple of weeks and I hardly saw any disclosure that the product was sent gratis.

    Speaking extremely candidly here, it seems this is a hot button topic because freebies are distributed quite prolifically these days. It’s hard to ignore when your google reader has five different blogs reviewing the same product. I can tell you that I’ll read the reviews on the blogs who I know will review the product fairly versus just praising it blindly. Which is one of the reasons I always read you ;-)

  10. 17

    says

    I seriously didn’t know we were supposed to tag social media shares until the end of last week, since typically I’m linking back to the post with the disclaimer in it. I’m curious about what you find regarding how long after you receive a product and if it’s for anything we get a free sample of or just part of a sponsored post campaign.

  11. 18

    says

    Great reminder to make sure all the bases are covered. I always disclose on blog posts, and BlogHer requires #ad or #spon on posts done with them, but I rely too much on Networked Blogs and Twitfeed for blog links and I’ll start going in and making sure those links are labeled.

    (Interesting this is I have a Lijit search box on my blog and the biggest word in the search cloud right now is “sponsored,” so somebody’s looking.)

  12. 19

    says

    Your update really got me thinking. I’ve wondered about this as well. After awhile, it becomes hard to remember whether what you’re wearing was originally a freebie or provided via a sponsor…. I’d say a month or two after the post is a reasonable half life (and about as long as my short term memory can be relied on to keep track of such things!)

  13. 20

    Sam says

    Love this. And Katy, I have always thought you have been very upfront with your sponsored content.

    Not a blogger, but a blog reader and it really gets under my skin when bloggers do not disclose their involvement with sponsored content or affiliate links. For example, there were several bloggers that reviewed a monthly clothing box delivery. As a reader, I love to read the reviews because it was something that I was interested in purchasing for myself, but I like that other people tested it out before I took the plunge. However, there were certain bloggers that really talked up how they paid for their own box (saying things like “they aren’t paying me to do this, it is something I bought with my own money!”) and included a link, that I KNOW was an affiliate link, but they didn’t mention it at all. A little shady because the company might not be paying them in cash, but essentially the clothes were paid by credits through the links.

    So yes, they probably paid for their first box, but it is unlikely they are paying for subsequent boxes. There isn’t anything wrong with the fact that the credits are paying for their clothes now–in fact I think it is more than reasonable compensation for the time it takes to model the clothes and write the post. But not disclosing that is just wrong. I am not trying to pick on anyone and this is just one example, but I see it all the time.

    I read a blog called Money Saving Mom. She is VERY upfront about sponsored content, affiliate links and advertising. I respect that she never tries to hide anything. Other bloggers could take note.

    • 21

      says

      Yeah, I wonder sometimes if bloggers just don’t remember to disclose or don’t know how or…

      It’s crucial. Affiliate relationships count. I do keep some ads in my sidebar with affiliate links but I think (hope?) that’s understood and I also disclose that on my policies page.

      Running to check out MSM now!

  14. 22

    says

    This is a great post! FatFluential called me out for not disclosing I received free product from Schwans, even though I mentioned in the post that I received the product free from Schwans. I think it’s because I didn’t have a blatant disclaimer on the bottom since it wasn’t a sponsored post, just free product and you had to read the post and not just look at the pictures and bold words to know I got it free. I have to look into to all that to make sure I’m following everything legally.

  15. 23

    says

    Katy, do you think #spon in tweets is enough? Or does it have to be #ad? I still haven’t seen clarification from Fitfluential about this unless I missed it. Also, it seems really murky to me. Like, if I get invited to a businesses grand opening and they feed us and give us a goody bag, but there is no explicit agreement to blog about it (but of course it’s understood…it’s why they invited me), is that a sponsored posts and are all my tweets/FB updates about the business opening considered sponsored? I want to do things correctly, and I do always say, “They fed us this awesome food…and gave us this awesome goody bag, all opinions are my own”, but do not usually put the #spon or #ad hashtag in the tweets in those cases. I don’t actually accepted cash compensated opportunities, but I realize product is compensation. When is a tweet considered sponsored? If you have received ANYTHING of any value from the business, then are all your tweets regarding that business considered sponsored even if they didn’t ever ask you to tweet? I don’t want to hide anything, but 140 characters isn’t much :)

    • 24

      says

      I can’t imagine why you’re confused…I mean, the FTC has made it so simple!

      [[[crickets]]]

      Seriously, I spent an hour last night reading through this: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2013/03/130312dotcomdisclosures.pdf and the recent #AskFTC twitter chat. I’m more lost than ever, and the sad thing is — those of us who are trying to do the right thing will probably do the wrong thing while the people who blow off the rules will just keep on keepin’ on.

      The most bizarre part of all of this is that as I read it, the FTC has offered suggestions, but not many mandates (if someone is a lawyer and wants to help me clarify, I’d love it!). In the chat, they said their recommendation is to start all tweets with #AD, but didn’t say it is law or a fineable offense.

      And I have a major issue with #AD and even #sponsored:

      1) an ad to me is direct copy from a brand — a commercial that I post word for word (which I don’t do, but I digress) and I agree that that should START with #AD

      2) sponsored posts and tweets, to me, are updates that someone is compensated for but are in his/her own words. These should include #spon (I hate that they’re assuming reasonable people can’t figure out what that means, and instead recommend the full #sponsored) but not #ad because I think there is a distinction

      3) free samples are addressed but in a murky way in the FTC guidelines — they say using “FS” is not enough to disclose, but truly, getting free product or samples, solicited or not, is not sponsored or an ad. I have been using #freebie because I want to disclose, but this one throws me for a loop

      THEN (see, I told you I am still working through it) there’s the issue of gifts — like in the case you’re talking about with the events. If I’m invited to an event as a blogger, but with no contract or requirement to post, and I *do,* either about the experience or a goody bag, how am I supposed to share that? The FTC says if it’s too hard to make clear in a post, tweet or otherwise, you shouldn’t share at all. That’s a shame.

      So, I’m going to do the best I can — to ask “what would I want as a reader?” and then hope that the FTC is reasonable.

      (Which, by the way, they don’t define — they say that we as bloggers should determine whether a “reasonable audience member” would understand #ad, #spon, etc. I’d argue that my audience, filled with fellow bloggers, is more likely to understand than others, so how is one to tell what is reasonable?)

      I’m using #spon or #sponsored on sponsored posts, #freebie on posts where I received something, #affiliate on affiliate links, #client on posts that involve a work project and NOTHING on things that I bought or were given to me outside of the blog — like a birthday present. Like I said, simple.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The Critics Were Right About This One Thing: I love this for 1. the concept of being more open about sponsored posts on all accounts (i’ll try to remember!) and 2. that judgmental comments sometimes have a bit of truth in them and 3. it’s awful that there are places dedicated to bashing bloggers [...]

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