I was written about today in a New York Times Magazine piece about mom bloggers, by the Times’ Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin. Or, more specifically, my disclosure policy was written about. It’s on page 3:
Amy Oztan, who blogs at SelfishMom.com, is particularly transparent when it comes to her sponsors. She has a lot of them — companies who pay her, in money or in product, to advertise on her site or to mention them. Oztan has an entire section explaining how she makes her money, including an extensive index of tabs she uses to alert readers to the economics of everything she writes.
Lisa goes on to give examples of compensation levels and product mentions. I’m a huge fan of hers. Her Motherlode blog is very popular, and being quoted there a couple of times early on helped put me on the map. And now I’m there again, a big paragraph about something that I’m immensely proud of and find completely ridiculous at the same time.
I don’t like writing about blogging on my blog (that’s why I started a kind-of sub blog, Behind The Screen, for that purpose). It’s like when Oprah started opening her show with scenes of the control room as they opened the show. I actually love that kind of behind-the-scenes stuff. But I would rather watch a completely separate show about how Oprah is produced than see glimpses of it during the show.
But I decided to put this post here, because that disclosure exists for you, the reader. Not the blogger who’s also a reader, not the PR pro, but the reader who might come to my site not only to read about what’s going on in my life, but also about the products that could become a part of yours. I have no idea how many people have purchased products that I’ve written about, but I love writing about them. And you know what I like even more? Getting paid to write about them. While I do write about a lot of products while having absolutely no connection to the company, I’ve had many opportunities to write about products that I didn’t pay for, and written many posts that were paid for by a company.
I’ve always disclosed in my posts when I was getting paid or getting something for free, from day one. It just seemed like the reasonable thing to do, what I would want to see on someone else’s blog. In the beginning it was very simple, just one line explaining the situation. But as time went on, things got more complicated. I think it started with a Casio camera that I had received for free. I was mentioning it something like a year later – not even reviewing it, just mentioning that it had been hanging around my neck as I fell off of a Segway in the Bahamas (yes, yes I did). And I thought, do I need to disclose THAT? Do I really need to interrupt my writing to insert a line about how I’d gotten a camera for free a year ago?
The guiding principal behind disclosing these types of relationships is so that the reader knows you may have been influenced to mention the product, or to say something favorable about it. So surely, even if I had felt some kind of pressure to mention the camera when I first got it (which is debatable – I have an entire room on my top floor dedicated to free products I’ve never mentioned), that pressure would have dissipated by that point, right? I was mentioning the camera because it had become a part of my daily life.
I guess I could’ve just mentioned the camera without mentioning the brand name, but the point of the mention was to say that it had been open and hanging around my neck, and had survived being crushed under me while I was crushed under a Segway. Wouldn’t readers want to know exactly which camera had survived that? I wasn’t mentioning it because they had given it to me for free oh so long ago!
…Or was I? Would I have had that particular camera around my neck that day if Casio hadn’t given it to me for free? Almost definitely not. I loved that camera, and I talked about it like I was being paid (even though I wasn’t). But the fact remained that had I not been sent that camera for free, I wouldn’t have been talking about it. I wasn’t even aware before that Casio made anything but keyboards.
So, I came up with what was supposed to be a simple idea: a little disclaimer at the end of each post linking to a bigger explanation. I would still write in the post when something was given to me the first time I wrote about it, probably the second, maybe the third…but eventually that fact would matter less, and it would just go in the disclosure.
But like so many things in my life, what I started as a way to simplify things got very complicated. There are now fifteen disclosure levels covering everything from paid links to getting a free trip. I’ve created a version without my name on it that lots of other bloggers link to for their disclosures. And now, it’s been written about in the New York Times.
I love writing about brands, I really do. But it would be a lot easier if I could just put a banner disclosure at the top of my blog stating that I’m in bed with every company in the world and I’m paid for everything. I always mean what I say, no matter what the disclosure, no matter what the relationship. The rest is just to keep lawyers employed.
Oh, and my husband’s a lawyer – I guess I should disclose that too. :-)
That was going to be the end of the post. Then I got a comment on this post, which sums up nicely the credibility problem you face when you accept money and products from companies. As I said in my response, it is what it is.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 1. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn, Behind the Screen, and Momtourage, and podcasts with The Blogging Angels.