Why Affiliate Vendors Need to Start Taking the Rap

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There’s a lot of news about disclosure online at the minute.

I’ve written about it a ton of times (and spoke about it over at Joe Hackman’s radio show), and smart bloggers like Lorelle are giving some great tips on how bloggers (and other online network users) should go about disclosing their affiliate or professional relationships (thanks to Christina Kingston for the heads-up on Lorelle’s post).

It’s becoming even more important as the U.K. joins the U.S. in cracking down on non-disclosed social updates, whether it’s on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else.

Simply put, if you’re using your platform to promote a service or product on behalf of someone else, you need to state that relationship clearly. Unfortunately, many bloggers and social network users are failing to do this – and the blame’s not entirely theirs.

Instead, it’s the affiliate vendors who are letting their affiliate marketers down.

Yes, You Do Have a Responsibility

I once asked a vendor about their approach to disclosure. The vendor in question makes a product, and a lot of people sell it as part of an affiliate scheme. The product’s very popular, so the vendor has probably made a nice amount of income from it.

I’d seen a lot of tweets and blog posts about this product, where it was clear the affiliate link was being used but not disclosed. I asked the vendor if they were aware, and why they weren’t being more vocal in ensuring affiliate links were disclosed. The vendor’s response?

“Of course, we’d prefer all links to be disclosed. But it’s not our job to police all our affiliates to make sure they’re adhering to the guidelines.”

I disagree and call BS on that.

The minute you make someone a salesperson for your company – which is exactly what an affiliate seller is – you have a responsibility to make sure they’re representing your company properly, and that they’re not breaking any laws in the process of that representation.

It’s your responsibility to make sure that they’re aware of any online regulations, especially in the wake of the FTC and ASA rulings in their respective countries. Saying you have it covered in your Terms and Conditions is an easy out, as we all know how often people read the small print (hint – not a lot).

If you’re not making it clear to your sellers what they need to be aware of, you’re setting them up for legal action or, at the very least, a need to take down their promotion of your products.

But there’s another reason why you, the vendor behind the affiliate program, needs to make sure your bloggers, tweeters or whatever, are disclosing their affiliation to you. The FTC doesn’t really care about the bloggers.

Instead, the FTC will be coming after you.

Bloggers 1, Vendors 0

In the most recent update to their guidelines, the FTC makes it clear who’ll suffer for non-disclosure. “We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to. If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been.”

Of course, this shouldn’t be taken that bloggers no longer have to disclose – that’s still a given, as it is with Twitter, Facebook and other social network updates. However, it does mean that vendors can no longer claim to have no responsibility to “police affiliates”, because it won’t be the affiliates who get taken to court for non-disclosure – it’ll be the vendors themselves.

The funny thing is, the vendors can make it easier on themselves with just a simple, big bold piece of copy that all new affiliates see when they sign up to an affiliate program:

“Due to regulations regarding the disclosure of beneficial partnerships, we must ask you to make sure you disclose any affiliate links when talking about our product, regardless of where you are.”

This covers everyone – even if they live in a country that doesn’t require disclosure at the minute – and the affiliate can’t say they weren’t aware of the regulations, because they’ve agreed to them before being allowed to become part of the affiliate program.

PR and marketing programs could also adopt this approach, so any bloggers or Twitter users, etc, that are part of a promotional program know they have to make sure they’re not misleading anyone with their promotional updates.

Heck, it’d even offer those vendors moaning about policing their affiliates a fix, since they’ve made it clear and simple to understand what’s required from their affiliates, as opposed to being hidden in some small print.

I don’t know – seems kinda simple to me. How about you?

image: poropitia outside the box

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown is partner at Bonsai Interactive Marketing, a full service agency offering integrated, social media and mobile marketing solutions. He is also founder of the 12for12k Challenge, a social media-led charity initiative connecting globally and helping locally.

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