There were hundreds of interactive panels at South by Southwest (SXSW). The session on blogger disclosure and credibility may not have had any fancy prognostications about the future of the real-time web or grand reveals of bold creative insights, but the practical, straightforward guidance on the do’s and don’ts for blogger engagement was among the most important exchanges of the entire conference.

Ever since the FTC unveiled new guidelines for disclosure, there has been a lot of uncertainty about how the guidelines apply to actual engagement activities. For example, it’s clear to everyone that a blogger must disclose if they were given a product, but what about a discount on a product or a service? And where should they disclose: in a sidebar, in the About Us section of their blog, or in each post?

These were just a few of the questions that were asked and answered during the session, both in the room, and by @justicefergie, a representative from the FTC that was answering questions in real-time via Twitter. In fact, it was her online participation which transformed the session from an interesting discussion to an essential conversation, something that @ev and Umair Haque could have learned from during the Twitter keynote a few days later.

There were many people in the room that were tweeting about the discussion. You can find the tweets by searching for the hashtag #bloggercred.

For those who don’t want to wade through the chatter, we’ve pulled together a summary of key learnings drawn from the session:

  • FTC regulations have put fear of God in brands and bloggers about how they should disclose their relationships.
  • You don’t have to disclose anything if you are just a fan. If you happen to love Toyota (GM is an Edelman client) and write about them, you don’t need to make a special disclosure that you own a Toyota. However, if Toyota gives you a car to use for two weeks, you must disclose this. It is Toyota’s responsibility to tell you that you need to disclose.
  • Transparency is key – if you are being paid, you must say that you are being paid. If you are receiving products or services, you must disclose such.
  • There is no difference in disclosure for product vs. services vs. coupons or discounts. You must disclose all of them.
  • You must disclose somewhere in the post itself. It is not enough to post a blanket disclosure in the About Us section or sidebar of your site. The same applies to tweets. You must disclose in each tweet.
  • However, there are popular hashtags for disclosure, which include #paid #ad #spon and #sample.
  • You can also disclose your relationship in a creative way. It does not have to be dry standard statement.*

These are just a few of the highlights from the session. If you were there, or have additions, examples or questions, please post them in the comments below.

You can also go directly to the source, and digest the FTC and WOMMA guidance documents on disclosure:

Additionally, you can reach out directly to @justicefergie who provides guidance for the FTC. During the session, she provided direct, actionable answers to questions that were very helpful.

*Completely unnecessary over-disclosure: Toyota is not a client, but my first car was a hand-me-down 1985 two-tone brown Toyota Camry with 170,000 miles on it. The windows wouldn’t go down anymore and the air conditioner didn’t work because of a lightning-induced electrical quirk that mechanics could never figure out, but it was a great car. I just had to reach through the sunroof at the drive-thru so that the kind people of Sonic could hand me my chicken strip basket – a small sacrifice for the joys of Texas toast.

Image credit: sonnyandandy

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