What does it mean to write with integrity as a blogger?
To me, writing with integrity means writing honestly, respectfully, and credibly.
Let’s take a look at each of those traits and how they apply to food blogging.
It should be common knowledge that you must disclose if you’ve been compensated to write a post. This is a requirement of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States, the Competition Bureau of Canada (an independent law enforcement agency), and of course Google wants you to do it too. (For more, check out our post on nofollow links) Yet there still seems to be some confusion about when and how bloggers should disclose their relationship with a company.
Let’s consider the concept of a sponsored post. A company representative will usually send you products, or pay you, in exchange for a post or promotion on social media. Other times they compensate you with free meals, accommodation, or transportation and ask that you share your experiences with your reader. Did you know that this is also called Native Advertising? These companies are compensating you for creating advertising content that blends in with the rest of your blog’s other content.
When readers see a sponsored post with beautiful photographs, and a positive review, they are more likely to purchase the product that is being shown. This means that your writing has influence over their purchasing decision. The issue here is that if readers don’t know that you’ve been paid to create this content, they may be mislead into making an inaccurately informed financial transaction. When you write, “this is a sponsored post” you are telling the reader that you have been compensated to create the content, which lets them know that you have a bias.
Yes, when you’ve been paid, you do have a bias.
The same goes for affiliate links. Your reader assumes that you are recommending a product when you link to it on your blog. Therefore, it needs to be very clear to them that when they click that link and make a purchase, you will be receiving money.
In a webinar on the Blogging with Integrity website, an FTC representative explains that you shouldn’t expect your readers to read your blog’s disclosure policy, because many people will not look for it. Specific disclosures should be written into each post as necessary.
Additionally, the Competition Bureau of Canada has internet advertising guidelines (which I recommend reading) that says, “if qualifying information is necessary to prevent a representation from being false or misleading when read on its own, businesses should present that information clearly and conspicuously.” This means if there’s any chance that someone could be mislead by your post, you should make sure your disclosure is available somewhere where people will actually read it.
I would also recommend that you become familiar with the FTC guidelines for .com disclosures, because they aren’t just for American bloggers. They are best practices for bloggers around the world because they help you to be transparent and forward with your readers.
Bottom Line: Make it easy for your readers to tell the difference between editorial and advertorial content on your blog.
Being respectful online is just as important as being respectful in person, but it’s easier to forget when you’re typing instead of talking.
Our blogs are an extension of our homes, and it’s easy to vent there when you’re upset. The important thing to remember is that there are thousands of people sitting in your virtual living room.
If someone leaves a nasty comment on your blog, you can choose to delete it or ignore it. Internet trolls are a reality, and there is no point in arguing with them. However, if someone is politely disagreeing with you, go ahead and debate with them. Respectful disagreement is a good thing.
Remember that a large part of blogging is sharing your opinion. We are all entitled to have our own views, and ultimately your readers probably want to know what you really think anyways. So how do you handle writing a post that has a negative review, or expresses your anger about a situation in a responsible way?
I think the Blogging with Integrity website explains it the best: “attack ideas, not people.”
For example, let’s say your favourite grocery store is no longer accepting competitor coupons. You can complain about the policy instead of bashing the cashier who refused to accept the coupon. Or if you had a terrible meal at a restaurant, you could describe why you didn’t like the food instead of complaining about the chef’s apparent lack of skill.
Other (common sense) tips would be to avoid name-calling, never share the identities of people who upset you, and don’t make it personal.
Bottom Line: There is nothing wrong with giving your opinion as long as you criticize ideas, not people.
Credibility is something that is difficult to gain, but very easy to lose.
As a food blogger, you are considered a professional in your field and people begin to know you for your niche. They come to expect certain kinds of content from you, and when you stray from your niche people can get upset.
For example, let’s say you are restaurant blogger who specializes in writing about independent family-owned restaurants. If you suddenly started blogging about Moxie’s or Jack Astor’s, people would become suspicious of your intentions, and may lose faith in your work.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t try new things, or write new content, but many bloggers find themselves losing focus because they accept sponsorship from brands that don’t fit in their niche. Money is a great motivator, and we all need it to survive, but don’t let the promise of a nice paycheque ruin the hard work that you’ve put into building your brand.
Another way to lose credibility is to copy someone else’s work. While we all know not to remove other people’s watermarks from photos, or to present other people’s content as our own, there are other ways to accidentally infringe on someone’s copyrights. To keep yourself in the clear, make sure you give credit whenever possible. For example, if you adapt a recipe be sure to link to give credit to the original author, and change the instructions into your own words.
If you’re not sure if you need to give credit, check this infographic from Design Sponge.
Bottom Line: Work with brands that suit your blog and always give credit where it’s due.
The Blogger's Guide to Writing With Integrity was written by Shareba Abdul. Shareba is a food blogger and freelance writer from the GTA. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Applied Arts in Media Studies, a Diploma in Journalism, and has a passion for writing, photography, and blogging. You can check out her yummy discoveries at InSearchOfYummyness.com or connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
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