We all consume content online, from informational blog articles to funny TikTok videos. But growing a large audience and creating content takes a lot of time and resources, so creators often try to monetize their efforts by working with brands in exchange for some form of payment.

This results in sponsored content, where a brand pays a creator for their efforts. Sponsored content can be beneficial for professional creators such as bloggers, social media influencers, and major publications to survive as a business with brand partnerships. This kind of content can also allow small creative entrepreneurs to make a living from their content.

However, as consumers, we often look up to and trust bloggers and influencers. We seek out information about products to help us decide what we want to buy. When content creators don’t disclose that they were paid to create content for a brand, consumers are not able to factor potential bias into their purchase decision. They can’t make truly informed decisions.

What is the difference between affiliate and sponsored content?

Affiliate marketing and sponsored content are sometimes used interchangeably and often present in similar ways. Content that is “sponsored” simply means that there was some sort of material exchange between a company and a content creator.

Affiliate content is a form of sponsored content. It involves a revenue share model where the content creator receives a commission percentage or flat fee for referring sales to a company. Affiliate sales are tracked in several ways, typically using special links or coupon codes that provide the vendor with information identifying the referrer.

Commonly, an influencer might post something like, “Use my code influencer20 to get 20% off your order. ” When you make a purchase using that coupon code, the company then pays the influencer a referral fee. Affiliate content is one example of sponsored content, but there are other non-affiliate sponsorships as well.

Sponsored content might also look like a company paying a placement fee in exchange for a blog post written about their product. A brand might also pay for a social media post sharing photos of an influencer using their product. In cases like these a content creator will receive a flat fee for their blog post or social media post. The creator will likely link to the website of the brand or company sponsoring the article, but the brand does not pay a commission to the content creator if users make purchases.

How to tell if content is sponsored

Legally, content creators must disclose sponsored content to the audience, so looking out for a disclosure is a great start to identifying sponsored content. However, many websites do not use the proper disclosures, so we’ll share some tips below on how to identify non-compliant sponsored and affiliate content.

FTC disclosure guidelines for affiliate and sponsored content

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission is the regulating body in charge of setting guidelines for advertisers. The FTC has created sets of requirements for people and companies that share any type of sponsored content.

This goes beyond simple situations where a company pays a blog to write a review of a product. It includes a wide variety of situations where any form of payment or exchange is made, like when a company provides a free product for a user to test and review.

The FTC’s disclosure guidelines ensure that consumers know the motive behind the content that they are consuming. When you’re looking for information online, you have the right to know if there are conflicts of interest that may bias the content. If someone is being paid to test and review a product, they

According to FTC guidelines, sponsorship disclosures must:

– Be placed conspicuously. Disclosures cannot be hidden in sidebars or footers of websites, or in a comment of a social media post

– Appear before any product links

– Use clear and concise language that the average person would understand. The language might look like “advertisement” “ad” “sponsored content” “paid post”.

What is native advertising?

Some of the most popular publications online have been using “native advertising.” Native advertising is when a company pays for placement in a way that looks like an objective review or article. It’s in an effort to fool consumers into thinking they are reading an objective review, when in fact they are being sold a product based on opinions disguised as facts.

Native advertising, even with the legally required disclosures, is designed to deceive consumers. If the appropriate sponsorship disclosure is in place, the creator has placed it so that it is visually subtle and easy to miss.

How to identify affiliate content

As we mentioned, the easiest way to identify affiliate content is by finding an affiliate disclosure. Websites that make money from affiliate sales are legally required to disclose their status to readers.

Identifying affiliate links

Affiliate sales are usually tracked using special links. Here are examples of a few different types of affiliate links.

UTM links

Some of the links carry UTM attributes, which look something like this: https://website.com?utm_campaign=CampaignName&utm_medium=PublisherName&utm_source=Channel

Other link attributes

Some affiliate platforms and commerce stores use a different type of link attribute. Amazon affiliate links will include a tag that looks like this: https://amazon.com/product?tag=affiliatetag01-20

Redirect links

Redirect links are another way that affiliate deals are tracked. If you use Chrome as your web browser, when you hover your mouse over a hyperlink, a preview of the link appears in the bottom left corner of your browser.

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