5 Ways to Maintain Your Ethical Standards in the Blogging World
Ever feel a little disenchanted with the world of blogs? We understand. As much as we love pulling inspiration from blogs, sometimes it can feel a little… fake.
Don’t get us wrong. There are plenty of incredible design blogs out there that produce genuine, quality content. EcoCult — a blog devoted to all things sustainable in NYC and beyond — is one of them. Today Alden Wicker, the editor in chief of EcoCult, shares how she maintains her ethical standards in the blogging world.
I consider myself a journalist. Why? Well, because I graduated with a degree in journalism. Plus, I worked on an editorial team for two years, being trained in news creation and coverage. Those are the surface credentials, anyway.
But more importantly, I am a journalist in the way I conduct myself every day when writing. I adhere to a commonly accepted set of rules that govern ethical reporting.
Many bloggers don’t adhere to these rules, either because they come from a different world where they never got the chance to learn them, or because they don’t think those rules apply to their blog. How important is to maintain your ethical standards when you post about bags?
I would argue very. I think they’re what separate the good bloggers from the bad. And in the particular subset of the blogging world that I’m in — sustainable and ethical lifestyle coverage — the guidelines and rules surrounding publishing become especially important. For me, it’s not just about “Ohhh, shiny.” It’s about giving my readers the information they need to live their lives more healthfully, ethically and compassionately. If you would like to have a reputation as a trustworthy blogger, here my five tips for maintaining your ethical standards when blogging:
1. Be clear about compensation.
This is a hard one, because as a blogger, you need to be scrappy and creative about your income. Bloggers engage in all sorts of new revenue streams. There’s a way to do all of them correctly, and incorrectly, and it comes down to disclosure. If you are paid to run a post, make sure to disclose at the top that it is sponsored. Same thing for emails. When I’m paid for an Instagram post, I put #sponsoredpost under there. I have a disclosure on my About Me page talking about affiliate links. (And I even blogged about it, and keep that post in my front-page carousel.) Trust your readers to make the decision themselves about whether your compensation is affecting your decisions. They usually don’t mind … unless you hide it.
2. Be clear about free stuff.
When I get an item for free to test, I put an asterisk next to it and disclose that at the end of the post. Or I just come out and say it: “XYZ company treated me to a manicure at the nail spa today.” That way, readers know that it’s a possibility you might feel beholden to give coverage because the company treated you so nicely. That’s OK! It’s human nature. Just be real about it.
(Also, have the courage to get a free thing and decide it’s not for you. PR people are used to it, and won’t hate you. It’s why you got it free to test! Read my policy on free stuff.)
3. Establish guidelines from the get-go.
Don’t wait for a sticky situation to come up. Instead, write down your rules of engagement from the very beginning. Not only does this clarify it to yourself, you can also confidently point to it when saying “No,” to an offer or deleting a comment. For example, “It’s my policy not to accept sponsored posts unless I have the opportunity to edit it to fit my tone, plus disclose to my readers that it’s sponsored. Sorry, it’s just non-negotiable.” That’s much more powerful and polite than, “Umm, this seems weird…” Even more powerful is putting those guidelines online to reference and link to for the benefit of brands and readers.
Speaking of deleting comments…
4. Be open to debate.
If your blog gets popular, you will experience dissenting opinions. Some of them will be hard to hear, but valuable and fair. An example of this might be, “I just don’t think there is ever a justification for eating meat!” Just leave it. (Often, another reader will jump in and defend you, which is nice.)
But there are also comments that you are absolutely in bounds to delete, including personal attacks and insults.
It helps if you’ve done Step 3 and established commenting guidelines beforehand, so if the vitriol continues, you can say, “You broke the commenting guidelines. Goodbye.”
5. Only work with brands and people you trust.
You know the quickest way to get your readers and the blogging community talking trash about you? Getting in bed with a sponsor that is outside of your mission. I am aware that you need sponsors to keep going, but if you have to sell out in order to keep the doors open, then you might as well just shut it down. (I’m aware that most politicians don’t follow this rule, but we’re better than that, aren’t we?)
Trust: If you are patient and stick to your guns, eventually you will get the brands with social value at the core of their mission knocking down your door to work with the blogger with reader admiration.
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, then congratulations, you now know more about ethical blogging than many “professional” bloggers! Remember, these are great guidelines, but in the end it’s all about trusting your gut, being open to feedback, and being transparent with your readers. It’s an ongoing process, and I never said it was easy. But it can be immensely satisfying. Good luck!