Blog Series | Blogging Etiquette and Best Practices
One of the best things about blogging is that there are very few “rules”. For the most part, your blog can be whatever you want it to be, and you can run it how you want: this is, I’d imagine, the very reason many of us get into blogging in the first place.
There are, however, some important exceptions to this ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ idea. I’ve said it before, but I don’t think it can be repeated often enough: when you start a blog, you are becoming a publisher. There ARE laws which govern publishing (and therefore blogging). There are also some general principles which may not be governed by law, but which are, nevertheless, considered good practice, and which I’d recommend following. Here’s my take on blogging etiquette…
Don’t steal or copy other people’s content
I went into this in great detail in last week’s post on Blogging and Copyright, so all I’ll say here is that this is one of the most important “rules” to follow, especially given that there are actual laws governing copyright infringement, and you can get into some serious trouble for breaking them. You can read more about UK Copyright Law here, or hit up Google for the laws relating to your country.
Disclose all freebies, sponsorships or other brand relationships
Again, this is another area in which there are actual rules to follow. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has produced a lengthy document on disclosures, which you can find here: it’s a really in-depth document, and could easily be the subject of a blog post in itself, but you can find a more concise summary of it here. For me, what it all basically boils down to is this: be transparent. If you were compensated for a post, received a product for free, or are likely to benefit financially from writing about a particular product or brand, make sure your readers know that.
There are various ways to disclose brand relationships: on this site, for instance, as well as mentioning any freebies/sponsorships in the post itself, I also have a disclosure statement in my sidebar, which links to my full disclosure policy. If you’re not sure whether you’ve disclosed something properly, though, a good way to think of it is to imagine yourself reading the post on someone else’s blog. Would you know the product was a freebie, or that the post was sponsored? If not, you haven’t provided a clear enough disclosure, so it’s worth going over the post again and making sure you make your relationship with the brand clearer.
It’s worth noting here that the FTC is a US agency, so the guidelines it produces technically don’t apply here in the UK. Even in the US, the FTC doesn’t actively monitor blogs, so the idea I keep hearing that bloggers will “go to jail” for non-disclosure is probably a bit of an over-reaction. My personal feeling, though, is that even if the FTC guidelines aren’t law in your country, it’s still good practice to observe them as if they were. Even if you take the legal side of things out of the equation, blogging is largely about trust: your readers need to be able to trust you, and if they suspect that you’re not disclosing sponsored posts or freebies, you’ll destroy that trust, and destroy your blog in the process.
“How will they know?” I hear you ask. They just will. Readers aren’t stupid: they can detect sudden, random changes in voice or subject, and they’re suspicious if you suddenly start raving about some brand you’ve never mentioned before. I frequently see bloggers posting things I KNOW are sponsored, without disclosing it. Sometimes I can tell because the post clearly wasn’t written by the person whose blog it appears on (It’s really easy to tell when a post was written by a PR/SEO person, especially if you’re used to the blogger’s usual style), and sometimes I know because I’ll have been approached with the same offer – often with the requirement that I not disclose the sponsorship.
I had a request like this on Friday, from a brand who wanted to pay me to write a post about their products (which they wouldn’t be sending me: I only ever feature products I’ve used myself, so this post would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb), without disclosing that the post was sponsored: needless to say, I turned them down (and explained why), but it’s always disappointing to see brands actively requesting that bloggers hide things from their readers – and equally disappointing when, a few weeks later, I start to see posts popping up from other bloggers featuring the brand/campaign in question, and not disclosing that they were paid for it.
Credit your sources
This is sort-of related to my first point, but I’m talking here about times when you’ve been “inspired” by another blogger, without actually infringing their copyright. It’s not against the law to take inspiration from someone else (we all do it, I’m sure), but it IS good blogging etiquette to acknowledge that you didn’t just come up with the idea on your own, but got it from someone else. For instance, when I did my first Shoe Challenge on ShoeperWoman, years ago, a few other bloggers decided to pick up the idea and do the same challenge on their own blogs. Some of them mentioned that they’d got the idea from me, and linked back when they did, which was great: others, however, made no mention of my blog at all, and just copied the idea without saying where it came from. Their readers would have assumed the idea was the blogger’s own: I, however, knew it wasn’t, because they had commented on my blog saying, “Ooh, great idea, I think I’ll do it, too!”
Those bloggers weren’t breaking the law by copying my idea, and I wasn’t crying into my pillow over it or anything, but it would’ve been nice if they’d at least credited me, or linked back to my site occasionally, and it might have encouraged me to do the same for them.
I’d like to say that this one should go without saying, but I know to my cost that it doesn’t. When you live your life online, there are going to be times when things happen that you don’t have the best reaction to. Maybe you’re having a bad day and that rude comment is just the last straw; maybe there’s something else going on in your life that’s making things extra-tough, but someone says something, or does something, and all of a sudden you feel overwhelmed by the urge to lash out. Hey, we’ve all been there. (Er, we HAVE all been there, haven’t we? Or is it just me?)
My best advice? DON’T. It’s so tempting to take to Twitter to vent about bad service, to post a sarcastic response to a rude comment, or to otherwise go off on one. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. And I’ve always, ALWAYS regretted it. It can be really, REALLY hard to take a step back, calm the hell down, and walk away (Trust one who knows), but it’s always worth it. Never respond in the heat of the moment: always take a bit of time, sleep on it if you can, and either respond calmly and rationally, or not at all. If you give in to the urge to lash out at someone, no matter how justified, you’ll just end making yourself look bad, so stay calm, and be nice. Even if it kills you.
Answer questions, respond to comments, be an active member of the community you’ve created. I don’t think that every single comment necessarily requires a response (sometimes there really isn’t much you can say, and personally I always feel a bit fake just going, “thanks for commenting!”, “thanks for commenting!” over and over again), but at the very least you should answer direct questions and acknowledge particularly thoughtful comments. Or try to, anyway. If you don’t care enough to join the discussion on your own blog, why would anyone else?
Check your spelling
As sites like Pinterest etc have made images more important than ever for blogs, writing has started to fall by the wayside. This is particularly true in areas like fashion and beauty blogging, where the image is often the most important part of the post, and writing becomes a secondary consideration. Even if you have a photo-based blog, though, writing is important. People WILL judge you on it. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest writer in order to run a successful blog (And lord knows, we all make mistakes. Some more than others.), but you DO need to pay attention to spelling and grammar, and brush up on the basics – things like its/it’s confusion or their/there/they’re. As I said, everyone makes mistakes, and it can be hard to proofread your own writing (I’ve actually done a proofreading course, but I STILL sometimes spot basic mistakes years later…), but I’ve read quite a few posts recently in which the author has confused “it’s” and “its” throughout the entire post, and it’s really off-putting. Use a spellchecker, or get someone else to proofread your post if you can.
Just as importantly, don’t use words you don’t understand. This might seem like a really silly thing to say, or something that should go WITHOUT saying, but another thing I’ve seen a lot of lately is the misuse of words. The blogger will use what they presumably think is a “big” or impressive word in place of a much simpler one – but they’ll use it completely incorrectly, thus creating the opposite effect from the one they were aiming for. If you’re not sure what a word means, don’t use it. Don’t use “big” words when small ones will do the same job. Above all, don’t think your writing doesn’t matter just because you’re a fashion or beauty blogger: it does.
(100% sure I’ll have made some glaring errors in this post: I ALWAYS do in posts about writing! Just to reiterate: I’m not saying you have to be Shakespeare, or that you should beat yourself up over every little mistake (I actually think making a big deal out of someone’s typo is poor etiquette, too): just do what you can to make sure your writing is as good as it can be. )
Check your facts
Don’t repeat gossip or rumours, and don’t post something without bothering to check that it’s true. Don’t claim that a beauty product will do something you know it won’t, or criticize someone for something you don’t even know they did. I’m sure you’ve all rolled your eyes at those stupid Facebook posts that claim that clicking the “like” button will cure cancer or something – don’t do the blogging equivalent of that, and, most importantly, remember that you can actually be charged for libel.
Assume that everyone who’s ever met you will one day read your blog
I’m fairly open online, but one rule I always stick to is to never write something that might upset people I know in ‘real life’. Because blogging IS real life. The people you write about can read your blog – and they might. And if they don’t like what they read, you’ll very quickly discover just how “real” blogging can be.
In a bid to avoid drama, my rule of thumb is to assume that everyone I’ve ever met – and everyone I WILL ever meet – will one day read my blog in its entirety. I highly recommend you do the same. Assume that your boss will read your blog. So will your mum. Your in-laws. That strange looking guy down the street who always looks at you funny. They will ALL read your blog. If that thought makes you worry, then you probably shouldn’t have written whatever it is that you’re worried about. If you ever find yourself writing something and thinking, “God, I hope so-and-so doesn’t read this!”, just don’t write it. It’s not worth it. Trust me.
(I actually extend this to all areas of my online life. Even on my private Facebook, I never post anything I’d be embarrassed to have made public. This may be over-cautious of me, but I think it’s good practice to think of every part of the internet as “public”, and to never say anything, anywhere, that I wouldn’t stand behind.)
And that’s it! If you have any blog etiquette tips you think I’ve missed, feel free to drop me a comment! Oh, and I’ve almost reached the end of my list of topics for this series, so if there’s anything blog-related you’d like me to cover, let me know, and if it’s something I feel qualified to ramble about, I’ll add it to the list!