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Ethical Guidelines for Blogging

ethical guidelines for bloggers

Blogging seems simple enough! But did you know that you could get in legal trouble for blogging, or at least risk angering someone you admire? Consider some basic blogging ethics and understand the legal issues with blogging. Not only do you want to keep things legal, but you want your readers to trust and respect you. Here are some things to think about.

Copyright and credit

If you’re able to write all the content for your blog, and create all the graphics and take all the photos, you will be in the clear as far as copyright infringement goes. A great side effect of all this diligence is that your blog will shine for the hard work you’re putting into it.

Not everyone has the skill and the time to create every last bit of content from scratch. If you don’t, make sure you’re using images correctly. Your only legitimate ways to gather images for your blog are:

  1. Create the photo or graphic yourself
  2. Use paid or free stock photography with an appropriate license
  3. Get permission from the content creator to re-use their work

Just because someone posted an image on their own site or on social media doesn’t mean it can be posted anywhere. If you will be posting images that you didn’t create, you need to have the right to do that.

When in doubt, if you’re putting any kind of content on your blog that you haven’t created yourself, you should both ask the creator for permission, and credit that person in your blog post.

If you’re re-using written content, it’s usually okay to insert an attributed quote into your text (and even better if you link back to the source). It’s not okay to re-print someone else’s entire article without permission.

If your post is based off of the original idea of someone else’s, share the credit and mention the inspiration in your post.

Truth and opinion

You may not think of yourself as a journalist, but as a blogger, you are responsible for earning your readers’ trust. You need to be clear about what is fact and what is your opinion. When speaking of others, be sure that you’ve verified what you’re writing about them. Libel is a real thing that you can get in legal trouble about.

Be transparent with your readers about what is editorial and what is advertising. Are you sharing affiliate links? Did you receive payment or get free product to blog about a certain topic? Readers need to know if they’re getting your unbiased opinion, or if your writing is affected by a relationship with an advertiser.

Giveaways and contests

Before you go wild promoting your blog or business with giveaways and contests, read up on how to do these legally. Your innocent blog giveaway may be an illegal lottery in some states. If your prize is worth enough, there will be tax concerns you need to think about.

This article gives a brief overview of how to keep your contests legit:

But Everyone Else is Doing It: Why There are So Many Illegal Social Media Contests

Marketing and spam

When promoting your blog, make sure that you do so tastefully, and steer clear of anything spammy. This means not sending unsolicited emails, not posting inappropriately about your business in public forums, and not forcing advertisements on people who aren’t looking for them.

Even in your own spaces (your blog, your social media accounts), remember that people want value from you, not an endless stream of ads.

Privacy and policies

Always respect your readers’ privacy. This means keeping their email address private, and if you collect any data about them, you shouldn’t share this information with others, or use this information inappropriately. Your emails must be opt-in, and you can’t share your email lists with other people or companies.

Make some policies for your blog and be sure to share them with your readers! What is your comments policy, privacy policy, terms and conditions for use of your site? These don’t need to be pages and pages of legalese, but could instead be a few sentences by your comments box, or a promise next to your email opt-in that you won’t share email addresses with other companies.

Did you know that the comments people write on your blog posts are not yours to use? By default, they are copyrighted by the comment poster. If you want to use that wording elsewhere on your site or in your marketing materials, you’ll need permission. You can get this permission in advance by having a comments policy stated on your site.

More help with your blog

This is a brief overview of topics to think about. If you blog, I urge you to spend some time on Google learning more about blogging ethics and legalities.

This post kicks off a series on the Aeolidia website about starting a blog for creative businesses. Upcoming posts will discuss whether you should have a blog, share the steps to take to start a blog, give you a huge list of ideas of what to blog about, and cover common blogging mistakes I see.

Take a moment now to subscribe to my newsletter, so you won’t miss the next posts:

Get more tips on blogging

Since we’re talking ethics here, I had better mention that I will keep your email address completely private, and will not share it with others or use it for anything but to send you my newsletter!

Do you have a blog? Are you thinking of starting a blog? What questions do you have about blogs for business, or blogs on ecommerce sites? Please share in the comments. I’d love to offer some personalized tips.

Get a Look at Online Selling From the Inside: 6 Questions Answered by Successful MadeFreshly Sellers

Rachel is the resident content fairy over at MadeFreshly. Helpful and inspirational advice for eCommerce is her specialty there, but when she’s not busy writing, you will probably find her at a track meet or adventuring around California with her Canon T2i. Follow her on Twitter.

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Why Mainstream Retail Marketing Tricks Aren’t For You

Why Marketing Tricks Aren't For You

There are a lot of ways to promote a business. I’m sure you’ve seen a big flapping “balloon man” at Jiffy Lube, had a pizza flyer hung on your doorknob, or read about a local business in a coupon pack mailed to CURRENT RESIDENT. These marketing tricks undoubtedly work, or people wouldn’t continue to spend their money on them but are they the right thing for your creative, handcrafted, or design-based business?

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see that I read and post a lot of small business tips and strategies. I do try to post the most relevant and easy-to-adjust advice, but it’s easy to get absorbed in generic business advice and either start following it exactly and wonder why it isn’t working for you, or to feel like you’re doing things wrong because you aren’t doing Marketing Technique X or Social Media Strategy Y.

What works for a flash sale site or a plumber is not going to work for you.

You are an artisan. Your work is different. Your customers know that, and they want to feel special, like part of the small club of smarties that know about you.

Your customer wants to trust you, and know that the quality of your work is more important to you than making some quick sales.

To be honest, your customer is sick of these kinds of tricks, and doesn’t want them. That’s why they’re shopping handmade or directly from the designer!

Here are strategies that may work sometimes for some business types, but may not be right for you:

Casting a too-wide net is a waste of money

Lots of people need an oil change, so if Jiffy Lube flaps a balloon man on the street (which cars are driving down. Cars that need an oil change), then they are speaking directly to their audience. Putting up a billboard or bus ad for a line of stationery is wasting your money on too many people who won’t care. If a boutique shop wants to advertise, they need to be sure they’re only paying to get their advertisement to the people who may buy.

Faking your size or popularity makes you untrustworthy

Chain stores want people to see how popular and far-reaching they are. It’s not an advantage for you to look like an anonymous corporate identity, so keep the “we” off of your About page unless you truly do have a team – and if you do, introduce them to us!

Being too pushy pushes people away

No one wants to come into a booth at a craft fair and be pinned against the wall by a seller listing all the features of the jewelry. High pressure sales tactics can be left to the used car salesmen. Your time is better spent making your products irresistible, so they will sell themselves with just a little assistance. And no, you don’t need a big pop up window over your entire website trying to get people to join your mailing list or telling them about your sale.

Bribery may have unintended consequences

If you make your kid eat green beans to earn dessert, they’re going to feel that the green beans aren’t enjoyable themselves, but a chore to get through. If you find yourself in the position of offering something better to entice people to get the thing you really want them to have, see if there’s another way to do it.

For instance, a popular recommendation for building your mailing list is to have a bribe: a piece of content which people will sign up to get, and then hopefully stay on your mailing list. I think this can have the disadvantage of putting people in the mindset that they’ll join, get the gift, and unsubscribe. Besides that, with this method your list will be made up primarily of people wanting a free gift, not of people who are interested in what you do (and are willing to pay!), so be mindful of this.

Discounts can reflect negatively on your brand

Discounts of any kind should be approached very carefully by creative businesses, especially with handcrafted businesses, businesses where you are the sole designer, or if you sell luxury goods. Besides giving off the vibe that you’re a cut-rate brand, if you put things on sale with any kind of regularity, customers will feel like they should never have to pay full price at your shop, and will wait for the sale.

You are likely to be better off to have no sales or discounts at all, or to save them for special occasions or one-time, rare events. Maybe a “moving our studio” sale or a sale to clear out old stock if you change direction and want to move on to your new look or style.

Be real and keep it clean

Blaze your own trail, measure your own success, build your own tribe. Don’t follow a rulebook that wasn’t written for you. Finding your own tasteful methods of being seen by your ideal customers will get you a long way. We’ve written more about creative business marketing on our blog, if you’d like some ideas! We also discuss marketing tips via our email newsletter.

Find some marketing methods that make you feel good about what you’re doing, and your customers will feel good about it as well.

What thoughtful marketing have you seen lately? What has made you want to buy? What keeps you purchasing from the same sellers multiple times?