*Disclosure: Affiliate links contained within this post. I am not a lawyer and my post herein are simply my thoughts and opinions based on research that I have done for myself. If you believe that you may be in legal trouble, we suggest contacting a lawyer.
Whether you’ve been a blogger for a week, a month, a year, or 10 years, there are chances that you may be making mistakes that you simply don’t know are wrong. Some things should, in all honesty, be common sense, but there are other topics, especially when it comes to social media’s every changing policies, that you just haven’t heard of yet. There are also cases where a blogger knows they’re doing something wrong, but simply don’t care…that’s a rant for a different day though. I’ve worked to gather some of the most common blogger mistakes that I see or hear happen on a frequent basis.
10. Plagiarism. This seems like a topic that I shouldn’t even have to discuss. I’m pretty sure that everyone learns that you shouldn’t plagiarize in elementary school, which is then only reinforced through high school and college. You should not be copying word for word (whether an entire post or even a paragraph from ANY press release, other website, or another blogger. Of course you can quote others, but you must do it properly. You can check out the Online Writing Lab at Perdue for tips.
9. Participating in “click my sponsored link” help threads. This one is actually new to me. Partly because I rarely participate in “pay-per-click” sponsored programs. However, if you are using programs such as IZEA, Linqia, and others, it’s actually written into your Terms Of Service that you cannot manipulate click data. By asking others to click on your links, which you in turn get paid for, is skewing that data. Remember, these programs are about driving organic traffic.
8. Hosting an illegal giveaway. Whether you’re a blogger that hosts a giveaway once a year or everyday, you really need to be up to date on giveaway rules and regulations. This topic is entirely to long to cover in this post, but some important considerations are:
- Figure out whether you are running a giveaway or a lottery
- Not creating rules
- All giveaways must have rules. The rules must include things like “no purchase necessary”, how a winner will be chosen, who the giveaway is open to, and what the exact prize is.
- Not following the rules
- Once the contest starts, it’s illegal to change anything about the giveaway. This includes changing the day or time your giveaway ends
- Ignoring laws for other countries if hosting a “Worldwide Giveaway”
- One example of this would be that most Canadians must take a “skill test” of some sort before entering a giveaway, like a math question. We won’t even get into Quebec’s laws.
- Giving away something valued at more than $600 and not ensuring a 1099 form was sent to the winner
- Not having a “FREE” entry. Everyone that wants to enter should have the ability to do so without any additional requirements.
7. Taking images from Google and others. I’ll admit it. When I first started blogging, I, for whatever reason, didn’t even consider this. I knew not to take images from other people, but I definitely thought it was okay to take images from Google. Isn’t this like a “common” marketplace? NO! It wasn’t until I learned that a blogger was sued for $8,000 for taking an image. Don’t worry if you’ve been doing this. Simply, go back through your old posts and fix them to include images that you can use. You should be:
- using your own images as much as possible
- finding places that do legitimately offer free stock photos
- as a last resort, if you find a photo somewhere that you truly want to use, contact that person as ask them. You’d be surprised at how many people would allow you for linking back to their site
6. Selling or giving away e-mails. Whether you literally sell someone’s e-mail or your exchange an e-mail list to a brand after receiving a product and running a giveaway, you are doing so illegally. The CAN-SPAM Act fines violators of their terms up to $16,000 for EACH violation. Nothing is worth that. At the same time, you also cannot buy a list to use yourself and you must have an option to opt-out for people who legitimately signed up for your blogger e-mails.
5. DoFollow Links. This isn’t necessarily illegal; however, it is against Google’s Terms of Service. While I have no evidence, we’ve heard that Google will blacklist you from their search engine if you continuously allow dofollow links for paid posts. Nofollow links were started when spamming started becoming an issue and since is now applied to paid links. Whether you received products in exchange for a post or monetary compensation, any links within that post linking back to the person who paid you should be made nofollow. It’s easy in both Blogger and WordPress to just click nofollow to make your links correct.
4. Not following social media TOS. This also isn’t necessarily illegal, but by not following a social media platform’s Terms of Service (TOS) as a blogger you run the risk of that site shutting your page down. Imagine have 30,000 Facebook fans, and having your page shut down for not following something. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Facebook is the most strict with their terms, but all Social Media sites have their own Terms you should be following. Some of the most common violations I see are:
- Hosting an Instagram giveaway without releasing Instagram from association. Same goes for almost all other platforms as well. You must have a “I release ‘said platform’ from liability…yadda ya”
- Hosting a “Pin it to Win” It Contest
- Asking someone to share something on their personal FB page OR sharing your OWN giveaway on your personal page.
- Requiring that people Pin a specific pin
- Asking someone to LIKE your Facebook page.
- Asking someone to like you on Pinterest
- Asking someone to TAG a friend in a post to enter a giveaway.
All social media platforms TOS can be found easily on their websites.
3. Using trademarked terms in advertising. This is a very slippery slope and I highly recommend that if you are going to be mentioning any brands within a post or image that you try to use generic terms instead of brand names. Understanding trademark vs generic is important and confusing because sometimes a trademarked term has become generic – Xerox is an example of this. If you must use a brand name it should alway include a ® or TM symbol after the term.
One of the most infamous of all trademarks involves not being able to say “The Super Bowl” in any advertising. Instead you’ll see people referring to “the big game” or “championship game”. The NFL is notorious for protecting it’s trademarks. On the same note “March Madness”, “Olympics”, and “World Cup” are all similarly trademarked and protected.
If you are truly set on using a specific brand within a post, I highly recommend reaching out to the permissions department or PR department and working with the company directly. Often, if you are running a positive piece, you will get permission to do so.
2. Not disclosing your partnerships. The FTC is VERY clear that you have to have disclosures wherever you are placing an ad. Whether you were paid to post something on social media or wrote a sponsored post after received monetary or product payment on your website- as a blogger you are responsible for making sure that you know these .com disclosures.
The big key points are:
- On social media, you should be placing the term #ad or #sponsored at the beginning of your message or before ANY links
- In a sponsored post on your website, you must disclosure BEFORE any links occur in your post AND at the end of your post because of the post length.
1. Not paying taxes. The is the bread and butter of the the biggest illegal mistake that a blogger could be making. I’ve heard so many people say, “Well, I didn’t make more than $600.” It doesn’t matter. If you make $5 or $500,000, you are legally required to pay taxes to the IRS. This topic is entirely to long to cover here but if you received any form of compensation whether cash, check, a Giftcard, or a product…YOU MUST pay your taxes.
While, this is not an exhaustive list of blogger mistakes that you may or may not be making that could be illegal, it’s a great place to start and evaluate how you are doing. Take the time to make sure that you and your site are free from liability down the road by protecting yourself as a blogger today.
Please weigh in below on what you think I missed or you had no idea about!
This post is part of our Blogger Tips, Tricks, and Resources series. You can learn more about this series, learn how you can submit a question to be answered, or learn about how you can submit a guest post to be included in this series by viewing our Introduction to Blogger Tips, Tricks, and Resources Post.
This is a great resource for all bloggers! I have a question concerning the statement about tagging people on posts as an entry for a giveaway. Is that across all platforms? I have seen it done on Instagram by bloggers and companies alike and have wondered if it was allowed.
Thanks Marissa! And great question. Sorry it wasn’t clear. Currently, Facebook has a policy against this. Their exact wording is “Personal Timelines and friend connections must not be used to administer promotions (ex: “share on your Timeline to enter” or “share on your friend’s Timeline to get additional entries”, and “tag your friends in this post to enter” are not permitted).”
Instagram has wording that says they don’t want you to encourage readers to inaccurately tag themselves in the photo.
Thanks for answering! Instagram’s wording isn’t quite clear… I’ll just avoid it I guess.
I definitely agree that it’s confusing. Social media’s never ending changes doesn’t make it any easier!
Angie B says
Wow there’s some info here I didn’t realize. I thought though if you went to creative commons and chose pics that and checked off (modify, adapt, or build upon AND for commercial use) you could use them if you give credit to the site? No? I actually did an online blog conference a few years ago. There was a lawyer speaking. Probably one of the most useful things I’ve sat in on. She told us about where to get images and what we have to do. she told us about claiming product and gift cards as compensation as well. She said you’re supposed to claim the wholesale value of the product.
Hi Angie! Thanks for reading! Yes, creative commons (depending on the site and their requirements) is fine for photos. But Google is not a creative common image source. That was what I was trying to explain in the post, sorry if that’s not clear.
Holly S. says
#9 was a “huh?” for me. I get if you’re paid per click, that’s shady if you’re asking for clicks, but IZEA isn’t paid per click. It’s paid per tweet, FB post, or blog post. So the question is…Is it still acceptable to get “love” for your post if it’s not PPC? Not clicks, but RTs, comments, shares, etc. So many bloggers have been asking me this and I don’t know the answer….
Hi Holly – We really can’t be the judge of how Izea specifically handles their data other than linking their Terms. It would really be best to reach out to them for more clarification. We have chosen not to participate in the FB threads that deal with these at all though personally.
Holly S. says
Better safe than sorry, I guess! There are so many platforms that would fit this question: IZEA, BlogHer, Sverve, Mom Central, MassiveSway, etc., and some of those were started by Bloggers. You’d think they would cover this…
Definitely! I feel like there’s so many gray areas in so much of blogging. I try to do my best, I know I’m not 100% perfect, but we work to improve everyday!
Holly S. says
Well, you do a great job giving well thought out advice; I appreciate it!
Aww, thanks! I’m trying. We all know how hard it is to start!