Tag Archives: blog 101

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If we want to be taken seriously as bloggers, we must take blogging seriously.

I wrote that when I began If Emily Posted, when I found myself overwhelmed by the Wild West behavior online. Almost a year and a half after I began writing IEP, I still believe my initial hypothesis to be true:

Most bloggers want to do the right thing. Sometimes they simply need it defined.

I know I sound like a broken record at times, but most bloggers are running a solo show as writer, editor, photographer, publicist and agent. Most haven’t received a formal education in any of these areas. Especially the business end. (Hence the number of bloggers willing to do free PR, but that’s a post for another time.)

FACT: If you’re attempting to make a business out of blogging, or already are, you need to understand the FTC guidelines that concern bloggers who are monetizing their sites.

The guidelines are not new, but the March 2013 updates are important. We as bloggers, as professionals, need to keep up with this evolution. This homework is our responsibility. *

Attorney Sara Hawkins has written a wonderful breakdown of the FTC guidelines as part of her Blog Law series, and Blog With Integrity co-founder Susan Getgood wrote another great overview at BlogHer. The FTC booklet, which you can download for free, is good information to have on hand.

But I want to talk about what’s missing from the guidelines that many bloggers need.

You won’t find a section within the pages of that PDF that calms the fear that the word disclosure brings to many bloggers. A section that tells them not to be afraid of reader backlash for what can be an anxiety-provoking issue. (My friend Maegan wrote from the heart yesterday about misconceptions about paid content, and its strain on the blogger/reader relationship.)

Fear that readers will boycott keeps many bloggers from making disclosure obvious. They hide it in the fine print at the footer of their website or on their disclosure policy page or maybe they don’t say anything at all. Because they’re afraid of disappointing readers. It’s why bloggers post links to products in their posts or on their Facebook pages without disclosing “by the way, when you click this link it helps me make a living.”

FACT: When a blogger doesn’t disclose ads ethically, it hurts the rest of the blogging community that is playing by the rules. It promotes the notion that there’s something shameful in making a living this way.

IEP is primarily about social media netiquette and ethics for bloggers, but social media is a two-way street of content creators and content consumers. Sometimes readers need things defined, too.

Readers of the blogosphere, trust in the hardworking bloggers who create the content that inspires, entertains and informs you. Understand that your approval is taken very seriously. Also understand the hours, the days, the weeks, that can go into creating that content. (Paid or unpaid.)alexandra-wrote-rules-civility-disclosure-ftc

The new rules quite clearly tell bloggers to simplify disclosure. Make it clear. State it upfront and in each post where it applies.

FACT: For a long time, I place disclosure at the bottom of posts. I thought that was right. I was wrong.

If someone clicked through to check out a book I talked about before reading the affiliate links disclosure at end of my post, they’d have no idea. That’s why it needs to be the first thing they see, not the last.

It’s OK to make mistakes. The good news is this is all very fixable.

RULE: Don’t try to hide disclosure or bury it in fine print. Bring it to the top of your post and make it easy to read.

Bloggers owe it to one another to respect the rules. As I wrote in March of last year:

I’m not the first, and certainly not the last, to have referred to the web as the Wild West. The analogy works. But here’s the thing, the Wild West is not so wild anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time.

History has shown us that civilization can’t sustain itself if it isn’t, well, civilized.

Here’s to the rules of civility.

*My disclosure post from last November will be updated in regard to the #ad hashtag as per the new guidelines.

It goes without saying that, in this day and age, there are privacies we give up regardless of how shallow our social media footprint. If you’re reading this, chances are your footprint is a bit deeper, be it as a blogger or via some other social sharing platform.

Social media, you’re making extroverts out of us all.

From the images you upload to your blog to the Foursquare check-ins you post to twitter, sharing can turn into oversharing very quickly, and often by accident. It’s why I believe in reading the fine print, considering what and how you post and, ultimately, deciding what’s in your comfort zone.

Do you know what your metadata is telling people about you? From geotags to EXIF data just what are you sharing?

It goes a step further when we overshare what isn’t ours to share to begin with (often unknowingly).  Or worse, when third party apps misuse the data they’re provided by social sharing site APIs.

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I think opinions on geotags basically fall into three categories:

1. Those who enjoy sharing where they are.
2. Those who don’t see any value in sharing where they are.
3. Those that have no idea they’re sharing where they are.

As I asked people for their take on geotags, and why they do or don’t use them, those having no idea how much they were truly sharing began to outweigh those with strong opinions in either direction for or against. Those who shared didn’t realize to what extent. Those who didn’t share were unaware they still might be.

FACT: Geotags use longitude and latitude coordinates to identify where you are when you take a photo if you’ve enabled any location settings – much in the same way Foursquare or Facebook can share where you’re having lunch. It’s embedded in a ton of images posted online. And yet, so many posting their photos don’t realize what their images are actually sharing.

Even without geotags, EXIF data (image metadata) can be quite extensive – down to every edit you made on an image in Photoshop, the serial number of your camera or lens and, depending on your location settings, the GPS coordinates of where a shot was taken.

FACT: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook,* amongst others, strip metadata to protect location information from the public unless you opt-in to sharing your location via geotags.

*If you’ve made location settings available to Facebook on your phone, for example, your mobile posts could share more than you realized.

DON’T FEEL LIKE SHARING?

With most GPS data coming from camera photos, the easiest way to ease concerns is to turn off location setting for your phone’s camera.

Here is a very easy breakdown on how to do that on Apple, Droid, Palm and Blackberry devices via I Can Stalk U, a site created expressly for the purpose of making “people aware that they are posting this information when they are sending out photos and giving them options on how to disable that functionality.”

Curious to find out just what your pictures are telling people? I suggest using a site like Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer, to view your own blog posts and see what you’re actually posting.

If you want to post images minus embedded data, you have a number of options, from EXIF stripping apps to Photoshop. Metadata can also help protect your images online and make it possible for you to claim your work, so losing it isn’t the perfect solution for everyone. One option that could make for a happy medium is to remove the data and simply watermark your images. What makes you feel most comfortable?

TAG, YOU’RE IT

From Facebook to Twitter to Foursquare, we can tell people what movie theatre we’re at or what hotel we’re relaxing at poolside – with or without photos. It’s a personal choice as to whether you want to share this info, but geotagging others shouldn’t be done without permission.

I’ve attended a few events in people’s homes or their kid’s school where they asked that people not post photos online. Some people were annoyed. I’m not sure why.

We can become so caught up in our La Vie En Rose, Instagram-filtered lives to sometimes stop and think before we shoot.

Whether people want their event to remain intimate or if the thought crossed their minds that someone posting candids could tell the world where they live or go to school, I don’t know. I’m guessing people want guests to be guests and not documentarians. Yet I wonder if more people would request no photos if they understood how much a photo can share?

RULE: If it’s not a social media event, don’t assume others want it to become one. If you’re in someone else’s home or at their event, it’s a good idea to get their OK before sharing their private space with your public network. It’s a must to ask them if you plan to geotag your whereabouts.

Sharing is further complicated when third party APIs get access to this data. As I’ve said before, just because developers can make something it doesn’t mean they should.

Developers don’t necessarily have the right to share your location just because you’ve shared it elsewhere. But many, like Foursquare, make their API available to third party site developers who don’t necessarily follow the Terms of Service. The Girls Around Me app was an example of geotags gone wrong in the hands of a third party developer.

Meanwhile, on the legitimate app front, the newly launched Facebook Nearby Friends takes the check-ins and locations friends share and maps them only if you opt-in. I’m not sure how popular it is, but on the homepage they include a link to press about the app, including this ReadWriteWeb piece “Nearby Friends: New Cyber-Stalking App for Tracking Facebook Places Check-Ins.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The Girls app is probably not going to be the last to misuse information, but we can learn from it. Make sure you share geotagged data in a way that makes you comfortable and respects others. It might be worthwhile telling less tech-savvy friends and relatives how to disable location settings on their camera phones, too.

Undershare, overshare or anything in between, but do so in a way that lets you call the shots.