Are Affiliate Links Unethical Without Disclosure?

May 15, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Affiliate Marketing

Time to break out our ethic sticks!

Jeremiah Owyang says that when it comes to affiliate links on Twitter it’s all about intent. To make sure you’re playing inside the lines of what’s “ethical” in social media, you need to exercise of strategy of disclosure, full transparency and yet even more disclosure. Over at Econsultancy, Patricio Robles agrees, dropping the words “disclosure” and “transparency” a dozen or so more times for good measure. Personally, I don’t care what they think. I want to know what you think.

And I’m asking you: How do you feel about affiliate links in blog and Twitter posts? Do you want full disclosure that the link-dropper is getting something out of it or is your trust in the person enough?

My thoughts? If you don’t trust me, then you can unfollow me and unsubscribe right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

If you don’t trust me not to throw BS in your face, then what are we doing?  I don’t want you clicking on my link. Whether it’s clean or affiliate, it doesn’t matter. I value real relationships and if you’re questioning my intentions then we’ve already failed as a couple. Stop wasting your time on me and go find someone you do trust. Because that’s the point of this whole “social” thing.

I’ll be real. I have never included an affiliate link in a blog post or on Twitter. But I’m not against doing it. And if I did do it, I wouldn’t feel the need to surround the link in flashing lights or set off the sirens. Instead, I’d hope that you’d trust my intentions because you trust me. That you know I value my followers and my readers more than I value the couple bucks I’d get from a referral and that I’d never attach my name to something I didn’t believe in.

Both Jeremiah and Patricio tried to liken affiliate links to the whole Magpie disaster. To me, they’re completely different. I don’t support Magpie. That’s using your Twitter followers to shill products you know nothing about. You sell a set number of your tweets and allow third-party companies to do and push whatever they want with them.  The issue there isn’t an affiliate link. It’s whether or not it’s okay to openly sell out people who trusted you.

I suppose I could play by Jeremiah and Patricio rules. Before I throw out an affiliate link I could:

  • Be “sincere” by making a quick PSA that I’m about to tweet an affiliate link.
  • Write a post explaining how affiliate links work, how to identify them and how to remove my code.
  • Get transparent about the rising cost in cat food and how my cats are hungry.
  • Apologize for finding a viable way to use my brand to support myself.

Or, I can choose to believe that you’re not stupid and never take advantage of your trust.

If you feel the need to disclose that [!THIS IS AN AFFILIATE LINK!], then I’m worried for you and the reputation you must have with your community. Because it clearly needs work.

Personally, I choose to act transparently so that my links speak for themselves. I think it’s pretty well established that I wouldn’t vouch for something I didn’t believe in and that when  it’s a choice of “being truthful” or “not burning bridges”…I often have to invest in a new boat.

But tell me if I’m missing it. Do you mistrust recommendations that come with affiliate links? What are the rules for proper disclosure? It’s Friday. You’re allowed to get outspoken.

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