Can You Have Too Much Disclosure?

45 Fremont, #3If you’re speaking with a friend about something you like do you also say, “I use it myself – I can vouch for it”?


But if you’re speaking to that same friend a few days later and you ask how he/she got on with that product, do you again say that you use it yourself? No. Because obviously they know that from your first recommendation.

So how much disclosure is needed when you recommend something online?

Last night Chris Brogan posted a link to his blog post about Hubspot’s new Twitter report. I half-jokingly asked him whether that tweet should mention disclosure, since Hubspot sponsors Chris’s Inbound Marketing Summit.

Chris, being the open guy he is, replied that it was a good question and so went and edited his blog post to mention the sponsorship. It also opened up a good little conversation on Twitter about how much disclosure is needed.

The fact that people joined in the conversation and offered their views on disclosure policies shows that it’s an important topic. People and companies obviously need to be transparent about their dealings, or else it could lead to a slippery slope later on.

Yet there is also the danger that we get sucked in to the whole “disclose, disclose, disclose!” mindset. Yes, we all need to be clear about who our partners or sponsors are. But we also need to temper that with common sense.

If it’s the first mention of a company or sponsor that you work with or have as a client then, yes, full disclosure is needed. But I don’t think you need to keep mentioning it in every single conversation you have from thereon in. You’ve already disclosed and you’re not hiding anything, so you’re good to go (as long as you’re not blatantly pitching something).

You could go one step further and have either a Disclosure page on your blog or website, or a Partners With page. This can then be updated with each new announcement or partnership and keeps everything in the open (thanks to Heather Allard for the hat tip).

The main thing is, disclosure is important and you need to make sure that you’ve covered yourself from any potential backlash. But I don’t think you need to mention relationships in every single thing you mention about that person or company.

How about you? Do you disclose every time, or just initially? Can there be too much disclosure or never enough?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Thomas Hawk

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  1. says

    Well, I do think you don't have to go overboard with disclosure, on the other hand, although you might have disclosed at an earlier time, that doesn't mean the reader of the blog (or whatever) saw that, and so in unaware of the connection. Kind of like the idea of a disclosure page, takes care of that problem.

  2. says

    Thought-provoking post. I agree with Roger that the danger in a “first use” disclosure policy is that some readers may miss it the first time around. The solution could be an additional step on your Disclosure page idea: add a link to the disclosure page in each post that warrants it. The word “Disclosure” in parenthesis after a related statement, linking to the page of explanation, would be enough and I think offers a “common sense” approach.

    • says

      As both you and Roger mention, Kellye, that's definitely one of the hardest things facing people with regards disclosure – where and when. Conversations are happening all the time, and people flit in and out of them – meaning the initial disclosure message will be missed.

      So, does that merit mentioning the relationship to every newcomer? Possibly – but then you need to look at if you do this just on your blog (or website), Twitter, Friendfeed, or any other conversation outlet. Tough call.

  3. sethsimonds says

    You called out one of the “Trust Agents” on pimping a sponsor without disclosure? That can't have earned you any points.

    I'm with the rest on a page listing all biz relationships that can be linked to any time there might be a question of influence. It's a good idea.

    You can market things effectively with full disclosure. You simply need to have creative talent, a great product, and a network of people who don't instantly raise their eyebrows at the idea of you promoting something.

    • says

      Should I wear my Batsuit? 😉

      It's a solid point you make, Seth – it all boils back down to perceived image. If you're consistent in your message and beliefs and are sharing freely without pushing, disclosure will be less of an issue. The “raised eyebrow” analogy is perfect.

  4. David says

    There are some blogs (Mr. Brogan's being one) that seem to be turning into vehicles for advertising where the content is just there to fill in some space between ads of different types.

    In Chris' case this is a shame because he does produce such good content which I personally am reading less these days. I think I'd be in favor of blogs having a page listing all the sponsorships they have. Assuming the blogger actively keeps it updated, it would be a good way to know which promotions are because he/she just likes the product or whether for $$.

    By the way,I did think that the original story about the Hubspot Twitter stats was really interesting. As much as I dislike Hubspot's sales approach, they certainly are a great resource on the marketing side.

    • says

      It's funny, you're not the first I've heard mention Chris's blog with regards content. Maybe the numerous partnerships he has/is fostering might be one of the reasons?

      I think a Sponsored By page would definitely go a good way of easing the concerns of readers. If someone recommends something, I want to know that it's because they like it and not because their bank manager liked it.

      At the minute, it isn't clear with a lot of bloggers.

  5. says

    I like the idea of having a single “disclosure” page instead of cluttering up multiple conversations with the same repeated disclosures.

    Disclosure: I work for HubSpot, and built Twitter Grader, and played ping-pong with Chris Brogan recently. :)

  6. says

    Interesting. Although, I don't think a disclosure “page” would be as beneficial as a simple sentence in italics at the bottom of the post in question. The in-post sentence is 10x more likely to be seen vs. the page.

    • says

      Agreed, Stuart, single post disclosure should always be the norm. I was thinking more for the convoluted discussions happening all over the place where feeding the disclosure line every sentence would be overkill? Having a disclosure hub would help alleviate that a little.

  7. says

    I find it difficult to imagine a world where there is too much disclosure.

    The danger of making the requirement to disclose as dependent on when you last disclosed or flexible is that disclosure will only occur when it is not material.

  8. says

    I find it difficult to imagine a world where there is too much disclosure.

    The danger of making the requirement to disclose as dependent on when you last disclosed or flexible is that disclosure will only occur when it is not material.


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