There are many ways to earn income through podcasting: affiliates, sponsorships, sales, and more. Disclosing when you get compensated is not only the law, but it's also a good way to earn your audience's trust!
Read the FTC's resources
In the United States of America, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintains a fantastic guide on working with “endorsements.” This applies to sponsorships, affiliates, “pay to play,” and more.
I highly recommend you read their guide and consult with a lawyer if you have further questions because none of the following is legal advice, only sharing things I think you should do to honor the law and your audience, not things you can “get away with.”
Why should you disclose compensation?
Many countries have laws and enforced guidelines requiring you to disclose any time you're compensated for endorsing, mentioning, including, or referring to something or someone. Basically, you should disclose if you're compensated in any way.
The point is for your audience to have the information they need to make their own decisions about your opinions and whether your recommendations are tarnished by your being compensated. Even if your opinion is not swayed by compensation, you still need to disclose when you're compensated.
You might think, “Won't they stop caring if they know I get compensated?” And yes, that's a possibility, but it's the moral thing to do anyway! Besides, there are many things you can do to earn your audience's trust anyway, and I'll share some further here.
Take BlueHost and its many relatives for example (and yes, I earn from purchases through my own BlueHost affiliate link). These web-hosting providers get highly recommended all over the Internet and they are extremely popular hosting companies. But what you might not know is that they also pay some of the biggest affiliate fees of all, which is probably why they're recommended so much!
Now that you know that, does it change your opinion of BlueHost or what you think when someone recommends BlueHost?
That's not to say BlueHost is horrible and should never be recommended, only that you need to let your audience use their critical-thinking skills when you share an opinion and might get compensated in any way for it.
The same goes for any guests you might have in your podcast or at your events, or any products you have visible or even merely mention! If your guest is compensating you in any way to be on your podcast, your audience needs to know that! And if you were given a product to show off or were paid to use it, you need to disclose that!
This is all because it helps your audience make their own decisions about how much to trust your opinions.
Put yourself in the audience's place. Wouldn't you want to know if the person you were reading, watching, or listening to had some kind of financial or other compensation relationship with the products, services, and people that they showcase?
What kinds of compensation should you disclose?
While I'm not licensed to give legal advice and tell you what you're allowed to get away with, I can recommend you always take a higher moral approach and disclose whenever you're compensated in any way.
Your compensation could be a discount, an affiliate fee paid to you, a payment for mentioning (like a sponsorship), letting you keep something for free, or earning some other kind of perks like bonus credits that you get to use without paying.
You don't have to disclose the terms of your compensation agreement, but you do need to make it obvious that you were, are, or will be compensated (to the best of your knowledge).
It doesn't really matter whether you're compensated for merely mentioning, using, including, or displaying something or someone; or you're compensated only if someone takes a particular action. You need to disclose it anyway!
For example, I record my audio podcasts with an Electro-Voice RE320 microphone and a first-generation RØDECaster Pro. Both of these were given to me free of charge and with no conditions. I don't have to tell you everything I was given when I'm merely using it, but when I'm endorsing these products in any way, I try to disclose that they were given to me, as well as disclosing that I have affiliate relationships with retailers of these products.
When should you disclose compensations?
I hope you understand by now that the basic answer to “When should I disclose?” is essentially “always.” But exactly when and where do you include that disclosure relative to the thing you're endorsing or the guest who paid to be on your podcast?
The first of two most important things about disclosures is that they need to be prominently placed.
For example, the following, alone, would not be good disclosure placements:
- A mention in your Twitter bio that “tweets may contain affiliate links”
- A note in your website footer saying you earn commissions from affiliate links
- A disclosure page on your website
- A message at the end of your podcast episodes, whether to cover products or that your guest paid to be on your podcast (“pay to play”)
Instead, here are more ideal places to disclose:
- At the beginning of your content including the person or thing for which you're compensated
- Within close proximity to your mention
Disclosing should not be an afterthought, but it also doesn't have to be obnoxious (like repeating your disclosure every couple of minutes). It's really best to be upfront about it so your audience can keep that in mind—if they want—as they consume your content.
How should you disclose compensation?
The second important thing about disclosures is that they need to be easily understandable.
This is a big reason I suggest avoiding the word “may,” as in “I may earn commissions from purchases through my links.”
Well, which is it? Are you or are you not being paid?
Podcast sponsorships are usually easy because they can include things like “This podcast is sponsored by,” or “Here's an ad from our sponsors,” or the radically different production makes it obvious it's an ad (like commercials on TV compared to the actual show you're watching). Nonetheless, I still sometimes hear podcasters do this wrong because they start recommending something or talking about something, and it's not clear whether they merely like that thing, or they are being compensated to talk about it or to refer business.
Some affiliate programs have very specific language they require—or maybe they're more like guidelines. But the point is that you must be clear about it!
Here's a way I like to say it (so much that it's a TextExpander snippet—and yes, I earn from TextExpander referrals, too!):
(As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases through [this link / these links].)
I think that's concise and clear. Sure, a “qualifying purchase” doesn't give every possible detail (for example, only if you purchase within 30 days of clicking, or only if you're from the USA, and such), but it's good enough to make it clear that I do earn, instead of “I may earn.”
I also have shorter versions I can use, depending on the clarity of the context:
(I earn from qualifying purchases.)
I see some people recommend adding merely “#ad,” “#sponsored,” “#affiliate,” or “#aff” (with or without the “#”). But I think these are either inaccurate or not easily understood.
For example, imagine you really like a book you just read, so you're posting about it on Twitter using an affiliate link. If you include “#ad,” it sounds like it's an advertisement and that you're being paid to simply mention it. Yes, that's sometimes the case, but it's not true with an affiliate link because you would get paid only if someone takes the appropriate action, not if you simply mention the product. On the other side, saying “#affiliate” or “#aff” would make sense probably only to people already familiar with affiliate programs (like you!). In other words, would your grandma know that you get paid if she purchases the book through your link?
Yes, some places are very limited in how long your messages can be. In such cases, even “#aff” or “#ad” is better than nothing, and also better than something like pushing your disclosure to the landing page or a followup comment,
When it comes to products or services I get to test or review, I disclose a little bit differently.
If I get to keep the thing, I would say something like the following early in my review:
[Company] provided this to me for free, but I don't let that affect my opinions.
Or if it's something I get to try for free, but only for a short time, I might say something like:
[Company] provided this for me to review at no cost, but I don't get to keep it.
Watch at the 47-second mark to see an example of how I did this in my review of the Sound Devices MixPre series:
And if your podcast guest compensated you to be on your podcast, you could start the episode saying, something like one of these:
This episode is sponsored by [Company] and my guest is [Name] from [Company].
This episode is brought to you by [Product] from [Name]. And I got to interview [Name] …
Thanks to [Name] for sponsoring this episode, and I'm thrilled to be talking with [him/her] about …
But you don't have to disclose if you compensated your guest to be on your podcast.
How to use disclosures to earn trust instead of losing it
Your audience needs to know whether you're being compensated so they can decide whether that tarnishes the value of your opinions, but there's plenty you can do to prevent negative perceptions and demonstrate even greater value!
- Always disclose! This is not only the law in many places, but it also demonstrates your transparency. Your audience will learn that you're not trying to hide the fact you earn something.
- Don't be swayed by earnings. It shouldn't matter how much a company pays you to talk about or promote something. If you don't like something or you find a fault, be honest and say so! Always prioritize morals over money!
- Reinforce your ethics to your audience. Almost wherever I include an affiliate link, I also reinforce that I don't let earnings affect my opinion. In fact, it's in my full primary TextExpander snippet for disclosures: “(As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases through [this link / these links]. But I recommend things I truly believe in, regardless of earnings.)”
- Mandate your policy with companies. When you're given or loaned something for review, ensure the company knows and accepts that you will be honest with what you say, as if you weren't compensated at all, and that you will disclose that you're being compensated.
- Recommend things you don't earn from, and disclose that! I think it's good for your audience to also know when you are not being compensated in any way because that helps them see your genuineness. Consider, for example, what I said about Hindenburg in my recent episode about the best audio-editing apps for podcasting—I showered praise on Hindenburg as it took my #1 spot, and yet I earn nothing from them (at least currently, but I certainly want to)!
- Never endorse something merely because of earning potential. You might have multiple options you can recommend or guests you could accept. But include what is truly better, not merely what earns you more. For example, BlueHost referrals pay me many times what SiteGround referrals do, but I recommend SiteGround more highly because I think their service is better and they're not part of the massive EIG company that owns BlueHost, HostGator, and many other hosting companies.
- Always be honest and do what's right. This is really what it's about. Don't deceive your audience so you can earn more, and don't try to hide things. The right morals will always be right.
These 7 tips mostly apply to sponsorships, too, but with the exception that you're being paid to say good things, not bad things. So do right by your sponsor and contract, and just make it obvious to your audience that it's a sponsorship, not necessarily a personal endorsement (unless it truly is).
Remember to apply this to “pay for play” guest spots, too! Your audience needs to know if you're being compensated to have a particular guest on your podcast. And you should mandate this same kind of policy if you ever pay to be a guest on someone else's show or you compensate someone else for endorsing, using, or talking about your own products or services.
How to account for potential future earnings
Things change. What you recommend without compensation today may offer compensation later. For example, I've recommended Auphonic for many years, and I still do. All those years of recommendations were with absolutely no compensation—until 2022 when they finally launched an affiliate program that I was happy to join! You can account for this kind of thing with some good planning!
One way of doing that is by outright saying you might someday earn, just like I did in my recent mentions of Hindenburg and Capsho in recent episodes. I didn't earn anything then, but I did say I would absolutely join and use the affiliate programs if they were ever offered, and I would earn from purchases after that. (As it turns out, Capsho does have an affiliate program, but I'm still awaiting the invitation to that.)
The other thing you can do is to send your audience somewhere that could easily be changed as necessary. For example, I promote Hindenburg Pro with my link TheAudacitytoPodcast.com/hindenburg. That's currently a 307 temporary redirect with Pretty Links Pro (another thing I earn commissions from qualifying purchases). So if Hindenburg ever offers an affiliate program, I can easily change that redirect to use my affiliate link (and that's why I recommend 307 or 302 temporary redirects for all external links or anything that can someday change). Another, and even better option, is that I can point that link to a page on my site with more information about why I recommend Hindenburg Pro and prominently include my affiliate disclosure there. For example, check out my short landing page for my Captivate podcast-hosting affiliate link or my landing page for the Jasper AI writing assistant.
Although you should always disclose whenever talking about or outright promoting a product you could earn from, making landing pages like this will help you to make old non-compensated promotions more compliant by letting you prominently disclose your present affiliate (or other) relationship on the landing page.
This is another good reason to send people back to your site or at least your domain for the actual affiliate link, instead of giving the direct link in your podcast—regardless of whether it's an affiliate. For example, instead of my telling you to visit Auphonic's website, I can either tell you to get the link from my notes or point you to TheAudacitytoPodcast.com/auphonic, which is my landing page that contains more information and my disclosure. So when Auphonic finally did offer an affiliate program after my years of using and promoting their service, I can easily update my landing page and external link with the appropriate disclosure and affiliate-tracking URL.
I know it can be annoying to disclose these things, but it's the right thing to do and—when done properly—can actually boost your authority and influence!
Always try to be above reproach instead of trying to figure out the bare minimum you can get away with. A great starting place is the FTC's Endorsement Guide and whatever other guides and laws might apply in your locale.
And I want to give a special thanks and shoutout to my own lawyer, Gordon Firemark, also known as The Podcast Lawyer, for reviewing this content before I published it. I don't get compensated for endorsing his personal legal services (that would be illegal!), but he's been a good friend and business associate for a long time. (I do, however, earn from qualifying purchases of his great courses and products for podcasters, like his “Easy Legal for Podcasters” course or his legal forms and templates for podcasters, which I do highly recommend!)
Thanks for the boostagrams!
And speaking of shoutouts, I want to catch up with some of the boostagrams I've received.
- On my episode about Podcasting 2.0 micropayments, Adam Curry, the podfather and host of Podcasting 2.0 and No Agenda, sent 77,777§ (the “Stryper boost”) and said: “By FAR the best explanation of Value4Value! This needs to be a video animation and I'm going to ask Dame Jennifer about doing this if OK with you. Excellent work Daniel.”
- In response to the same episode, Merry Oscar, creator of the Fountain podcast app, sent 100,000§ (WHOA!) and said, “Incredible overview of how micropayments and value for value are a better monetisation option for podcasters. Thanks so much for putting this together Daniel! ⚡️”
- Although below my current threshold of 10,000§ for a shoutout, I really like what “iluvsush” said with 5,000§, “Although this is a podcast aimed at podcasters, I wanted you to know that it inspired me (a listener) to see micropayments in a new way. Very timely since I was just questioning whether or not the meagre amount I can afford to send is even worth it to the podcaster. Thank you for the clear and helpful explanation.”
- Kyrin from Mere Mortals sent 12,345§ and said, “I quite like the idea of asking for 10k sats for a review. Very novel! I'll put my hand up and be first in line if you want to check out the Mere Mortals podcast. We do our V4V segment once a week on our live episodes with the dark grey episode cover art. Hope you enjoy!”
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This post may contain links to products or services with which I have an affiliate relationship. I may receive compensation from your actions through such links. However, I don't let that corrupt my perspective and I don't recommend only affiliates.