All posts in “FTC”

New FTC Guides: disclosure comes to the social media masses

Today is a new day. The FTC’s recent updates to its guides (“Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”) for advertisers are now in affect. These new guides impact both users of social media and Brands.

To comply with the guides, individuals (bloggers, users of social media)  must disclose every “material connection” or relationship they have with an advertiser. A material connection is one where the individual receives payment, product, demo units, goods, services, etc. from an advertiser. However, professional journalists do not disclose the free product, junkets, travel, meals, tickets, accommodations, etc. that they receive from advertisers. This double standard makes my head spin.

So, the rather loosely-defined guides are now in effect. The fine for failure to comply (up to $11,000 per infraction) can be applied to both advertisers and individuals.

Here is a quick overview of how to comply with the changes:

For individuals participating online:

  • Disclose whenever you have a relationship with an advertiser, brand or company. This has specific implications for employees. You must make a disclosure if you work for Acme Widgets and you mention your employer, competitors, or the widgets industry in a blog post, tweet or elsewhere online.
  • You must also disclose the name of your employer if you are commenting on a forum thread or in a group about Acme Widgets, the widget industry or about a competitor.
  • Disclose when you have received any kind of product or anything of value from a Brand. You can be a fan but as soon as you’ve received something of value because you’re fan, a customer, or because of your social networks and activity online, you need to disclose the nature of what you’ve received.

So, how do you make a disclosure? It is very simple and need not take up much space.

  • “I work for Acme Widgets.”
  • If Acme Widgets flew you to South Carolina to participate in a customer golf tournament you might write: “I’m an Acme Widgets customer. Acme Widgets has paid for my travel to attend this conference and golf tournament.”

This disclosure is not much of a change for people accustomed to being transparent when using social media. It will require a bit more work and thoughtfulness on the part of social media users to make their disclosures.  And of course, the ins-and-outs of how to do disclosure using short message services like Twitter are yet to be defined. Certainly for those of us who participate online, the effort is worthwhile to stay ahead of any fines or action from the FTC. Here at SMG, we fully expect the applications and methods used to manage personal disclosure to evolve as the Guides are applied to real-word situations. We also expect norms and best practices to emerge as the Guides are tested.

For Brands engaging fans and customers online, these Guides mean that the best practices for social media marketing advocated by organizations like WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) are now policy. These Guides mean more work, discipline and process around social media operations. The FTC places equal onus on advertisers and individuals for compliance and fines can be issued to both parties.

If you’re an advertiser, a roadmap for your brand might look like this:

  1. Refesh your guidelines for employees participating online to include specifics about disclosure. Provide some concrete examples and make sure they know where to turn with questions.
  2. Review your blogger relations/digital influencer/fan engagement approach with your internal teams and agencies. Make certain that language with details about the requirement to disclose and where they can find factual information about your product is included in communication with these bloggers.
  3. The next step is to watch and ensure disclosure is being made by your campaign participants and that they aren’t make any false claims. You can accomplish this by monitoring, keeping an eye on and following up about disclosure for the participants in your campaign.

If you’d like to read further, I suggest you check out Andy Sernovitz’s thoughtful post, What do the “FTC Guides re: The Use of Endorsements and Testimonials Mean for Social Media Markters?.

WOMMA is currently requesting feedback on its proposed Guide to Social Media Disclosure. That guide is shaping up to provide “explicit best practices for social media disclosure”.

So far the reaction to these new Guides seems to be the online equivalent of a shrug. Advertisers and brands are certainly not shrinking away from social media campaigns in light of the new FTC Guides. So what do you think? Will these new FTC Guides really change anything?

When PR and Marketing Collide Webinar Audio Replay Available Now

Our team of experts on last week’s Social Media Today webinar decided to add more colour to the palette by not only leaving marketing and PR blended on the communications canvas, but adding IT, Human Resources and <gulp> customer service to the mix. What did you think dear listeners?

If you missed it, the Social Media Today webinar was moderated by Maggie with participants Peter Kim, Managing Director, North America at Dachis Group, Cathy Brooks, communications expert and founder of Other Than That and Paul Gillin, writer, speaker, online marketing consultant you can click here to give ‘er a listen.

The topic was When PR and Marketing Collide but it began with a marriage proposal from Robin Carey, Social Media Today to Maggie Fox. See? Our social media experts are deeply committed to joining forces in efforts of mass collaboration. A lot of ground was covered including predictions of where social media is going in the next 18-24 months.

The panelists pretty much agreed that the introduction of social media has interrupted the traditional flow between earned and paid media but are they truly stepping on each others toes? Should social media be opened right up for employees or simply shut down due to lack of training and its unpredictable nature? The conversation that transpired may surprise you.

We are living in the 21st century, but it seems like our audiences are responding to marketing from the past. Back to the Future? Hear why. Predictions are, that moving forward, more money will be spent on earned media and social media. Want to know why? And how does 17th century marketing even blend in the digital age?

If every employee is a broadcaster at home or at work, who should really speak on behalf of a company especially in the face of new communications rules by the FTC? And does social media place every employee into a customer service role? As if this webinar didn’t sound interesting enough, measurement, ROI, integration of paid and earned media was also discussed.

Head over here, turn up the volume and feel free to send us feedback!

Free Ethics of Blogging Webinar Sept 24th


With the Federal Telecommunications Commission about to weigh in on disclosure expectations for bloggersdebates about what’s acceptable in the realm of “sponsored conversations” and heated discussions about whether “pay per post” isethical or even worthwhile, if you’re a business trying to navigate all of this safely, it can be incredibly confusing and worrisome.

Luckily, we’re here to help! Social Media Group and Social Media Today are pleased to offer you an opportunity to register for a free webinar on the Ethics of Blogging. I’ll be moderating the panel, covering all aspects of social media, and will be joined by some of the brightest minds in the business:

  • Augie Ray, Managing Director of Experiential Marketing at Fullhouse, an interactive and social media agency
  • Daniel Tunkelang, Chief Scientist and co-founder of Endeca and a leading industry advocate on interactive and exploratory approaches to supporting information seeking
  • John Jantsch, a marketing and digital technology coach, award winning social media publisher, and author of Duct Tape Marketing

I hope you can join us for this FREE webinar Thursday September 24th at 1pm EDT, and please be sure to ask lots of questions!