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Head Off Punishment by the FTC by Following Their Social Media Marketing Guidelines
For the last twelve months, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been considering updates to their Endorsement Guide, which I first wrote about in 2015. Here’s what your marketing team needs to know:
My guess is that 90% of social media influencers aren’t even aware that there are regulations on posting, judging by some of the tricks I've seen. As a reminder, the FTC is the agency that enforces U.S. truth-in-advertising laws, and that includes all kinds of social media marketing such promotions, contests, and so on. In fact, since social media marketing is so new compared to other kinds of marketing, the FTC is particularly focused on these regulations.
The FTC’s main point is that any material relationships between a brand and a social media endorser must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed. Back in 2009, the guidelines were updated from the original 1980 standards and just last May, FTC commissioners proposed new updates and requested public comments. About 30 comments are currently being reviewed by FTC staff, but no changes have been officially made yet.
How does this affect social media marketers? Know that the FTC is cracking down on schemes like out-and-out fake claims and reviews that are manipulated to look better than they really are. There’s even a proposed rule to deal with “virtual influencers,” which are basically fictional characters.
My motto is “disclose, disclose, disclose.” Be as transparent as possible. If you’re hiring a celebrity or influencer, even a micro-influencer, to talk about your brand, say so. Follow all the rules when holding contests on social media that involve incentives or prizes. If you have any connection with a specific brand, company, or public figure, make it known.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
Ads, videos, even tweets should clearly identify whether they are paid promotions. It’s not enough to just say in your account info that you have sponsors, every promo post needs its own disclaimer.
Follow the guidelines carefully. For instance, if you are using hashtags, #SummerFun might be considered deceptive. Instead, be clear by using #SummerFunSweepstakes to spread the word.
Rather than in the written details, put the disclaimer right in the beginning of your video, not at the end. This goes for product reviews, video gaming commentary, and so on.
If you are discussing a product, service, or brand and are receiving compensation for it, say so in a plain sentence. The FTC doesn’t like deceptive phrases such as “thank you, Brand X” when what you should be saying is “Brand X paid for my trip to the Bahamas.”
Over and over again in the “What People Are Asking” section, the FTC repeats a version of the phrase “What matters is effective communication.” You are expected to disclose compensation, identify promotion, and do it in an absolutely clear way that leaves no room for confusion.
We’ll keep you posted when the FTC guidelines officially change, but if you are already being upfront about endorsements in your social media marketing, then you should be fine. To be sure, I encourage you to take a look at the Advertising and Marketing page on the Federal Trad Commission website. Of course, there’s even less to worry about if you hand off your social media marketing to someone who does it all the time – like the Sprocket team! Just give us a call and we’ll talk over your specific needs.
Photo by Ron Lach
This article is an update to “FTC Has Updated Disclosure Guidelines for Social Media Marketers” dated 7/31/2015.
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