Are you up to speed on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) marketing disclosure guidelines for social media? If not, here’s a crash course on what you should know.
Last year, the FTC, the government’s “truth in advertising” arm, updated its social media disclosure policies for the first time in five years, sending a signal that the department was getting tougher on marketers who may not be clearly disclosing their client, sponsor, partnership (or what-have-you) relationship when engaging on social media. And given recent examples of crackdowns in the media, the FTC guidelines are not to be considered optional.
The FTC’s stance remains that relationships between brand and endorser on social media must be “clearly and conspicuously” disclosed. Here are a few specifics:
Clear and Conspicuous: Err on the side of oversharing rather than undersharing. Spell out hashtags rather than abbreviating. While marketers may know what #spon or #cl stands for, for example, the layperson may not. Instead, opt for #sponsored or #client. #Sponsored, #Promotion, #Ad or #Client may use up a few of those 140 valued characters in a Tweet but it is well worth using that real estate to protect yourself and your client.
Consultant Relationship: Registered dietitian Regan Jones recently brought to my attention that from recent correspondence with the FTC, she gleaned that the hashtags #advisor and #consultant alone are not considered adequate disclosure hashtags to signify a client relationship.
The FTC encourages that you are crystal-clear to readers of your posts that you are a paid consultant. Vague hashtags may not convey this to readers, thus, the use of #XYZ-Consultant or #XYZ-Advisor where XYZ is the name of the brand/company you represent is clearer to readers that the brand/company is benefitting from your post. Similarly, when using a social media platform where character limit is not an issue, you could spell out your advisor role as follows: “I’m a paid consultant for XYZ.”
Contests: When a client, or your own company, sponsors a contest, the responsibility falls on the sponsor to ensure people entering the contest disclose they are entering by use of a #contest or #sweepstakes hashtag.
The FTC does not necessarily shout its disclosure updates from the rooftops. Marketers should make every effort to self-regulate and stay up to speed on FTC updates. According to a 2014 survey by IZEA, 29 percent of marketers polled were completely unaware of the FTC’s disclosure rules.
If there’s ever a doubt, err on the side of caution. Disclose. Adding a simple hashtag to a social media post takes a split second. Responding to FTC queries regarding any questionable activity would likely take a great deal of yours – and your attorney’s – time! Lastly, FTC guidelines will likely continue to evolve. The above is my take on FTC guidelines and my registered dietitian colleagues’ interpretation of them as well. Should you have any questions about appropriate use of disclosure, contact the FTC directly by emailing them at email@example.com or consult the FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, which is current as of June 2016. The FAQ pertaining to FTC Guidelines is also helpful.
UPDATE: I received the following via correspondence with the FTC on June 23, 2016 noting that #client is not considered sufficient disclosure as consumers may not know what this represents. From an FTC representative: “I would have no idea what #cl stands for and I believe that many ordinary consumers wouldn’t either (I actually doubt that more than a few would). In fact, I wouldn’t expect that many consumers understand #client either. What do you mean by a client relationship? Do you mean the endorser is the client of the entity behind the product or service being endorsed, or that the entity is the endorser’s client? I think you might have to use other language that’s not so ambiguous. You could say, “X Company is our client” or “I work with X company.” If space is at a premium, you’re welcome to just call it an advertisement.”
Where else – and how – do you disclose your affiliations when using social media? Please share below.