How the New FTC Guidelines Impact Bloggers and Social Media

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photo credit: Jim Muckian via photopin cc

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) came up with new guidelines for bloggers and social media users to disclose sponsored content or free product samples in exchange for reviews. You can read the full text (it’s surprisingly light and there are fun examples at the end), but below is the quick and dirty on what brands need to know for their blogger outreach programs.

Most of these changes affect what bloggers do on their blogs or social media channels. This is typically out of our control as an agency working on behalf of brands, but what we can do (and you should, too) is address these issues with all bloggers we work with as the blogger may not know the guidelines have changed. The FTC is more likely to go after a big brand rather than one blogger if they find noncompliance; so cover yourself by addressing it first (and in writing). That way if the blogger does know about the updates and just does not want to comply, at least you have proof that you tried to do the right thing.

1. Proximal Placement is Priceless

A disclosure must be placed adjacent to the claim or item being advertised. Therefore, you can no longer include a general disclosure page on your website and include a link on all product review blog posts. The disclosure must be included in the actual review, and in close proximity to any positive or negative claims about the product.

“Imitation” must be adjacent to “pearl” as not to mislead consumers.

2. Disclosure Bookends

Most bloggers are already familiar with placing some type of disclose at the bottom of each article indicating when they have received product or discounts in exchange for reviews or sponsored content. While we don’t provide sponsored content (that’s a Google no-no and a link no-follow), we do work with bloggers on product reviews. Disclosing the relationship is always discussed with the bloggers we work up front, and we have written about product disclosures for bloggers in the past.

According to the new guidelines, bloggers must include the disclose at the bottom and the top of the post, bookending the actual review or piece of content to ensure readers know the full extent of the relationship. While this is not a huge change, it is imperative you discuss the update with bloggers before agreeing to sending product for review.

In the article above, the blogger does not disclose free product until the end of the post. New guidelines state it must go at the top and bottom of the article.

3. Tweets Are Not Exempt

Neither are Facebook status updates, Google+ posts, Vine videos, Tumblr posts, Instagram photos, and whatever other social media network was created in the time it took to write this sentence. Any social media post that has been sponsored or obtained through free or discounted products, regardless of the channel or the poster, must also contain the words “ad,” or “sponsored.” But the use of #sp or #spon is no longer accepted, as the FTC does not think the general public know what those hashtags mean.

For example, if a blogger is tweeting about the review they wrote after receiving a free product, they must include a quick note about it. Something along the lines of: “Ad: Check out my new review on The Bunny Bjorn…”.

The first tweet does not comply with the new guidelines because @JuliStarz does not indicate it’s an ad or that results are atypical directly in the tweet. The second tweet adheres to the new guidelines.

This can be tricky with the limited space in Tweets and other social media posts. But make sure to stress the importance with bloggers and social media users (again, in writing). Offer some suggested tweets or Facebook posts they can use to ensure compliance.

4. No More Cryptic Shortened URLs

When using a hyperlink to lead to a disclosure, customize the link and make it obvious rather than using string of letters and numbers that bit.ly or other tools spit out. The FTC also asks users to:

“Label the hyperlink appropriately to convey the importance, nature, and relevance of the information it leads to; use hyperlink styles consistently, so consumers know when a link is available; place the hyperlink as close as possible to the relevant information it qualifies and make it noticeable; take consumers directly to the disclosure on the click-through page; assess the effectiveness of the hyperlink by monitoring click-through rates and other information about consumer use and make changes accordingly.” [this one makes us nerd out!]

The new guidelines also address:

  1. Prominence — don’t bury disclosures on page or site
  2. Distracting factors in ads — don’t let other parts of the ad or page get in the way of the disclosure
  3. Repetition — when the bookends just aren’t enough, repeat the disclosure multiple times throughout “as needed”
  4. Multimedia messages and campaigns – if you have a video with product claims, the disclosure must be included in the video, not just on the landing page or in the video description; same goes for audio files, animated videos, augmented reality, and any other type of content
  5. Understandable language – avoid legalese and jargon

The updates are not actual laws, they are merely guidelines set forth by the FTC to provide a more open and honest consumer experience. You can choose to comply or take the risk, but know that just because it isn’t law, doesn’t mean the FTC can’t take action on your brand or the blogger, both of which could have major financial and reputation repercussions.

Note: I am not an attorney and Location3 is not a law firm. The above information is a summary of the new FTC guidelines, but does not qualify as legal advice. Seek legal counsel to fully understand these new FTC guidelines and how they apply to your brand. 

 

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