Photo by Freya* via Flickr Creative Commons
For this update, we will focus on some of the more international concerns but it is important to note that there is a lot of activity going on here in the US as well. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting a workshop on May 30th to discuss disclosures in social media. The event will be open to the public and webcast as well.
lIt is expected that this workshop will bring many of the concerns that the FTC has expressed forward and that it will provide clarification for advertisers and advocates alike, with regard to new platforms, changes in the market and lingering confusion from previous guidance.
That said, the focus on ethics and disclosure has not been limited to the US. Both Canada and Australia have been indicating that they are concerned and watching the space, but the UK has been the most active. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) weighed in on social media disclosures in late 2010, settling its case with a company named Handpicked Media. The concern was that Handpicked Media was encouraging influential advocates to promote brands on their social networking channels. The OFT made it clear that they expect individuals to include disclosures in all posts and that advertisers are responsible for communicating disclosure requirements and are responsible for both disclosures and claims made by advocates on their behalf.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has weighed in a few times now on related concerns. They have investigated Mercedes-Benz and Snickers (among others) for promotional activities in digital and social channels. They also recently closed an investigation their first affiliate marketing concern.
There have also been a number of high profile events highlighted in the court of public opinion. Often this is where issues are raised prior to regulatory action. In particular, Google Chrome was being promoted by a company named Unruly Media reached out to a number of influential bloggers to promote a video that had been created for them to post. The three issues that were raised were 1) a lack of disclosure by the influencers, 2) the violation of Google policies against sponsored content programs for their brands and, most notably, 3) the links that were used in the video content did not include “no follow” tags which would remove them from search engine indexing. As a result, Google issued a public apology, required the removal of the content and had to reduce the rankings of their Chrome product in their own core search engine results.
Regardless of where you are based or where you may be promoting content, there are simple ethical guidelines that determine your requirements. It should not come as a surprise to your readers that you are participating in a marketing program or receiving samples and promotional items.