What The Recent FTC Hearings Mean to You

Posted on June 21, 2012

Photo by fast_ck

On May 30, 2012 Federal Trade Commission hosted “In Short, Advertising and Privacy Disclosures In a Digital World,” a workshop where panelists discussed recommendations and concerns for upcoming updates of the FTC Dot Com Disclosures, originally published in 2000. A central purpose of the updates is to deal with the issues facing disclosures in new online and social media platforms.

This pertains to bloggers because the 2009 FTC guidelines on endorsements and testimonials provides that if a blogger receives payment or accepts a gift, that post is endorsement and the blogger must disclose any material connections to the seller of the product or service. These guidelines are applicable regardless of whether the endorsement appears on a web site, blog post or social media site.

A recent WWD article highlighted the existing tension between bloggers who are getting paid for campaign post, essentially advertising, as compared to editorial outreach. In the fashion industry brands are increasingly working with bloggers to design, style, blog and even appear in advertising campaigns

During the recent workshop, a diverse set of panelists evaluated various examples of such disclosures on sponsored log posts and social media platforms.

Based on the discussions, here are some tips and considerations for bloggers:

In-line disclosures preferred in blog posts:

The panelists unanimously preferred in line disclosures, disclosures that are incorporated right into the blog’s text rather that appearing separately on the bottom of the post or web page, footnote or side note. The reasoning – such disclosures maintain the blog’s authenticity while complying with the FTC’s 2009 endorsement guidelines by clearly representing the material connection between the blogger and company providing money or free product. In additional, the risk of the disclosure being severed from the original post is less when the post is syndicated across other platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

Some panelists, including a professional blogger, Stacey Ferguson of Blogalicious, contended that in-line disclosures should be the standard when blogging. However, there were some panelists who believed that a hyperlink such as “disclaimer” to the side of a blog post should be satisfactory.

Special issues with limited space of Twitter:

All of the panelists recognized that disclosures on Twitter are difficult due to the 140 character limitation and monitoring of subsequent tweets.

Character limitation: There was concern over hashtags that follow sponsored tweets, i.e., “#spon,” because there is no clear data to show that most users really understand its meaning.

Subsequent Tweets: Often times posts or Tweets containing important disclosures, terms or limitations are lost when users re-tweet the message or the Tweet finds its way to another platform. There was no agreement on whether the responsibility of providing a solution should be on the platform provider or the advertiser.

Use the comment box on Facebook and Pinterest:

Some panelists suggested that disclosures on these social media sites can be made using the comment box below the post, “like button” or pin.

Overall, the FTC workshop stressed the need for clear and flexible disclosure guidelines that will be applicable across these platforms and adaptable to new technologies. The new guidelines should be available by Fall 2012.

Luckily, bloggers can turn to The WOMMA Guide to Disclosure in Social Media Marketing to help them navigate through the often-confusing FTC rules. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) released this draft version today in order to provide practical and clear advice on best practices for marketers and bloggers. WOMMA will review public comments and until late June before releasing an updated version.

Adriana Kampfner is Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of CMP.LY, a complete disclosure, compliance and measurement solution for social media. She can be reached at adriana@cmp.ly

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