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FTC Compliance in Social Media: Do’s, Don’ts and Tips for Marketers

As marketers, we’re tasked with staying current on the ever-evolving social tools/apps/platform enhancements that relate to our industry. Let’s face it—it’s a lot to keep up with! So, if you’re still determining whether to incorporate Vine into an engagement plan or didn’t watch last week’s Facebook press conference in real time, I get that. However, all marketers do need to have a firm grasp on FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. If you work with an influencer or brand advocate program—and there’s a good chance you do—this is especially important to get smart about.

At ComBlu, we help major brands identify, recruit, activate, and engage advocates and influencers—and sometimes the engagement part involves providing a product or service for participants to review. This is where FTC compliance comes in. As of December 2009, when the FTC revised its regulations about endorsements and testimonials in advertising, bloggers (and Twitter and Facebook users) are required to disclose when they have a “material connection” to a brand. In layman’s terms: if a blogger receives cash, products, or services, they must make it clear to their readers.

There’s a fair amount of misinformation on the topic, which may make compliance seem confusing. But after working with hundreds of bloggers across several advocate and influencer programs, I promise that it doesn’t need to be. In fact, I’ve narrowed down my advice on the subject to just five do’s and don’ts.

1. Do familiarize yourself with WOMMA’s Social Media Marketing Disclosure Guide. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association is the authority on ethical word of mouth marketing. So it’s no surprise that they’re a great starting point when it comes to understanding the ins, outs, and expectations of disclosure. Their Guide is a “living” document, it’s easy-to-understand, and it’s legit. In fact, the FTC themselves often reference the WOMMA Code.

2. Don’t make it difficult for bloggers to comply. If you want to ensure that bloggers consistently follow disclosure guidelines, make it simple. At ComBlu, we offer bloggers several tools. We provide a variety of disclosure language so they can select one that best fits the voice and tone of their blog. For platforms like Twitter where space is at a premium, we create a branded bit.ly that directs readers to a landing page with full disclosure info. And we also provide program badges to include with each blog post. Here is a sample badge from one our programs:

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3. Do provide training. Bloggers who have previously worked with brands are often already familiar with FTC disclosure. But that doesn’t mean everyone in a new program really understands how to be FTC compliant. Even experienced bloggers may not fully recognize their responsibilities. So educate bloggers at the start of every program. Emphasize the importance of compliance, review the brand’s expectations, give examples, and (gently) explain the consequences for repeatedly failing to comply. Ideally, training should be conducted in person or via a webinar so there’s an opportunity for Q&A. If that’s not an option, consider a welcome kit or “compliance checklist.”

4. Don’t forget to monitor activity. You’ve provided the necessary tools and training. So, you’re done now, right? Sorry to say, but the answer is a resounding no! Since you’re working with people—not an infomercial rotisserie—you cannot “set it and forget it.” Marketers are responsible for monitoring their campaigns and making reasonable efforts to outreach to participants whose blogs/tweets/Facebook posts don’t comply. This may seem overwhelming, but since you’re already tracking posts for measurement purposes and to identify potential problems (you are doing that, aren’t you?), be sure to build in a process to check for compliance at the same time. This brings me to my final tip.

5. Do put processes in place. Establish procedures for checking for compliance, recording activity, and communicating with noncompliant participants before your program or campaign kicks off. This includes creating an activity log and drafting communications to bloggers.

Have additional do’s, don’ts, or tips to add to the list? If so, please share!

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