FTC Social Media Disclosure Requirements

On December 17, 2012, in Heather Bussing, Policies, by Heather Bussing

FTC Social Media Disclosure Requirements - by John Sumser - HRExaminer

As part of their efforts, the FTC wants bloggers to disclose their relationships with vendors, employers, and anyone who pays or gives them things.

If your company is involved in social media, or if your employees blog or tweet as part of their work, they need to remember the FTC’s transparency requirements.

The Federal Trade Commission is the consumer agency that brought you “truth in advertising.” Okay. They’re still working on it.

As part of their efforts, the FTC wants bloggers (and everyone else) to disclose their relationships with vendors, employers, and anyone who pays or gives them things. It’s not required all the time, just when the writer is endorsing a vendor, company, book, product or person, and they have received something from them.

It can be any connection or exchange that could affect your opinion. Basically, if you have received anything of value from that person or company and then you talk about them in a post, you should disclose that they gave it to you.

What’s Included in Anything?

The FTC guidelines don’t say exactly.  Their FAQ’s give a little more information. It probably doesn’t include swag you picked up at a conference or things that have no value.

It does include things that have value, even if they were free to you. For example, Meet-Meme often gives bloggers free personalized cards to use at conferences. They gave me some for the SHRM National conference in Atlanta. I love them. I’m trying to convince my kids they really need Heather Bussing trading cards instead of baseball or Pokemon cards. If I was reviewing Meet-Meme, which I kind of just did, I should probably disclose that they gave me free cards, which I also just did.

The idea is that readers should be able fairly evaluate your credibility when you are talking about a company or product, especially if you are endorsing it. So if you are paid or given free stuff to talk about it, then you need to say that.

What Do You Say?

In a recent post where I was reviewing a book, I said that the publisher sent me a free copy to read, but that I didn’t promise to be nice. That’s good enough. Mary Engle of the FTC says:

If a blogger does have a relationship with an advertiser that needs to be mentioned, it’s pretty simple. You can just say, “ABC Company gave me this product to try,” or, “XYZ Company sent me to their theme park to try it out for a day.” It’s not too complicated, and it should just be straight forward and upfront.

So if your employees are blogging or tweeting about your company on their personal accounts, they should say they work there.

If your marketing department is putting out funny videos, they should disclose the connection to the company, if it’s not already apparent.

What happens if you don’t?  I expect the FTC has better things to do than to chase down bloggers who occasionally write about a product or service after getting it as a Klout perk. However, employees of large companies who endorse the company products without disclosing their relationship would be a more significant risk. The penalties for failure to disclose range from written warnings to significant fines (up to $11,000 per occurrence).

So if your employees are using social media to promote your company, they should make sure to disclose that they are being paid to do it. And then please don’t make them put “My tweets are my own” on their accounts, because that is deceptive.


FTC 2 Min Video Summary

FTC Advertising and Marketing Guidelines

FTC Endorsement Resources


Read previous post:
HRExaminer v.3.49

In this week's feature What Law Applies to Your Virtual Workforce?, Heather Bussing explores the tricky intersection of local employment...