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How to Adhere to New FTC Guidelines for Social Media

For the first time in five years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated their guidelines to include more clarity on social media usage. The updates were made to the “What People Are Asking” section of the “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials.”

While the FTC has handed out warnings over the past few years, they have not taken any real action on brands that have clearly violated or even simply toed the line of permissible social media usage. Now that they have updated the guidelines, however, that will change. The FTC has warned: “We have given guidance. You are all on notice” and they seem ready to crack down on brands that do not adhere.  

To ensure that you are in full compliance of the FTC’s guidelines for social media usage, be sure to read the full text. Then you’ll want to pay close attention to the updates, which address the following areas:

Facebook Like Buttons

Fake Facebook Likes, which are all too often bought through Fivver or other platforms and vendors, are strictly prohibited. It can be difficult for the FTC to determine when Likes are fake, but if they can make a clear case that the Likes didn’t come from someone familiar with your business’s product or service, you could be in trouble. Don’t buy Likes. Don’t incentivize Likes through monetary compensation or free products. Don’t encourage Likes through other disingenuous means. Just don’t do it.  

Employee Endorsements

Employees must clearly state their affiliate with their employer, not just in the bio of their Twitter account or description on their Facebook page. It needs to be included in all posts promoting the products or services of the employer and/or their clients. And employers cannot ask or incentivize employees to post anything that is not true, that the employee doesn’t believe or to endorse a product/service they are not familiar with.

Online Reviews

Most social media users are quite familiar with this one already, but the FTC has clarified and stressed their stance on online reviews. Businesses can incentivize customers to write online reviews, so long as it is clearly stated in the review that they have been compensated. But businesses are not allowed to ask for or incentive only positive reviews. All reviews must be honest and real experiences with the products/services they offer, which will naturally result in some negative or neutral opinions.

Contests & Sweepstakes

If running a contest or sweeps via social media, all messages need to contain a disclosure of sorts. And onus is being placed on the brand running the contest to ensure that all folks entering it are including this disclosure, and that using the disclosure is part of the official rules.

A simple #contest or #sweepstakes hashtag should be sufficient, but #sweeps is not as the FTC does not believe it is clear enough. And they aren’t hearing complaints about character limits on Twitter or other channels. This goes for including #sponsored, #promotion, #paidad or simply #ad for other social media promotions. Eleven is the most characters in any of those words. The FTC says it’s not that many, and if you don’t like it, too bad.

Videos Endorsements

Disclaimers on videos must be made at the beginning of the video, and repeated multiple times throughout for longer spots (although they did not clarify what exactly qualifies as “longer”).

Image Endorsements

Users don’t need to use text stating “I like this product” for the FTC to consider it an endorsement. Sharing images via social media can also be considered endorsement if that user has some relationship with your brand (meaning, if you’ve contacted them to ask for a review/coverage or if you’ve provided some type of monetary compensation or other incentives). So make sure that any users that you have a relationship with--celebrities or not--that are sharing your images are also using some type of disclosure.

The moral of the story here is to play it safe and CYA. Include disclosures and disclaimers obviously and often. Squeeze in the appropriate hashtags for contests and promotions even if you’re not sure if you need them. Make sure employees and endorsers are being 100% transparent about their relationship to your brand. The FTC is done scolding and slapping wrists. They’re going to cite, penalize, fine and who knows what else, and you don’t want none of that action.