FTC Extends Disclosures to Twitter, Facebook, Mobile… Might Also Apply to Bloggers

ftc

The FTC has called for more transparency on the web.

Last week, the FTC published “.com Disclosures,” a guide to understanding exactly how to disclose sponsored content in social media. This includes “Endorsements and Testimonials”  in Tweets, Facebook ads, posts, and mobile ads. Many articles cite this applies to celebrity endorsements, however the “.com Disclosures” states the guideline applies to any paid endorsement and cites “Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, 16 CFR Part 255.” Which is the 2009 guideline that required bloggers to disclose sponsored content. 

Back in 2009, the FTC published  the regulation to disclose when blog posts were paid. It's changed the industry here in the US by making an attempt to clarify the difference between sponsored and editorial content. Truth be told, the guidelines were vague, and the disclosures have been all over the map, from including it in the blog's copy, or disclosing at the end, or disclosing at the beginning. The new guideline is more clear for social media. It clearly suggests how sponsored content must be formatted in Twitter. For blog posts it addresses what types of disclosure is not acceptable, but has yet to give an example of what they deem as “clear and conspicuous.”

For paid endorsements use, “Ad” at the beginning of the Tweet:

In as per the new guidelines, it asks advertisers to disclose “clearly and conspicuously” that, “[Advertisers] also should assume that consumers don’t read an entire website or online screen, just as they don’t read every word on a printed page.” When engaging in any paid endorsements, a good rule of thumb is to assume that if a reader has to scroll, click, or, if the change of format from desktop to mobile will cut off the disclosures, it is not sufficient.

When it comes to social media, we are all aware that there isn't much to work with in 140 characters. That said, the FTC did not treat this limited space lightly and provided an example. Below is an example of a hypothetical celebrity endorsing diet pills:

Screen shot 2013-03-18 at 8.41.51 AM

For a sponsored tweet or endorsement in social media, publishers and advertisers must start with a clear and conspicuous disclosure.

“Ad:”

In the document, it noted using hashtags, like #spon was not clear enough to consumers who may not understand the guidelines nor might they understand the usage of hashtags. This I can understand as last week, I discovered that many bloggers did not know what “RT” meant on Twitter.

In addition to disclosing if social media is a paid endorsement, it also asks that it includes disclosures around health and drug products. In the example above, it shows the “Typical loss: 1lb/wk” and that links to disclosures are not sufficient as consumers do not always click on links. Separate disclosures do not count either as the consumers may not see the second Tweet.

“c/o” May not be enough disclosure for gifted items in blog posts

As for sponsored blog posts and receiving product for free review, the “.com Disclosures” simply noted that disclosing at the end of the post is not sufficient. It did not give a clear example of what a “clear and conspicuous” disclosure for a blog post would look like, though I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the fashion blogger's favorite “c/o” disclosure does not fall in the “conspicuous” category. If bloggers don't know what “RT” is on Twitter, or consumers don't know what the “#spon” hashtag means, you can pretty much bank on a non-blogger reader (the majority of your audience) not knowing what “c/o” means. Perhaps including this in the body of the text is more clear? Or will the FTC go one step further and soon ask that we include “AD:” to all sponsored and gifted content?  This remains to be seen.

Either way, if you live in the US, brush up on the most recent FTC guidelines, I promise, these are written in more an easy to understand format (as opposed to the 2009 guidelines).

Download “.com Disclosures” here.

 

How do you think these new guidelines will affect your social media and sponsored content?

[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]

 

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15 Responses

  1. Elissa

    When I went to a Nordstrom Rack event on Tuesday they asked us to use the hashtag #ad. I didn’t use it because had they not invited me, I still would have gone to their store and said the same things. Is it really an ad? It’s just my opinion and isn’t that what readers come for?

    -Elissa
    http://www.style-wire.com

    Reply
    • Jennine Jacob

      That’s a good question, my thoughts are based on reading the FTC document that as long as you did not receive product or payment, it is considered editorial content and does not need to be labled as an ad.

      Reply
  2. Natalie

    Ok, I have to say, I’m having little heart attacks over this. I’m assuming using sites like Beso, you would now have to start the message with “Ad”?
    I understand why they’re doing this, but it’s also a little frustrating!

    Reply
    • Jennine Jacob

      You know, that’s also a good question. There was no mention of affiliates in the document… and if there were I bet there would be a huge stink about it in the press. So for now, I think you are ok.

      Reply
  3. Bisous Natasha

    I know in the US, this is a big deal, including disclosing on your annual tax statement the money you made blogging. Correct me if I am wrong on this. I don’t seem to see the same pressure or issue here in the UK. For bloggers and some readers, we all kind of “know” when a post is sponsored. It comes with experience. So my question is, WHY is the FTC really concerned about this ? Not all of us are The Blonde Salad or Fashion Toast, making thousands a month, so why does the government need to know every detail about my blog, including that pink lip gloss X brand gave me ? Am I missing something ?

    Reply
    • Kristen

      The FTC is for consumer protection, they aren’t doing it for the government’s sake. They’re doing it because it’s misleading to feature products on your website without noting that they were gifted. Some bloggers insist they won’t review anything that doesn’t fit in within their taste or style, but you never know. I appreciate that the FTC wants more transparency

      Reply
      • Jennine Jacob

        Thanks… yes, it’s easy to get into the “why are they doing this to us?” way of thinking, but I’m guessing that there has been enough complaints to warrant such an action from the FTC. Hopefully it brings more transparency and more discretion in choosing brand partners as well.

  4. A Girl, A Style

    Some interesting food for thought; thank you for highlight and sharing this IFB!

    Here in the UK and Europe, there is still a complete lack of government directive which states that bloggers must abide by any disclosure rules, which has resulted in half of us disclosing everything and others never saying anything (with those of us who do disclose getting so frustrated at those who don’t).

    Personally, in the absence of any EU guidelines, I am of the opinion that if I have readers in the US, then it makes sense to follow the same rules the US bloggers are required to adhere to for the sake of honesty and transparency to my readers.

    My one question is: if you’re paid for a collaboration, partnership or consulting in product rather than monetary reimbursement, and then wear that product in a blog post, should you disclose as c/o (because you didn’t pay for it) or not (because it was given to you as payment for a job, rather than a freebie from a PR who is just hoping you will wear it on the blog)? It seems to be such a grey area, and I am never sure entirely what is right in these circumstances.

    Briony xx

    Reply
  5. Grace

    I have a feeling that this is going to backfire. It would be very easy to create an ad blocker for twitter that targets Ad: as the first few letters making advertising on twitter less effective.

    Reply
  6. Katie Burry

    What I would love to know is how clothing/products you got for a review, but have now become a part of your daily wardrobe play into this. Like, if I receive a dress for a review, but wear the dress 6 times after I do the review, just in daily wear do I have to put a disclosure in ever time saying that I originally got this piece from the company for a review? Or does it not count since now that the review is over I’m choosing of my own free will to wear it again?

    Reply
    • Elle Laurel Rose

      Yes, legalese is never clear and this is obviously not written with style blogs in mind (just a bit of sponsored tweets). But “we” are to repeat as necessary, and even try to avoid scrolling before the disclosure. Quite annoying when it comes to photo galleries and also the coding and options that go with them.

      It’s tough in other ways too. I know many got gift cards at blogging events for brand awareness. Complicated! I just worked on brainstorming my wording and such for my (old blog’s) items, for future appearances (on my new).

      Hopefully it will get simpler with parts more tailored to fashion bloggers. I know it’s annoying to worry about forgetting one ollllld item or IF we’ll be photographed in our own clothes and where photos might show up. Also constantly changing things with tech trends; characters on Twitter, no links along with Instagram photos, and on, and on…

      Standardization along with thought toward blogging would help a lot.

      But … we just do our best. Yes, smaller than “Fashion Toast” (as Bisou mentioned) and giant blogs are perhaps granted more time to work at getting it right. You might want to be noticed overall and not here, but if you earnestly TRY hard, I believe you’ll pass, whether under the radar or as a good example.

      One more note though, separating the disclosure on any terms page, but not repeating or clearly mentioning on a post is against recommendation (I gathered that from reading the PDF, like the other tips above). If you want such a page, I would give a head’s up in general explaining things and your intentions or practices, then perhaps go into more detail. However, it’s not a replacement for per-post clarity.

      Reply
  7. AverageMan

    This is going to get really annoying having to put ad: in front of everything. I already run out of characters easily, this will only add to it!

    averagemanfitnessandstyle.com

    Reply
  8. Ley

    I’m Canadian, so FTC guidelines technically don’t apply to me. I have followed them for the most part, however, because I have always felt that it is important to be very transparent with readers regarding any sponsorship that I have received. I want people to trust my opinions regardless of whether a skirt was free or not, so I don’t accept any perks or freebies if I wouldn’t pay for the item myself. There is so much spam advertising on Twitter that I would actually enjoy an ad blocker personally…

    Reply
  9. Alyssa

    The FTC guideline information is very interesting, but somehow what really stood out to me was the bloggers who don’t know what RT means. Am I the only one in shock??! For an industry who’s bread & butter is all things social media, I just find that to be crazy and slightly embarrassing.

    Reply
  10. Evelyn (CottonCandyDiva)

    All I can say is thank goodness I live in Australia! I would seriously give up blogging if I had to go by all these ‘rules and regulations’ my blog wouldn’t be my own anymore, it would be dictated by the FTC!

    To me having disclosures displayed everywhere is just messy! I currently have a disclosure page and statement at the bottom of my posts (reviewing that part), but from what I understand , the FTC basically wants bloggers to mention something was gifted, sponsored etc. several times throughout the post! It reminds me of the infomercials that repeat everything like 10 times lol

    Reply