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:
For a sponsored tweet or endorsement in social media, publishers and advertisers must start with a clear and conspicuous disclosure.
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).
How do you think these new guidelines will affect your social media and sponsored content?
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