I was going to post a really funny – in my mind anyway – story about Little Miss, but … I didn’t want to delay sharing some of the conversation about FTC regulations and what we should be – and are required to be – doing as bloggers. This was one of the best and most concise presentations I’ve seen on this topic. And yes, we all learned a lot. There were tons of tweets along the lines of “oops, I haven’t been doing this” which at least makes me feel better because though I do my best, there apparently is more I need to do, too!
Read my first recap from the Building Brand and Blogger Relationships.
FTC Guidelines and Overview and How It Impacted the PR and Blogger World
Sarah Evans @prsarahevans was the presenter and is an absolute wealth of information. Blog conferences out there? Have her some speak again. She was wonderful, and I know there’s lots more that she has to share.
Disclose disclose disclose. Why should I disclose? Because it’s the right thing to do. I really believe in ethical conduct, and it’s important to engage in ethical behavior. You want people who are reading your blog or the product to trust you and your blog. If you find out later, they may discount you and your review entirely.
The Top 3 Takeaways
Advertisements that feature consumer and convey his or her experience and “typical” are required to disclose the results consumers can generally expect
If a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between both.
A post by a blogger who receives a cash or in kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement.
“The FTC guidelines are about deceptive practices in which what appears to be an honest opinion is, in fact, a biased perspective.” – Joe Chernov (@jchernov), co-chair WOMMA Ethics Committee
It’s the responsibility of each and every blogger to be familiar with the best practices.
There are certain expectations and rights that PR firms are responsible for on behalf of the brand:
It’s the brand or advertiser’s responsibility to inform campaign participants. That said, ultimately YOU are responsible. Explain to members of your network what can – and can’t – be said about the product
Set up reasonable monitoring program to check out what your people are saying about your product and be proactive. Follow up if you find questionable practices.
That means that brands have to monitor what bloggers are saying, particularly bloggers that they’ve provided product to or asked to post. They need to check out those posts and make sure that the bloggers are doing the right thing, disclosing properly, not making inaccurate claims, etc. You can’t just close your eyes.
Case Study: Ann Taylor LOFT
To promote the launch of its summer collection, Ann Taylor LOFT invited bloggers to attend an exclusive preview of its 2010 summer collection. All bloggers who attended received a gift, and those who posted about the event were eligible to win a $500 LOFT gift card. In small print on invite: all bloggers must post within 24 hours to be eligible.
Thereafter someone reported to the FTC that many bloggers failed to disclose that they received gifts for posting content about the event. The LOFT pointed to the small print on the invitation that stated that disclosures needed to be made, but that was all they had done. The FTC issued a statement saying they were concerned with Ann Taylor’s practices, but the FTC ultimately determined not to recommend an enforcement action because there was the disclosure and they changed their practices going forward. Going forward, the LOFT will not issue a gift card to a blogger without first telling the blogger that the blogger must disclose the gift on the blog, and the FTC expects that the LOFT will monitor bloggers’ compliance with the disclosure obligation.
We should all have an online disclosure policies on our sites. Refer to this disclosure whenever you talk about products.
It’s the brand or advertiser’s responsibility to inform you. However, it’s your responsibility to familiarize yourself with online endorsement guidelines. Set up an online disclosure policy page. Push back where you’re not comfortable with what they’re asking. It’s ok to do that.
Typical Components of a Brand Ambassador Program
What are some of the things that are typically asked for as part of an ambassador program or in a contract with a blogger? This is typical, but not all programs include these or include only some of these.
Get the tools – purchase/download/use product
Join the ambassador program for a period o time
Use the product, document the experience
Create content – blog or vlog – disclose compensation
Social sharing of the review
Follow the brand content on Twitter/FB
As a blogger, we also have certain responsibilities. We need to have a disclosure policy on the blog or website. There are disclosures you should use when sharing information on social networks (Twitter, Facebook, and other). And you need to have documentation of your partnership with the brand – as a protective measure for the bloggers, this is important.
We played a fun game of True or False. There are all sorts of myths out there, and Sarah debunked many of them.
1) A comprehensive online disclosure policy on your website fully covers you – false. You must disclose on your site and networks. You must disclosure your affiliation with a company or product on your site and social networks.
2) If a restaurant comps you a meal without you asking for it and you write about it, you aren’t required to disclose it – false. You should at least acknowledge that you were gifted this meal.
3) Adding the hashtag #spoon to your tweet covers the acknowledgement that you were compensated in some way for the post – true.
WOMMA’s official guidelines
Acknowledge it upfront – maintain your credibility, too
Incorporate the hashtag into Google+
4) Bloggers not in compliance with guidelines may be fined up to $11,000 – false. There was an initial uproar when the guidelines came out, and Mary Engle from the FTC dispelled this rumor. You won’t be fined – but just don’t do it!
5) You do need to disclose if you review a product and then returned the product – it depends. If you were given a product for an extended period of time, then you should disclose that you were given the product, for how long, and that you returned it. That said, it goes back to the trust your gut, trust your judgement. If a vehicle company gave you a car for a month, it’s important to disclose that you had some in kind compensation. If you say that there’s a special/deal discount, then disclose you once had an in kind thing, but if you use the product daily and happen to mention it without having a call to action for them or driving traffic to them purposefully, then no.
Example of a Disclosure Policy
This policy if valid from July 14, 2011
This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, contact email address.
This blog does not accept any form of cash advertising, sponsorship or paid topics. However, we can and do accept and keep free products, services, travel, event tickets, and other forms of compensation from companies and organizations.
The owner(s) of this blog will never receive compensation from this blog.
This blog does contain content which might present a conflict of interest. The content may not always be identified. We are employed or consult with Company 1, Company 2, etc. We serve on the following corporate or non-profit boards: Example 1, Example 2, etc. We are active in a political party which influences our blog: Affiliation 1, Affiliation 2, etc. We blog about people to whom we are related. These people include: My mom (name). We have a financial interest in the following that are relevant to our blogging: Investment 1, Investment 2..
6) A company with a new app hires you as part of an ambassador program. They require you to write a positive review in an app store along with leaving positive comments. You do not need to disclose that you were compensated – false. Sarah recommends in general that companies don’t require a review, but can say that if you liked it, and you are able to provide one if you want – but disclose that you were paid.
If a company has not asked you to tweet or FB it, but you are being compensated for the review to begin with you should still disclose when you put it out there. Don’t freak out if you’ve been doing it, but disclose going forward. Disclose even when there’s just a headline and it’s referring people to a link where there is a disclosure policy.
It is a judgement call of when you disclose your relationship. If you are saying it’s a great company or product, etc. maybe not. When you’re promoting the company, use a hashtag. When using the product as a consumer, then don’t need to hashtag it. If you’re guiding people to the brand, disclose.
If you are an enthusiast of a brand and shareholder, if you aren’t being paid for it don’t need to disclose on each post/tweet. However, maybe put something in your disclosure policy about being a shareholder since you do well when they do.
If do a Tweetup, need to disclose the relationship – #sample or #client whatever the case may be.
If you’re questioning at all, err on the side of disclosure.
If you are asked not to disclose, take an education route. Teach the brand, and if you don’t agree with what they’re asking you to do, simply explain that you’re sorry you can’t participate. If see other people doing it, you might follow up with them individually and privately. It is the brand and advertiser’s responsibility to educate the bloggers. If it’s a large brand impacting an entire perspective of the brand, may need to go to FTC because it is a large scale deceptive practice.
Should bloggers get some level of professional insurance? This is an evolving area right now. It’s starting to grow right now. Social Media insurance for brands – some big brands have fired people who have said or tweeted things that negatively impacted the brands.
Sarah also shared some tools with us:
Disclosure Generator – http://disclosurepolicy.org/generator/generate_policy
Good resources if you have questions include: comp.ly, WOMMA, disclosurepolicy.org, FTC
You can also send specific questions to email@example.com
Revised Guides provides more than 35 examples of how guidelines apply in practical scenarios
I love all this info, and I’m sure there is so much more out there yet to discuss. I’m looking forward to seeing Sarah present again, and hopefully soon! What are your big ahas?