Historically, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been considerably forgiving with regards to the legal use of social media marketing, specifically related to endorsements and testimonials. While brand marketers enjoyed the heyday of what was coined by many, the Wild West, social media experts today are on high alert due to a recent update of the FTC's "What People Are Asking Page." The latest changes require greater transparency on the part of brands by having to disclose when social content is an ad or an incentivized endorsement.
By keeping in mind ethical standards expected by all advertisers, digital marketers can ensure their social media content is properly adhering to the latest guidelines and avoid penalty by following these five tips:
1. Run an audit: Social media content that could be considered endorsement material should be reviewed. Include anything that offers an incentive such as a campaign or sweepstake. Make sure each post includes a hashtag such as #sweepstake, #ad or #sponsored.
2. When in doubt, disclose: Remember, consumers want honest opinions when reviewing products and deserve to know if a reviewer has a relationship with the brand or product they're evaluating. Full disclosure is always the safest and best policy.
3. Honesty is the best policy: What if it's for a $1 off coupon? According to the FTC, if "knowing about that gift or incentive would affect the weight or credibility your readers give to your recommendation," then it should be disclosed.
4. Traditional advertising ethics apply to social too: If a brand's post claims something exceptional, they should include a note about general expected results, results not typical or be sure to link to evidence.
5. Don't discount "friends": Ambassadors, partners and employee engagement programs are considered incentivized. If the FTC wanted, they could slap brands on the wrist even if the relationship is genuine in nature, but incentivized through employment status or business.
As social becomes increasingly sophisticated in its ability to allow brands to connect with their audience, marketers must remember to adhere to the same standards of transparency they've been required to maintain across more traditional channels, such as email, for years. The FTC's most recent guideline updates point toward a future of increased regulation, and the brands that put authenticity at the forefront of their social media strategy will ultimately be the most successful in building genuine and trusted relationships.