It’s important to take guidelines seriously and do the equivalent of “listening” via the reading of the document to understand what direction we are being provided.
Earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) introduced new guidelines related to social media, effective December 1, 2009. This is an important and positive step in clarifying the responsibilities of a company when engaging in social media. These guidelines are of interest to companies of all sizes worldwide, since they arguably reflect one of the first substantial forms of guidance from a government related to social media.
Here is what we believe you need to know.
The FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising state that companies will be held accountable if social media outreach and word of mouth campaigns do not result in truthful disclosure. It’s hard to find someone who would say they engage in “untruthful disclosure”, but take the time to read on what this means. Said a different way, the guidelines state that the post of any blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered to be a sponsored advertising message, and therefore may be subject to enforcement.
The FTC specifically states that there are three things you need to do to limit your liability.
- Require disclosure and truthfulness in social media outreach.
- Monitor the conversation and correct misstatements.
- Create social media policies and training programs.
The key step for any company that will engage in social media is to ensure you have a state-of-the-art social media policy that includes clear rules on transparency and disclosure. In addition, it is important to have a training program in place to educate your employees on what is acceptable online. And, it is of great benefit to have an analytics and monitoring program in place so you know where conversations are occurring and what is being said about your brand.
If you don’t have time to read the guidelines, keep in mind the most important action you can take are the creation of your policy and related training.
If you would like to read a further summary of key insights from the guidelines, we recommend you read more from the Social Media Business Council.
The topic of guidelines, their importance and what they mean is a longer conversation, so Neville Hobson and myself will talk more about this topic in a podcast later this week. Stay tuned.
Bob Pearson, Chief Technology & Media Officer, WeissComm Group & Chief Evangelist, Social Media Business Council