For the first time since 1980, the Federal Trade Commission has updated the rules that regulate endorsements. If you’ll recall, 1980 was long before the launch of the great World Wide Web.
Most of the updates regarding paid endorsements apply to bloggers, and social networking sites such as Twitter will also have be monitored to make sure they follow the new regulations. The Washington Post reports:
In the 1980 version of the Guides, advertisers were allowed to get away with promoting unusually positive or outlier experiences in a testimonial as long as they included a disclaimer such as “results not typical.” Long overdue, the revised Guides no longer allow this form of safe harbor.
The new FTC guidelines mostly focus on disclosure. The Washington Post reports that The Guides “now contain clear language and consequences associated with the use of paid testimonials in blogs and celebrity endorsements.” The new Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials apply to consumers, experts, organizations and celebrities.
Besides stiffening regulations on the “anything goes — if you say results vary” formula, the Guides are more strict regarding disclosing connections between advertisers and endorsers.
Get informed about the Guides
The new Guides specify that product reviews by bloggers who get paid to do those reviews are endorsements. The rules also specify that payment doesn’t necessarily have to be cash. Free product is considered payment, so if a blogger reviewing a product received that product for free, that fact must be disclosed.
The length of the product review is irrelevant. If a company is paying for a 140-character post on Twitter, the same rules apply. The fines for breaking the rules in the Guides run up to $11,000, so brush up on the FTC Endorsement Guidelines to make sure you don’t end up in hot water.
You are the master of your Facebook page
Now there is no need to panic if you use your Facebook page, Twitter account or other social networking sites to talk about products, brands and companies you like. These rules only apply to paid endorsements, so unless Starbucks is paying you to market for them online, it’s OK to write about how much you enjoyed your latte or what pastry you’re craving at the moment.
Simply put, the FTC is aiming to make sure that when people are given free products or money to write something about a company, consumers should know. Beyond that, if you are being paid to write an endorsement, don’t write lies. As long as you follow those two basic guidelines, you should easily be able to avoid fines from the FTC.