Safe Social Networking

Ann All

Most of the coverage about the Federal Trade Commission's inclusion of social media in revisions to its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, announced yesterday, focused on blogs. I think that's because an often-cited hypothetical example offered by the FTC earlier this year before it finalized the guidelines involved a blogger who receives a free game system and then posts a favorable review.

 

Then mainstream media outlets, apparently believing that mommy bloggers get lots of free stuff, rushed to interview folks like Classymommy.com blogger Colleen Padilla. As this ABC News story notes, Padilla has reviewed more than 1,000 products on her blog, presumably at least some of which she didn't purchase.

 

But as CNET blogger Caroline McCarthy pointed out, the new FTC guidelines also apply to social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. A Facebook spokesman told McCarthy the site is "already consistent with the spirit" of the new guidelines. Facebook's statement of Rights and Responsibilities says users should not use their personal profiles for commercial gain by, for example, selling status updates.

 

Twitter use falls under the guidelines as well. Twitter presents a disclosure challenge, due to its 140-character length limit for tweets and the asynchronous nature of its conversations, writes technomarketer blogger Matt Dickman. But, he says:

 

The need for honesty and transparency does not diminish with the number of characters you type.

 


Dickman suggests using the tag [client] on Twitter any time your tweets involve a company with whom you do business.

 

SavvyAuntie.com founder Melanie Notkin, one of the sources I interviewed for my June 19 story on the FTC guidelines (just a proposal then) snagged a deal with Disney to help promote its 70th-anniversary release of "Pinocchio" on DVD and Blu-ray. She describes it as a "sponsored conversation" via the SavvyAuntie Twitter account, supported by banners, newsletter sponsorship and inclusion in her site's "Gifts" section. All of her sponsored tweets were tagged #DisneySA. She also Tweeted her blog post several times, reminding her followers of the campaign and disclosing that she was paid for it.

 

McCarthy highlights another point worth repeating. She writes:

 

... the FTC at least claims its aim is to make everyone aware of what's right and wrong rather than to hunt down every Twitter user who may have been given a free toaster or something.

 

It's a point I made in my own post. A lawyer I interviewed, Thomas Cohn of Venable LLP, told me the FTC generally only prosecutes cases that "are most egregious and easiest to prove." And Elizabeth Lordan, my source from the FTC's Office of Public Affairs, told me the FTC's primary focus would be on advertisers rather than bloggers or other endorsers.



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