Oct 09, 2012

To Disclose or Not Disclose: FTC Disclosure Guidelines for Bloggers

If you bring up Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations in front of writers, especially bloggers, a lot of ‘opinion’ and hearsay come up.

I posted about a Social Media Club of Dallas blogger panel a couple of weeks ago. The panel covered tips and recommendations from bloggers for PR and communications professionals and received quite a bit of attention and lively conversation on the subject of FTC regulations around endorsement and disclosure.

One Dallas journalist in particular wrote that the bloggers I mentioned and others are not complying with FTC ‘disclosure of material connection’ regulations.

So I did a bit of research on the FTC website and discovered a terrific video explaining what they expect:

FTC Endorsement Guidelines for Bloggers Video

FTC endorsement guidelines for bloggers explained by Mary Engles.

I have included the full transcript of the video at the bottom of this page, but take particular note of the following statement by narrator Mary Engle in particular: “What does the FTC’s announcement mean for bloggers? Well for most bloggers not very much. We know that most bloggers are out there talking about their daily lives and their thoughts, and so it really doesn’t mean much for them. But if you’re one of those bloggers that is in a marketing program with an advertiser and you’re being paid to blog about a product, or you’re receiving a steady stream of products from a company, then you need to disclose that relationship you have with the company.”

Not nearly as scary as some might believe.

And if a blogger ‘does’ have a  relationship with a company that needs transparency it’s really simple to be in compliance according to Engle: “You can just say, “ABC Company gave me this product to try,” or, “XYZ Company sent me to their theme park to try it out for a day.” It’s not too complicated, and it should just be straight forward and upfront.”

Disclosure of receiving something from a company that one writes about is simple and in a lot of cases perhaps not even ‘officially’ required, although as a consumer and as a regular reader of blogs I would hope that anyone (blogger, journalist or otherwise) that gets into an event for free or receives product or a gift and writes about the company would be transparent about it.

Transparency contributes to credibility for the writer and assures that consumers (all of us) are protected from potentially false advertising.

Here are a few more good links to FTC information. Do check them out:

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Transcript for the FTC video “The Endorsement Guide”:

Narrator:
What’s new about Endorsement Guides?

Mary Engle:
The Endorsement Guides have been around since 1980, and they’ve always required that endorsers disclose their relationship with advertisers. What’s new here is that we’re applying this principle in today’s world, in the world of social media, where you can’t always recognize an advertisement just by looking at it.
 
Narrator:
Why did the FTC update the Endorsement Guides?
 
Mary Engle:
There’s been a lot in the news about the FTC’s Endorsement Guides lately. What’s the story? Well the FTC cares about protecting consumers, and we know that nowadays when consumers want information about a product or a service they’re thinking of using, they often go online to check it out and see what other consumers have to say. Don’t you want to know if the reason a consumer is giving a rave review is because they’re being paid by the advertiser to say it, or they’re getting a steady stream of free products from that company? We just want to bring some transparency to the process so that when there is a relationship between an advertiser and a reviewer the reader knows about it.
 
Narrator:
What do the Endorsement Guides mean for bloggers?
 
Mary Engle:
What does the FTC’s announcement mean for bloggers? Well for most bloggers not very much. We know that most bloggers are out there talking about their daily lives and their thoughts, and so it really doesn’t mean much for them. But if you’re one of those bloggers that is in a marketing program with an advertiser and you’re being paid to blog about a product, or you’re receiving a steady stream of products from a company, then you need to disclose that relationship you have with the company.
 
Narrator:
How do bloggers follow the Endorsement Guides?
 
Mary Engle:
If a blogger does have a relationship with an advertiser that needs to be mentioned, it’s pretty simple. You can just say, “ABC Company gave me this product to try,” or, “XYZ Company sent me to their theme park to try it out for a day.” It’s not too complicated, and it should just be straight forward and upfront.
 
Narrator:
Is the FTC planning to sue bloggers?
 
Mary Engle:
Is the FTC planning to sue bloggers? Well, let me put it this way: that is not why we issued this guidance. We issued this guidance to make it clear that everybody should be playing by the same rules, whether you’re a professional reviewer or an amateur reviewer. Just be upfront about the connections you have and any conflict of interest you might have with the company.
 
Narrator:
Where to go for more information.
 
Mary Engle:
To find out more about the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, go to our website at ftc.gov. There, you’ll find the Guides themselves. They have a lot of practical examples that really may help answer a lot of the questions that you have.

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Victoria Harres is Director of Audience Development at PR Newswire, the main voice behind @PRNewswire, social media lead for @Business4Better and a frequent speaker and writer on social media for business. 

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