FTC Endorsement Rules: Give Your Social Media Contest the Green Light
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made a not-so-subtle update to the Q&A section on its Endorsement Guides, and all marketers should be aware.
Detailing the dos and don'ts for the future of advertising, the Endorsement Guides are a marketer's best friend when it comes to ensuring promotions and contests used in marketing, advertising and social media comply.
The FTC set an example in regards to endorsement violation in March 2014 when a warning was issued to Cole Haan about the flaws in a Pinterest contest supported by the shoe company. Under the new regulations, the #WanderingSole tag wasn't sufficient in informing Pinterest users of the contest associated with the pictures.
While Cole Haan simply received a slap on the wrist, consequences are sure to be stricter in the future. Prepare now, fellow marketers, and you'll be thankful in the long run. Consider the following four tips:
1. Use clear language in contests and sweepstakes. According to a recent report, contest forms are converting at a rate of 35 percent. However, it's extremely important to make sure your social media contest agrees with the new FTC endorsement rules.
As outlined by the FTC, contest disclosures should be "clear and conspicuous." Translation: State what you may think is obvious and without abbreviation.
For example, a special hashtag like #MTVAwards doesn't do enough to clarify to users that they're participating in a contest or promotion. Rather, it should be something along the lines of #MTVAwardsContest. To fully comply with FTC regulations, the hashtag must include "contest" or "sweepstakes" when used in conjunction with either.
2. Be real — avoid fake Facebook likes. The FTC has officially declared this process as fraudulent if the account isn't tied to an actual consumer. Buyers and sellers of likes will be found in violation of the new laws if they continue trading fake likes for money.
And the FTC isn't alone in its crackdown; Facebook itself has announced a plan to purge its site of the fraud. It's in the process of taking down all fake likes and all fake Facebook accounts, which make up nearly 10 percent of Facebook's total users.
3. Disclose endorsement clearly. If a celebrity is involved with endorsing your social media contest, make sure it's very clearly disclosed.
While it may seem obvious that a celebrity actor/actress or athlete is being paid to represent a brand or product, the FTC says it must be blatant. Social media endorsements aren't always as clear as TV endorsements, so it's your job as marketers to clear the waters. No matter the platform, promotions must clearly state if a celebrity post is a result of a paid endorsement from the company in question.
4. Include confirmation of endorsements in videos. A recent study named YouTube as the top social media site to introduce a new product, offering a staggering 14 percent conversion rate. With this kind of influence, YouTube is a great platform for hosting a contest. However, the endorsement must be clearly stated. This is no different than the rules associated with other social media platforms; it's just easier to overlook.
A disclosure that appears only within the description of the video will pose a red flag to the FTC. The argument? Most users don't notice the description, but they'll be watching the video.
While the new regulations may seem intimidating to marketers, they shouldn't hinder your success in the field. Take advantage of the benefits of Facebook contests and celebrity endorsements, but be sure you're following the rules. If you're honest, clear and forthright, you'll have no problems by FTC standards.