Social Studies

by Lesley Fair on Mar 24, 2016 12:00:00 AM Advocacy, Digital Marketing

Social_Studies-846465-edited.jpgIs there a company today that doesn’t encourage prospective customers to like ’em, friend ’em, or otherwise engage with ’em on the social media? And as you incorporate social strategies into your marketing plans, are you also considering how established truth-in-advertising standards apply? Recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) law enforcement actions offer marketers advice on avoiding goofs and gaffes when going social.

Include social media in your review process.

Before rolling out new ads, savvy companies run them past trusted experts for a compliance check. Are the product claims supported by competent and reliable evidence? Is there proof to back up “Made in USA” representations, delivery promises, and green claims?

Otherwise astute marketers will sometimes hand over the passwords to their social media accounts to staffers who are inexperienced with the ins and outs of compliance, and in an effort to create buzz in 140 characters or less, the truth is sometimes the first thing to get deleted. A key component of your advertising policy is to recognize that any objective claims you convey about your product on social media is advertising—and standard consumer protection principles apply.

Disclose material connections.

Does your company pay bloggers, affiliate marketers, and/or others to help spread the word about your products? Then you need to know about the FTC’s Endorsement Guides. According to their guidance, if there’s a connection between the marketer of a product and an endorser—including a blogger, tweeter, or other social media user—that consumers can’t reasonably expect and it affects how they evaluate the endorsement, that connection must be disclosed.

A recent FTC settlement with a major ad agency illustrates this point. An employee allegedly encouraged colleagues to generate interest about the launch of a client’s product by tweeting positive comments from their personal accounts. According to the complaint, those glowing recommendations looked like they came from satisfied customers, when in fact, employees of the agency hired to push the product posted them.

The message for other marketers is to avoid an “It seemed like a good idea at the time” glitch by educating anyone who uses social media on your behalf about the Endorsement Guides, and follow up with appropriate monitoring.

Tread carefully with user-generated reviews.

Advertising claims draw prospective buyers in, and positive reviews from customers can help seal the deal. But as an FTC settlement with an automobile shipment broker suggests, marketers must handle testimonials with care when they incorporate them into their messaging. The broker claimed to have better reviews than “any other company” in the business. “Google us: ‘BBB top-rated car shipping,’” the ad said. “You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all.” But according to the FTC, the broker didn’t reveal that it used a variety of methods to compensate consumers for online reviews. The FTC charged that the company’s failure to adequately disclose that fact was a deceptive practice.

Looking for guidance on using social media within the bounds of the law? The newly-revised brochure, The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking, is packed with practical advice.

Photo by stockimages/

Lesley Fair is an attorney with the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The above blog post was adapted from the “Fair Trade” column published in the March-April issue of ER magazine.

Lesley Fair's blog
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