How can I ensure that my blogger relations efforts are in compliance with the new FTC guidelines? _______________________________________________________________ Kayleigh Fitch, blogger relations expert
While the FTC’s updated Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising can be complex and difficult to understand in entirety, there are specific and clear guidelines a marketer should be aware of when promoting products and services through blogger relations.
The complete text of the Revised Endorsement and Testimonials Guides can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm. In the meantime, below is a list of the basic guidelines to help ensure you are in compliance with the new regulations when it comes to blogger relations.
1. Understand that not all blogger reviews are considered endorsements. A blog review written by a consumer who regularly uses your product or brand, who decides to purchase the product of their own accord, or purchases the product through a special promotion or discount available to most consumers or received through a rewards program is not considered an endorsement under the FTC’s new guidelines.
2. If a blogger reviews your company’s product or service and writes about the experience in a blog post as if he or she has in fact used the product personally, ensure that the blogger has actually tested your product before writing about it or clearly discloses that is not the case. It is not acceptable for a blogger to portray that he or she has used a product personally when that is not the case. “When the advertisement represents that the endorser uses the endorsed product, the endorser must have been a bona fide user of it at the time the endorsement was given.” (Section 255.1)
3. Monitor blog reviews for unsubstantiated claims. For example, if a blogger claims in a post that the skin lotion you asked the blogger to review has the ability to cure eczema and there is no substantiated evidence of this claim, then both you and the blogger are liable under the new guidelines.
“The advertiser is subject to liability for misleading or unsubstantiated representations made through the blogger’s endorsement. The blogger also is subject to liability for misleading or unsubstantiated representations made in the course of her endorsement.” (Section 255.1)
4. It is not illegal to pay a blogger to write a positive review of your products, although Sweeney strongly discourages against pay-for-placement blogger relations. However, if you decide to go that route, you are responsible for ensuring that the blogger clearly discloses that he or she has been paid for their review.
“The blogger [and the marketer] is also liable if she fails to disclose clearly and conspicuously that she is being paid for her services.” (Section 255.1)
5. Ensure that the blogger fully discloses any and all material connections to you, your company, product or service “that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement.” (Section 255.4) The FTC does acknowledge that connections that are reasonably expected by the audience need not be disclosed. But if you are unsure what is considered “reasonably expected”, err on the side of caution and disclose the connection.
6. Specifically, you should ensure that a blogger clearly discloses when a product or service being reviewed has been provided for free, regardless of the value of the product. The FTC considers both bloggers and marketers responsible for ensuring this guideline is met and specifically states, “The manufacturer should advise him [the blogger] at the time it provides the gaming system [product for review] that this connection should be disclosed, and it should have procedures in place to try to monitor his postings for compliance.”
7. When communicating an endorsement message obtained through blogger relations (e.g. on sales literature or on a company web site) it is not necessary to use the exact words of the endorser. But, endorsements reworded or supplied out of context can come under scrutiny if they falsely represent an opinion or experience.
“The endorsement message need not be phrased in the exact words of the endorser, unless the advertisement affirmatively so represents. However, the endorsement may not be presented out of context or reworded so as to distort in any way the endorser’s opinion or experience with the product.” (Section 255.1 of Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising)
Want to implement a blogger relations campaign or have questions about the FTC guidelines as they relate to social media marketing, contact me at kalyeigh at sweeneypr.com or 440.333.0001 ext. 105.