Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on October 9th, 2009

FTC Changes Rules Toward Blogging and Social Media

For the first time since 1980, the Federal Trade Commission updated its rules on the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising, with specific guidelines targeted toward bloggers and social media usage. The new rules go in effect on December 1, with penalties of $11,000 per violation to be expected. The FTC’s decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Blogging By Fire

The new guidelines have the furthest reaching influence on blogging. They require bloggers to clearly disclose any connection to an advertiser, which includes payments for endorsements or free shag. Say that you run a blog about your video gaming experiences. If a company sends you a free game or console to review, you must clarify it in your blog.

Death to the False Print

In addition to covering bloggers, the new rules spell out that celebrity endorsers can be held accountable for false statements about a product. All endorsements that are made must include results that can be generally expected. No longer will the disclaimer “results not typical” grace our eyes with its presence within the waning milli-seconds of a commercial spot. Not all fine print will be eliminated, but it will certainly allow for more honest messaging.

Social Celebrities

Celebrities cannot endorse products on social media, such as Twitter, unless the commercial relationship is disclosed. This rule also carries over to other media, like talk shows. But rules apply to the non-photographed consumer as well. If a consumer puts out an endorsement that has been materially influenced, it must be disclosed. The endorsement must also be based on a personal experience and not fabricated. Most feel that the new rules toward social endorsements could help better define what is acceptable and what is not concerning brand involvement in social media.

These guidelines also includes posts on review sites such as Yelp, or online stores where the consumer may have been compensated. An employee of a restaurant or author of a book giving a positive review for their restaurant or boss’ book can be fined as well for undisclosed, published praise.