PR pros tackle compliance as FTC guidelines take effect

WASHINGTON: With the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines now in effect, it falls on the shoulders of agencies and firms to ensure their social media, word of mouth marketing, and celebrity endorsements adhere to the guidelines set forth.

WASHINGTON: With the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines now in effect, it falls on the shoulders of agencies and firms to ensure their social media, word of mouth marketing, and celebrity endorsements adhere to the guidelines set forth.

The guidelines, the first put out by the FTC since 1980, call for marketers to disclose their connection to advertisers of products they're endorsing, a stipulation that PR pros are making sure they meet through a variety of means.

Paul Rand, president-elect and ethics council chairman for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), said one of the most important things a PR team can do to ensure adherence is make sure all their people are well-informed on the guidelines.

“Education is key here. Webinars, seminars for bloggers and social media users, bringing together your team and making sure the people you work with are aware of what the guidelines mean, this type of training is the number one way to make sure you're going to be in compliance,” Rand said.

One word-of-mouth driven agency, BzzAgent, has launched a new product that will allow marketers and agencies to test whether their social media campaigns are in full compliance. The Social Compliance Solution tool utilizes a 100-person team that analyzes social media and word-of-mouth activity for FTC compliance. It also offers auditing and consulting services to clients.

CEO Dave Balter said his company began working on the tool as soon as the ruling was made in early October.

“Any case where you're creating a consumer dialogue, you need to be in compliance,” Balter said. “If you're helping a brand build a Facebook page, and you're not sure if you're in compliance, you can submit that page to us and we can easily check to see if there are any issues.”

The Boston Market Corp. has been working with BzzAgent for the past year. VP of marketing Gretchen Paules credits service providers like BzzAgent and PR agencies with aiding companies in guaranteeing their marketing teams are in compliance. Paules added that making sure the partners she works with are exercising full transparency is paramount to sticking to those guidelines.

“We're on Twitter, and we're in the middle of launching a Facebook page,” she said. “To that end, making sure we're working with established bloggers, and individuals who are conveying real and relevant information, is very important to creating full disclosure with consumers.”

Rand added that while compliance is imperative, practicing consumer disclosure is an industry standard that many in the PR world are already accustomed to.

“This is not complicated, and all it means is that folks need to be diligent in how they use word of mouth marketing, which is really just good business,” Rand said. “This is what we should have been doing, and probably have been doing, all along.”

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