Social marketing leaders tell PRWeek that updated Federal Trade Commission guidelines will reinforce the importance of transparency and honesty in social media, adding that most firms are ready for the changes.
Josh Rosenberg, SVP and director of M Booth's FirstWord Digital team, says the updated rules are another reason why the industry “needs to be super-diligent about disclosure.”
“Sometimes people get lost in the details, and I think you need a checklist for the social updates you are writing on a brand's behalf, whether they're for influencers or for partnerships,” he explains.
On Tuesday afternoon, the FTC updated its “Dot Com Disclosures,” which were developed years before the social media marketing age in 2000, to address mobile technology and new channels.
“The main goals are to address changes in the marketplace,” says Betsy Lordan, public affairs specialist at the FTC.
While the Commission's report gives examples of marketers using deceptive claims in digital ads for weight-loss and health brands, Lordan says no specific industry drove the guideline changes.
She explains that the FTC wants to ensure that the delivery of ads across mobile and digital channels is clear regardless of the size of the screen. The guidelines address how a brand should disclose necessary information rather than when it is necessary to make a disclosure, Lordan adds.
When it comes to putting a disclosure link on social media, agencies and brands have to ensure its purpose is clear so consumers click on it, adds Rosenberg.
He says the changes will drive M Booth to think of innovative ways to work with influencers and create authentic content for digital platforms. The firm recently started experimenting with ThingLink, which allows users to embed a link into images.
Jason Stein, founder and president of social media agency Laundry Service, agrees that brands' posts on digital platforms have to be true, a point agencies and clients should have been enforcing for years. Yet where the rules get tricky is how often a brand has to put “ad” when it's posting content, he says.
“If every time a brand tweets, it has to have ‘ad' in it, then you're being super-redundant. Obviously, if a brand is on [a social platform], they are communicating there for a reason,” adds Stein.
However, Todd Cadley, MD of Horn's New York office, says the guidelines are good for brands because they add more clarity and relevance. He contends that because every company has to follow the same rules, it “levels the playing field” and highlights brand integrity.
A game changer?
Jason Mitchell, founder and CEO of social media agency Movement Strategy, says he doesn't think brands should worry about not being able to get messages to consumers because the FTC is mainly concerned with businesses using misleading claims or information.
He adds that the updated guidelines will probably “not have that much bearing on the industry because nothing in the report is too drastic.”
Shift Communications' marketing technology VP Christopher Penn says that as long as agencies are following best practices, they'll be unaffected by the changes.
Yet he notes that “the burden is really going to be on the platforms themselves” in that networks with limited character space, such as Twitter, may have to figure out a way to flag ads.
“There should be an option when you promote a tweet to put in a link to the disclosure page,” he says.