What the FTC’s social media changes mean for your brand

New guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission tighten the reins on online marketers. The protocols aren’t without bite, either. Crackdowns for flagrant violations seem to be looming.

Are you on alert?

For the first time in five years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has updated the FAQ page of its endorsement guidelines. The new rules call mainly for stricter disclosure requirements on the relationships between brands and influencers.

The need for transparency isn’t new, but now the FTC’s guidance is more specific. Besides the demand for clarity from influencers, the latest guidelines also require disclosure for contests and sweepstakes, videos and images.

“With the rise of social media, and things like Periscope, there is a lot more user-generated content,” says Chris Lucas, VP of marketing at Formstack. “It makes sense now to update the guidelines to even the playing field.”

Consumers value honesty, and with the new guidelines everything is out in the open, so there’s nothing preventing consumers from trusting your brand. Here are four tips to ensure you are complying with the FTC’s guidelines and doing everything you can to build consumer trust:

1. Define endorser relationships clearly.

Endorsers who promote your products or services should state their affiliation clearly enough that consumers are aware of their relationship to your brand. This doesn’t mean just listing that information in their Twitter bio or “About” section. In every post where your products or services are mentioned, influencers must include a disclosure.

The FTC has also included detailed rules for video and image endorsements. Disclosures in video descriptions are not enough; influencers now must begin videos by stating their affiliation with a brand and reference it throughout the video. For images, simply sharing may be considered an endorsement. Be sure that users include a disclosure whenever they share images of your products.

2. When in doubt, disclose.

The FTC does not consider character limits an excuse for excluding disclosures from posts. Any time the relationship between brand and influencer is unclear, disclosure is necessary. To avoid misunderstandings, it’s best to disclose your affiliation whenever you can.

Consumers don’t want marketers to hide anything, and marketers want to be transparent so consumers trust them.

Lucas recommends thinking about how consumers view your brand. “Don’t just focus on the person you’re pitching to promote your product; focus on your customers,” he says.

If you only think about your promotions and how to get more endorsements, you’ll neglect the ultimate outcome, which is to attract more customers.

3. Ensure that contests and sweepstakes add value.

For contests and sweepstakes, the responsibility falls on the brand to ensure that all entrants are using a disclosure. This can include using a hashtag, such as “#contest” or “#sweepstakes.” However, “#sweeps” doesn’t cut it.

For marketers, the new guidelines mean putting a little more effort into contests and sweepstakes to ensure that people follow the rules. That effort should go even further to create a promotion that benefits not only your brand but your customers.

Lucas says, “Be creative and deliver something in that contest.” Put the work in, and your customers will take notice. For example, consider running a photo contest to gather user-generated content and get customers involved. Just be sure all photos submitted include a disclosure.

No matter what kind of contest or promotion you’re putting forth, you should always think about what your followers are getting from it. Lucas recommends focusing on the value of your contest. If you can provide value, you’ll find people following your brand.

Download this free marketer’s guide to digital giveaways, promotions and rewards.

4. Avoid crackdowns.

In the past, without any specificity, the FTC wasn’t able to take any real action against brands that violated their guidelines. However, with the new update, things could change.

In an article for ClickZ.com, Angie Pascale, director of marketing at Indaba Group, writes, “This update, however, may be an indication that they’re going to stop simply slapping wrists and start truly cracking down.”

Lucas says there could be action but predicts it will be taken on a case-by-case basis. He believes the FTC will step in only when there’s been blatant violation of the guidelines.

To avoid trouble, adhere to the new social media guidelines. Read the full text, and note the areas that will affect your marketing promotions.

Maria Materise is a content marketing specialist for Cision, where a version of this article first appeared. Find her on Twitter @mariamaterise.

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