Socially Acceptable: Disclosure on Social Media

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

I’ve previously discussed the importance of disclosure – that is, making it clear as a day if compensation of any kind occurred for a piece of content, per Federal Trade Commission guidelines. In that post, I noted the FTC’s requirement to disclose within any social post if the content that is linked to is sponsored.

Well recently, the FTC exercised this mandate, settling charges with Deutsch LA for what the FTC deemed deceptive Twitter promotion. The notion that the FTC won’t actually monitor agencies’ social media activity as it relates to clients can officially be put to rest with this important wake up call.

Maybe you’re thinking the agency in question engaged in outrageous practices to mislead consumers. Well, you’d be wrong – the firm simply promoted a campaign for PlayStation (one of its clients) from employees’ personal handles, without disclosing PlayStation as a client. Did agency employees link to sponsored content they should have noted was paid for? Nope. Individuals were simply asked, not told, to tweet positive endorsements of a product while using a specific hashtag.

This isn’t meant to call out a specific agency and its campaign. This really could have been any number of agencies in an effort to build awareness for clients. Most, if not all, agencies only have one goal in mind: to do the best work they can for their clients. But in doing so, it’s easy to forget that while the client effectively operates as the agency’s “customer,” agencies must always keep their client’s customers in mind.

At Blanc & Otus, we have a long-standing policy in place that requires our team to call out whether a company is a client in promotional social posts. However, the rules are constantly changing and this is a great lesson as much as a cautionary tale. Disclosure can’t just occur via the agency social feeds – it extends to every employee of that agency, even those who may not work on or have anything to do with the specific account. Agencies should also take the measures needed to educate their employees on various disclosure mandates. For instance, this case was unrelated to disclosure of sponsored content, just content related to clients.

One easy quick fix to appease FTC regulators: simply add a #client or #ad hashtag to your post. I hope this helps and if you work in PR, communications or any other area where this might apply, feel free to get in touch with me with any questions at ndesai@blancandotus.com.

Sponsored Content and Disclosure: When the Cat Should Leave the Bag

Credit: Mr. TinDC
Credit: Mr. TinDC

One of the major trends we are seeing in the technology industry at large is the rise of sponsored content. We’ve long heard the expression “content is king,” and organizations today are investing more than ever before into their content marketing efforts. The trend can be traced to the inherent value in a company presenting themselves as a provider of valuable information as opposed to an advertiser of their own worth.

To further derive value from content, organizations are commissioning influencers and bloggers to cover their company or product. The reasoning is simple: if a knowledgeable third party source says, “Like Company X,” it is more convincing to a potential customer than Company X saying, “Like us.” Yet, immediately the question of ethics comes to mind. After all, just how ethical is it if a company pays an influential person to sing their praises? Fortune recently discussed this very topic, using results from a survey to highlight customer distrust of sponsored content. John Oliver also raised concerns over this growing trend, also known as “native advertising,” in a recent HBO segment. For me, the answer is simple: like with any form of advertising, be transparent with customers. How? Disclosure.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has guidelines for this very subject. Sure, in a relatively new space, sponsored content might seem like it falls in a grey area compared to traditional advertising. But the days of half-page ads above the fold in Section A of the Sunday paper are long gone. And not disclosing when content is sponsored can lead customers to lose trust in a company, ultimately harming reputation.

So here’s a quick guide to ensuring proper disclosure:

Q: When does disclosure need to occur?
A: Whenever a company provides a third-party content writer some form of compensation. In other words, if money or services are involved, disclose.

Q: What does disclosure entail?
A: There is no specific language that needs to be included. However, general factors to consider include:

  • Proximity: Where in the piece is disclosure occurring? Upfront before the piece begins typically works best.
  • Prominence: Is it easily noticeable? Make it as obvious as possible without ruining the content’s quality, both aesthetically and editorially.
  • Format: What format is it in? Disclose in the same multimedia format as the piece (i.e. radio, video, written, etc).
  • Language: Is it understandable? Don’t use legalese. Use clear language to describe the piece as sponsored content.
  • Social Media: Sharing via a social media platform? Be sure to call out in the social post that the content linked to is sponsored.

In general, the onus is on the company to urge the media to take these steps. Doing so can ensure a great piece of content maintains (or improves) your company’s reputation, maintains a positive relationship with the writer and publisher, and builds customer trust. It may be tempting for a company to try and hide they provided some form of compensation to a publisher, but remember: a customer who knows content is sponsored and takes the time to look at the piece is a more meaningful interaction anyway.

Wait! What? 6/6: Netflix and Verizon do battle, Uber is apparently worth zillions

Credit: Tinder, Inc.
Credit: Tinder, Inc.

While you were busy checking out the features you’ll never use on iOS 8 and realizing an Apple a day no longer keeps the doctor away, other tech happenings were underway. Some you may have missed:

  • Social apps find new ways to make you less social keep you glued to your phone longer: Instagram introduces more editing features, because asking your friends if Valencia or Amaro will get you more likes just wasn’t enough, while Tinder has a moment.
  • Wait, what? $17 billion edition: Uber gets $1.2 thousand million in funding at a massive valuation to continue its march towards ending car ownership, and killing cabs.
  • The road to solar is…the solar-powered road?: If crowdfunding success is any indication, solar roadways conceived by a badass couple from Idaho (yes, looking at you Silicon Valley selfie app company) might reinvent the future of energy.
  • The net neutrality awkwardness between ISPs and content providers gets awkward-er: Netflix and Verizon fire shots at each other as the Orange is the New Black creator blames the Can You Hear Me Now? creator for slow playback.

What piqued your interest this week? Connect with us @BlancandOtus or drop a line below.