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Social Media Disclosure Rules Apply Even in Small Communities

FTC Protecting America's ConsumersSmall communities are great for mutual support. Sometimes we relax things though that could actually support and protect us. FTC Blogger Rules are just such a case.

Here on Maui, we love and support each other so much, we call it one big ʻohana – that means family. Maui is also very techy and entrepreneurial – we have leaders in green tech, really hip venture folks, and the food? Why even Oprah has just taken out papers to start organic farming here! But before her, we have many organic farms, our favorite home delivery of locally sourced food from Kula Fields, and the most delicious (for all of the senses) outdoor pop-up dinners hosted by Kupu Maui!

The FTC blogger guidelines don’t get invited to the party on many occasions, so here is a quick reminder about the federal law and why I think it is GOOD thing to disclose!

Read the full federal requirements for disclosing compensation here.

Read a terrific summary from Edelman Digital on the practical application here.

Edelman learned the hard way early on: Their Walmarting Across America earned them a spot in the Fake Blog listing on Wikipedia. To their credit, they have become leaders in creating open, transparent best practices between bloggers and brands.

As someone who has hired bloggers for my client the Lānaʻi Visitors Bureau, I insisted the writers disclose their free travel and per diem. There are so many benefits to this, beyond the fact that it is required by law:

  • I provide a custom graphic – another way to visually get the client’s brand out there.
  • I provide a custom link – so I can track activity from the blog posts, tweets, etc.
  • It gives the bloggers support and cover – it protects my team! It goes hand in hand with their contract which also states they have full editorial freedom to write whatever they want. I do not edit or restrict their reviews in any way.
  • It informs the readers, that yes, the writer did get free stuff – keep that in mind as you read the review.

If you have a great brand, transparency is your best friend. Bloggers do have influence and reach – that is why you want them on your team. And bloggers and social sharers, you have a responsibility to disclose when you receive something for free. On Twitter, I often use #client when I am actively promoting a client’s message. My partner Shane also suggests the very simple #fcftc, “For consideration, via the FTC.” I hope you will join me in raising the professional standards of how we support each other locally, keeping in mind that our voices are being heard globally!

If you are hiring a social media team: Be sure to give them specific goals, tell them who and what to disclose as the client so you are in control of that message, and interact with the team online – don’t leave it all up to the bloggers!

If you are a social media messenger: Be sure to ask your client for the campaign goals so you can be as effective as possible, insist on disclosing to protect your brand and your blog, and above all remember to include your audience in the fully transparent conversation!

Related: Tweeting for Free?

I have been writing about this since 2008. Just search this blog for “FTC” to read more of the history and best practices! Please do me a favor too: share this with your colleagues so I can close this topic by the end of 2012!


12 Comments on “Social Media Disclosure Rules Apply Even in Small Communities

    • Courtney – I am so glad you found it informative! As much information is theoretically available, it is of little use if not in the hands of the people it affects. I realized too that this is perhaps even more important in small communities – where we are so intimate in so many ways. Keeping things transparent builds trust and I think most bloggers and brands have a lot to be proud about by sharing!
      Roxanne Darling recently posted..Social Media Disclosure Rules Apply Even in Small CommunitiesMy Profile

  1. Thanks for bringing this topic up again Rox! As far as Maui is concern, here is my observation: Let’s start with the fact that there is only a handful of Maui Businesses who are willing to pay a blogger, handful close to none. Recently, some of the businesses are willing to give perks (such as free entrance to a paid event or free products) in exchange to social media buzz. The problem is they want a lot of social media users to attend the event but they can’t afford to give the “freebies” to all. Therefore, they select some of the more influential social media enthusiasts and offer then a stipend (not a pay, because it’s a little amount) and a free entrance or free product. With the offer comes a request that they keep it confidential because they don’t want other social media participants to feel neglected or discriminated. Afterall, like what you said, it’s one big ohana and everyone is doing kokua….

    I think when the Maui Business community and the social media community on Maui start recognizing that there are some social media practioners (bloggers included) who does this for a living (part time or full time) – when that happens, they they won’t feel awkward giving perks to the social media practitioners as everyone would know the difference. What difference? Not all social media users use social media as their “actual work”. Some of the social media users are there 1) to promote their clients, add value to their advertisers (if they are in the marketing biz) 2) to promote their own biz or career (such a biz entrepreneurs, realtors, artists, etc) 3) to just have fun with the latest technoligy 4) for social reasons specifically, maybe meet new friends.

    Maui’s use of social media is evolving, but it’s is very slowly evolving…. Only when the Maui Biz community starts recognizing the importance of “hiring” bloggers will this “openness and disclosure” naturally happen. Right now the perk always comes with “please keep this confidential” and because it’s really minini thing (monetary value is low) and bloggers don’t want others to feel left out, the bloggers oblige to the request. This is not the right thing but an explanation or what may be the reason behind non-disclosure.

    Another issue is the notion that if a blogger is paid, they are not since is what they say. Of course we bloggers know that notion is not true. We are always truthful about what we say. I won’t discuss this in detail because this has already been discussed on your other post about Tweet-up which you provided the link also.

    Aloha :)
    A Maui Blog recently posted..Thanksgiving on Maui 2012My Profile

    • Thanks for commenting Liza – I still believe as a social media professional it is my kuleana to help educate the biz community – it is perhaps not fair to expect the businesses to understand all of the rules and ways that blogs and social media work. Even getting things for free is compensation, and disclosure is the way to go!

  2. Mahalo for posting this Rox. I’ve read a lot on the subject and still see quite a bit of abuse with non-disclosure. I think for many bloggers, copyright, disclosure and giveaway issues are not the easiest thing to address and I appreciate anyone who posts relevant resource information. It’s not worth the financial and reputation risk to not follow the rules and be transparent to your readers.

    The more I blog hop, I am finding some of the more successful bloggers I follow manage the disclosure seamlessly without affecting the flow of their post while others are quite awkward. I think if you feel passionate about what you are writing about, it shows, even with a disclosure. Also having a good amount of non-sponsored editorial is key IMHO. When I see a blogger who is only writing posts that were sponsored or about items received free, it feels so inauthentic. But if you throw in a disclosure post amongst other uncompensated content, it doesn’t affect how I feel about that post at all. I don’t see their endorsement of that product any differently than had it been non-compensated as I trust that they only accepted it because it met the standards for their site and reputation.
    Tania recently posted..Keep Calm and Shop Local…My Profile

  3. In government work we always had laws that determined the acceptable amount of a gift. It was frequently about $25. I prefer not to take anything. Especially after a recent experience where I took a $10 perk. It was, in fact, not worth the effort. Someday remind me to tell one of my dad’s favorite “jokes” about ethics. A lot of people don’t laugh at it, but I think you’ll like it.
    Elinor Gawel (Eli) recently posted..Water as MetaphorMy Profile

    • Thanks for visiting Eli – I look forward to your Dad’s story. The more people contribute to this batch of threads, the more I think disclosure matters even more in small communities! After all, word does get around. And it does get old (for me) seeing the same voices touting the same or similar brands, as if we are all just friends. Business is business – we can support each other’s businesses best IMO by being transparent – simple, easy, and a benefit to everyone as far as I can see!
      Roxanne Darling recently posted..The Next New Thing: Tapping into Quantum Energy to Support Your Business GoalsMy Profile