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February 15, 2010 / The_Mike_Johnson

Regulatory Scrutiny of Social Media PRSANY Panel January 2010

I attended the Public Relations Society of America New York Chapter panel, “Regulatory Scrutiny of Social Media: The Impact on PR Communicators in 2010 and Beyond” in order to understand the new Federal Trade Commission guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials for blogs and social networking sites.

Here is the copy about the event that was held in January, 2010:

“With continuing evidence of a growing demand for online news and information, PR communicators have to be better informed about new regulatory developments before jumping into the social media pool. Join our panel of experts in media law, health care communications and digital/social media as we explore what this heightened government scrutiny may mean for PR practitioners, marketers and media strategists.”


Marc Monseau, Director of Corporate Communication, Social Media, Johnson & Johnson

Michael Lasky, Esq., Senior Partner and Co-chair of the Litigation Practice Group of media law specialist Davis & Gilbert LLP.

Michael Lasky provided an excellent summary of the emerging issues:

– FTC Guides for endorsements apply to blogging and other social media.

– An endorsement is defined as “[A]ny advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name) which message consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experience of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser.

– For endorsements and testimonials the FTC requires: Endorsements must be honest and not deceptive, The disclosure of material connections.

– “Results Not Typical” disclaimers no longer suffice.

– Marketers (and bloggers) can be liable for misleading or unsubstantiated claims.

FTC encourages companies to have their own social media policies:
– Social media policy should include: Permitted conduct, Encouraged conduct, and Prohibited conduct
– Educate employees not to violate others’  intellectual property rights  (i.e., copyrights, trademarks)
– Prohibit disclosure of confidential information
– Ensure that discussions regarding competitors are not overly-negative.
– Prohibit employees from posting any objectionable content.
– Educate employees to disclose that their  statements reflect their own opinions, not the company’s.
– Ensure that employees disclose their connection to the company when posting about its products or services.

Blogging Guidelines for posts by bloggers:

– Blogger with blog From Dates to Diapers reviewed a mattress and promoted a giveaway and the disclosure statement was: “This mattress from the Sealy Signature 11 Series was sent to us to review.”

10 Things PR Firms and their clients should be doing now:

1. Marketers should advise bloggers with whom they have a material connection (e.g., provide payment or free products (in certain instances),  blog services, etc.) to disclose their relationship with the Marketer whenever making a positive review about the Marketer or its products or services.

2. Marketers should monitor their bloggers to ensure that they make the necessary disclosures and that their statements are not  misleading or unsubstantiated.

3. If hiring a blog service, the Marketer should confirm that the service provides guidance and training to its bloggers to ensure that the necessary disclosures are made.

4. Employees of the Marketer or its PR firm should disclose their relationship to the Marketer if posting messages on online discussion boards.

5. Marketers should institute written policies and procedures concerning the rules by which their employees engage in social media.

6. “Street Team” members who receive any form of consideration for promoting a Marketer’s products should disclose their connection to the Marketer.

7. When celebrities are paid for promoting products in non-traditional media, such as talk shows, interviews and social media sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.), they should disclose their  relationship with Marketers.

8. Spokespeople should undergo enhanced media training to ensure they understand what disclosures must be made in non-traditional media and what representations they can make about Marketers’ products.

9. In determining the appropriate level of disclosure, consider the likely audience for the blog, social media site or other venue on which the communication is being made.

10. Seek advice from experienced legal counsel to see if you have any questions/concerns if you are not sure if things are violating the FTC policy.

At times the presentation got caught up in legalese which causes me to start to drift as I tend to get lost by various legal procedures but overall I found the information to be valuable for any organization starting to post and comment via Facebook, Twitter, or a company blog.

You may also be interested in these posts:

Allison Fine and Beth Kanter The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change

Gary Vaynerchuk and The Thank You Economy

Gary Vaynerchuk and Robert Scoble Discuss Business and Social Media

Ray Jordan on Johnson & Johnson’s Social Media Strategy

The NBA’s Social Media Game

JetBlue’s Social Media Strategy with Jenny Dervin

David Meerman Scott, Author of Real-Time Marketing and PR

John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine



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