The Federal Trade Commission released guidelines today, effective December 1, mandating that bloggers, Tweeters and other “online marketers” will have to tell readers (consumers) when they are paid or given freebies to write positive reviews or online postings.
The rules also applies to “word of mouth” campaigns such as those carried out on social networking sites.
The FTC said, “the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement” and would require some sort of written disclosure for readers:
“”These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.””
Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s advertising practices division, said the disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous,” no matter what form it takes.
Bloggers and other marketers who violate the FTC Act, could be hit with fines of as much as $11,000 per instance.
However, Cleland said the FTC will more likely go after an advertiser instead of a blogger for violations.
The exception would be a blogger who runs a “substantial” operation that violates FTC rules and already received a warning, he said.
The agency also said advertisers of blogs, could be held liable for what bloggers write:
Although the FTC said it understands that advertisers don’t “have complete control over the contents” of statements made by bloggers, “if the advertiser initiated the process that led to these endorsements being made…it potentially is liable for misleading statements made by those bloggers.”
“””When the advertiser hires a blog advertising agency for the purpose of promoting its products the Commission believes it is reasonable to hold the advertiser responsible for communicating approved claims to the service (which, in turn, would be responsible for communicating those claims to the blogger).””
The FTC also updated its guidelines for celebrity endorsements, saying that celebrities “have a duty to disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media.”