Simply Pinning a Product to #Pinterest Could Violate the FTC Act

cole haan shoes two

Although the writer of this post, Glen Gilmore, is an attorney, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. If you have a question of law, please consult with an attorney from your jurisdiction.

For Want of Disclosure, a Pinterest Contest was Lost 

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) caught the attention of the retail, marketing and advertising communities when it announced its decision not to pursue an enforcement action against a major retailer, Cole Haan, for a contest on the social media site, Pinterest, even though the regulatory authority found that the retailer had failed to provide adequate disclosure required under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45.

Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45, provides that “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce…are…declared unlawful.”  Applying this principle, the FTC requires the disclosure of a “material connection between a marketer and an endorser when their relationship is not otherwise apparent from the context of the communication that contains the endorsement.”

When Cole Haan crafted a Pinterest contest that encouraged users to share photos with the hashtag #WonderingSole, the FTC found that that particular hashtag would not alert other users that the photos were being shared as part of an incentivized, social media contest – a chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree.

In explaining its decision not to pursue an enforcement action, the FTC offered that it had not “previously publicly addressed whether entry into a contest is a form of material connection, nor have we explicitly addressed whether a pin on Pinterest may constitute an endorsement.”

Given this rationale for not pursuing an enforcement action, the FTC’s notice, in its updated social media guidance concerning “simply posting a picture of a product in social media” is one that sponsored bloggers, brands and marketers should listen to very carefully.

 

cole haan shoes

Posing the question of whether a sponsored endorser would have to “say something positive” about a product for a post to be an deemed an endorsement covered by the FTC Act, the FTC answered:

Simply posting a picture of a product in social media, such as on Pinterest, or a video of you using it could convey that you like and approve of the product. If it does, it’s an endorsement.”

This is an extremely important point the FTC is making: no words are needed to trigger the FTC Act’s duty to disclose. This is one big step for the world of social media marketing and is a big nod to the triumph of the visual web. (It is also another example of the FTC keeping pace with trends in the social media marketing space.)

Elaborating on the point, the FTC went on to say, “You don’t necessarily have to use words to convey a positive message. If your audience thinks that what you say or otherwise communicate about a product reflects your opinions or beliefs about the product, and you have a relationship with the company marketing the product, it’s an endorsement subject to the FTC Act.”

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TAKEAWAYS?

Brands and marketers, be sure to inform your sponsored endorsers that their duty to disclose is triggered even by the sharing or pinning of a product belonging to the sponsor.

If a violation of this guidance occurs, there will be no free pass as the FTC has already provided its warning.

If you’d like to learn more about the topic of social media law, the following is a link to Amazon where you can order a copy of my book,   (yes, I do get paid a royalty from the sale of the book!)

Social Media Law for Business 

And if we’re not already connected, please join me on Twitter:

@GlenGilmore AND @SocialMediaLaw1 

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#Bloggers, Vloggers, Instagrammers Beware: FTC May Be Coming After You

 

ftc protecting consumers

Although the writer of this post, Glen Gilmore, is an attorney, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. If you have a question of law, please consult with an attorney from your jurisdiction.

New Guidelines Warn Bloggers, Vloggers, Instagrammers… They May Become the Target of An FTC Action for Failing to Make Adequate Disclosures

In 2009, the FTC announced its first set of social media marketing guidelines. When those guidelines first appeared, the FTC stamped out a firestorm created by the fear that the FTC would be gunning for bloggers who might miss a nuance in some complicated regulation and get hit with a hefty fine as a consequence.

The FTC quieted the storm by emphasizing that the focus of its regulatory update was the brands that sponsor bloggers, so that they would instruct and police the bloggers they chose to sponsor. That was 2009.

“Action against an individual endorser, however, might be appropriate in certain circumstances.”

In 2015, the FTC has renewed its guidance for sponsored promotions (i.e., incentivized user content), reminding brands and marketing firms of the responsibilities they have in using new media for a marketing purpose: their duty to instruct and monitor and correct sponsored endorsers (bloggers, et al.).

Tucked away in those updated guidelines, however, is a single statement that should give bloggers pause:

“Action against an individual endorser…might be appropriate in certain circumstances.”

Is the FTC monitoring individual bloggers, Instagrammers, vloggers?

Posing that question in its guidelines, using the term, “endorser,” the FTC answered by saying, “Generally not, but if concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we’ll evaluate them case by case.”

To the heart of the question, the FTC made it clear that action against an individual “endorser” may be on the horizon.

An “endorser”?

In the context of the FTC’s social media guidelines, that would be anyone posting sponsored content online, regardless of form or platform. Bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers, Viners, etc.

Um, what should a sponsored blogger, Viner, Instagrammer do to stay out stay out of the FTC’s crosshairs?

Familiarizing yourself with the FTC’s guidelines would be a good start.

A few other things to know to lessen your risks as a sponsored _____________:

  • Always provide a clear and conspicuous disclosure that your post has been incentivized (as in, you got paid or something for free).
  • Use plain language in your disclosure.
  • A disclosure in your profile biography is generally insufficient disclosure.
  • A disclosure via a link or badge is insufficient disclosure.
  • Keep your disclosure close to your sponsored content; don’t hide it.
  • In a tweet, #Ad, at the beginning of your tweet might be viewed as a sufficient disclosure of sponsored content (it’s always a case-by-case review by the FTC).
  • Don’t think that because the compensation you received was small that you are not obliged to provide a disclosure.
  • Don’t think that because you returned the test car you were given that you don’t need to mention that you were given it for free for a week.
  • Including a disclosure in a single post does NOT satisfy your obligation to make disclosures in future posts.
  • Your one-time sponsorship experience may require you to make disclosures of an earlier sponsored relationship with a brand when you post about its products or services down the road.
  • Don’t exaggerate your experience: stick to the truth.

If you’d like to learn more about the topic of social media law, the following is a link to Amazon where you can order a copy of my book,   (yes, I do get paid a royalty from the sale of the book!)  

Social Media Law for Business

And if we’re not already connected on Twitter, please join me:

@GlenGilmore AND @SocialMediaLaw1

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FTC: Businesses Should Provide Employees with Social Media Training

Although the writer of this post, Glen Gilmore, is an attorney at law, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. If you have a question of law, please consult with an attorney from your jurisdiction.

facebook under magnifying glass

Companies should establish “formal” social media training

“Employee advocacy,” empowering and encouraging employees to use social media to help promote a company’s brand in the social space, has become the fashion for some of the biggest companies. In a set of guidelines just released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a regulatory authority charged with ensuring truth in advertising, employers are advised to “establish a formal program to remind employees” that they should “not post positive reviews online without clearly disclosing their relationship to the company.” The recommendation presupposes the existence of a company social media policy making this point as well.

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Companies learning of an employee’s failure to disclose an employee relationship when endorsing a company service or product should take corrective measures

where an employer does learn that an employee has endorsed the company’s products or services without adequately disclosing the employee relationship, the FTC recommends that employers take specific corrective measures:

  • Remind the employee of the company policy requiring disclosure of the employee relationship anytime the employee posts online about company products or services.
  • Ask the employee to remove the review or edit the post to adequately disclose that they are employee.

“Saying who your employer is in your social media profile does not meet the FTC’s definition of adequate disclosure.”  A profile disclosure may not be seen in the course of a social media conversation. Someone reading a post may never go to the poster’s profile page and, therefore, miss the disclosure.

Additionally, the FTC notes that, “Many businesses are so diversified that readers might not realize that the products you’re talking about are sold by your company.”

The FTC is concerned about protecting consumers from deceptive advertising. Knowing about material connections between an endorser and the brand being endorsed is important to help consumers make more informed evaluations of an endorsement. Failing to make adequate disclosures of relationships is likely to violate long-standing truth-in-advertising principles. The FTC has now made it clear that employers should help employees understand the rules with periodic, formal social media training.

If you’re interested in learning more about social media law, I have written a book on the topic (and, yes, I do get royalties!):

Social Media Law for Business

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And, if we’re not already connected on Twitter, please join me there!

 @GlenGilmore AND @SocialMediaLaw1

The Magic of Law and Social Media

I’ve taken a peculiar path from lawyer to social media strategist.  My law school alma mater recently invited me back to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to be their commencement speaker and to talk about my unusual journey, from Law to Social Media.

I recently authored a book, Social Media Law for Business (yes, I do get royalties from the sale of the book; a disclosure from an abundance of caution), which I guess added some spark for a graduating class of law students who are entirely digital natives.

What follows is my effort to offer a few pearls of wisdom to a graduating class of bright-eyed soon-to-be lawyers from the Widener University School of Law.

I chose to speak about the magic of law and social media.

My old law school said I would have a half hour to speak.  I asked if it would be okay for me to keep my address to about ten minutes.  They said that would be fine.  (I did manage to keep my remarks to about ten minutes, but, there was a quick introduction and ceremony before my address.)

If we’re not connected on Twitter, please join me there!

@GlenGilmore AND

@SocialMediaLaw1

 

10 Social Media Law & Governance Tips

Although the writer of this post, Glen Gilmore, is an attorney at law, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. If you have a question of law, please consult with an attorney from your jurisdiction.

1. Create a Social Media Corporate Governance Team. Social media marketing is central to business success. Social networks are where consumers now spend most of their time online. It is on social networks where they hear and share the peer recommendations that matter most. You owe it to your shareholders and to your customers to integrate social business into your corporate culture. A social media governance team is critical to making social media success achievable and sustainable within your organization.

and it should become a center of excellence for your business. It should bring together diverse talent, including marketing, customer service, legal, human relations, to share in learning, establish best practices, and create benchmarks for excellence, while humanizing your brand and driving business results.

2. Establish/Update A Social Media Policy.

as you are inviting even one employee to have the power to redefine your brand in one inadvertent or ill-conceived post.

If, on the other hand, your organization was an early adopter of social media (or at least an early adopter of a social media policy!), it is likely time to update your social media policy. In the past year, the National Labor Relations Board has rendered over a hundred decisions, many of them prompted by overly broad social media policies.

Your social media policy should reflect those changes and clarifications.

3. Establish a Social Media Communications Crisis Management Plan. Along the way, you will invariably have a crisis that will require you to muster your social media resources. Prepare for the crisis before it happens. This should include creating a response chart of who within your organization would be tasked with what and how they would be contacted, as most crises seem to happen after 5:00 p.m. or on a weekend. Have round-tables to identify the events most likely to trigger a communications crisis within your organization and then do some training exercises to run through how you charts and policies would work.

If you are a larger organizations, you likely already have crisis communications plans – they need to include social.

Knowing the mechanics of what to do if an employee has sent a mistweet from your corporate account (hint: don’t ignore it!) or what to do if your social network account has been hijacked are some of the scenarios you should review.

4. Take the Time to Learn the FTC’s Social Media Disclosure Guidelines. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission, which characterizes itself as “the nation’s consumer protection agency”, updated its advertising endorsement guidelines to include social media, addressing the disclosure requirement for sponsored bloggers and those that sponsor them, along with a series of examples clarifying the new guidelines. Most marketers have never read them. Luckily for you, the FTC guidance has just been updated!  Put it on your reading list!

Contrary to a large body of writing on the subject,

’s social media disclosure requirements. (Disclosures are required within the context of the social conversation.)

5. Provide Your Employees with Social Media Training. Most of your employees are using social media throughout the day, regardless of what your social media policy may say to the contrary. Get over it. Instead, give your employees the social media training they deserve so that when they are using social media their time spent there will become an asset to your business rather than a ticking bomb.

Crisis decision tree

6. Create a Social Media Decision Tree. Though Pfizer tends to get the credit for the idea, it was actually the U.S. Air Force that developed a social media decision tree that Pfizer eventually adopted for its organization. Very simply, it’s a review of common social media scenarios and how employees should respond to them. It makes social media conduct a little easier to understand and more efficient.

7. Streamline Access to Compliance and Legal for Social Media.

It doesn’t mean your business needs to give an instant response to every online post or tweet, but it does mean that your company should be prepared to answer within a few short hours of a brand mention at most. Having a way to get answers from compliance or legal requires a new approach that dedicates a greater appreciation for the time sensitivity of responding to social network inquiries or comments. Work on a way to accomplish this.

8. Share Regular Updates on Social Media Best Practices.

and your sharing of information about those best practices. Being attentive to and sharing updated guidance from regulatory agencies should be part of your updates. (This is a task best assigned to your governance team with special input from legal.)

9. Monitor, Assess and Audit Your Social Media Activities. Even with the best social media policies and training, your company’s social networking activities should be monitored and assessed for excellence. This doesn’t mean that every tweet has to be a masterpiece, but that online social networking engagement is consistent with the brand and contributing to the building of trust, transparency and brand advocates. It is worth noting that many of the FTC’s social media-related settlements have included mandatory outside audits of social networking activities. Bringing an independent audit into the mix is good idea to help keep monitoring of social business activities as accurate as possible.

10. Cleary Define Who Owns Company-Related Social Network Accounts. One lingering legal question is the dastardly discussion of who really owns your Twitter account or your LinkedIn contacts, etc., etc. Very simply, it is subject of debate and litigation if it is not clearly defined and agreed upon between employers and employees or business partners. Dispel the ambiguity and legal uncertainty: make an agreement that covers this issue.

A written agreement outlining what is to happen with a social media account opened or operated for a business purpose by an employee on behalf of a business is something that should be expressly defined. Why? Because most now recognize that social media accounts often have a business value and, left undefined, issues of ownership are likely to arise when business partners or employees part ways.

What social media compliance issues do you find most challenging?

 

No Social Media Policy or Training? A Prescription for a Crisis.

Although the writer of this post, Glen Gilmore, is an attorney, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. If you have a question of law, please consult with an attorney from your jurisdiction.

In 2011, an medical doctor become one of the first physicians to be reprimanded and fined by a medical board for “inadvertently” sharing patient information in a Facebook post. Although the physician did not reveal the patient’s name or address, the medical board concluded that

 as it allowed the patient’s identity by determined by “an unauthorized third party.”

The offending physician was hoping to use social media to help others understand the work of an emergency room physician, without revealing any personally identifiable patient information, by simply describing some of the cases she encountered in her rounds. The doctor understood that she could not mention a patient’s name or address without the informed consent of the patient and so she steered clear of any such mention. Nonetheless, a violation of patient confidentiality was found to have occurred all the same.

In a consent decree with the doctor, the Rhode Island state medical board concluded that although the physician had “no intention to reveal confidential patient information” and had deleted the posts as soon as she learned of the breach of confidentiality, she had engaged in “unprofessional conduct” by sharing information that allowed others to guess the identity of a patient from the injury that was described. The Board issued a formal reprimand and a fine of $500 in a consent decree with the doctor.

The doctor also resigned her privileges at the hospital over the incident. Remarkably, the hospital where the incident occurred had no social media policy or training, something that was not mentioned in the Board’s findings.

Amazingly, despite this early warning to the medical community, and many others which have followed, many medical centers today still do not provide social media training to their staff or for many that do, physicians are excused from that training.

Failing to provide a social media policy and training that includes the entire healthcare staff, from physicians to volunteers, is a prescription for a crisis at expense of patients and the healthcare community.

 

If you’d like to learn more about the topic of social media law, the following is a link to Amazon where you can order a copy of my book, (yes, I do get paid a royalty from the sale of the book).

Social Media Law for Business 

And if we’re not already connected, please join me on Twitter:

@GlenGilmore & @HealthcareSMM & @SocialMediaLaw1 

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Don’t Forget the “Social” In Social Media Marketing

Social media in the business world has come a long way.  Skepticism has been replaced with a rush by business to get “liked,” “tweeted,” and “Instagrammed.”  Yet, many businesses still lack a fundamental understanding of social.

And, if you’re going to use social media for business, don’t just hand over the responsibility to your marketing department as an add on.

your human relations, your recruiting, your compliance.  Your goal should be to become a social business.

Putting your niece in charge of your business’ Facebook account “because she’s good at Facebook” may be great for family relations, but it’s likely terrible for customer relations.  Hiring for social media talent should be like hiring for anything else:  a serious and deliberate effort.

The best companies in the social space are pouring real time and talent into their social media efforts.  Begin the road to social media success by finding talent, from inside your organization or a new hire, that understands that social media marketing is about building relationships, adding value, and being social.

If your business’ social media efforts are falling flat, ask yourself if someone might just be a little too much like this guy!….

And if you’d like to expand your social network, please join me on Twitter!  @GlenGilmore

Financial Services: LinkedIn Triggers FINRA Social Media Regs

Social Media Law for Financial Services: 10 Commandments

Although the writer of this post, Glen Gilmore, is an attorney at law, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. If you have a question of law, please consult with an attorney from your jurisdiction.
I put this slideshare together the weekend after FINRA came out with its first regulatory guidance for social media marketing.
To date, it’s be viewed over 21,000 times.  (Some of the stats it quotes are a bit dated, but it still gets good traction!)