Truth in Content Matters. When in doubt, disclose!
Have you ever trusted a recommendation or an opinion of a friend only to find out later that they were offered an incentive or they were paid to provide that reco? It can leave you feeling exploited and stupid. Over the last few years social media has played a role of uncovering these individuals, bloggers or brands and their bad choices. Many of which could have been forgiven if they just were open about their biases. Don’t be a brand that misleads consumers and doesn’t follow these unspoken guidelines.
In the U.S., however, it’s not unspoken. It’s the law. Advocating for consumers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), regulates and fines marketers when they do not adhere to their regulations. Since 2010, the FTC has been on the forefront of misleading social media advertising and endorsements and has held many brands accountable for their deceptive behaviour. For example, the FTC recently fined Cole Haan for a Pinterest contest they hosted which required consumers to create their own pin boards of Cole Haan products with the hashtag “#WanderingSole”. The FTC argued that the pins were incentivized by the opportunity to win a prize and it wasn’t clear to the average Pinterest user that this content was being shared for a chance to win a prize.
But what about Canada? Right now we don’t have an equivalent to the FTC. The closest organization might be the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, which is a self-regulated organization. The most relevant policy they have is the clause of authenticity and disclosure that states “no advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals its commercial intent.” Because of this lack of a Canadian legal direction, many Canadian brands and lawyers don’t adhere to the FTC’s guidelines.
Whether you’re working contest for your Facebook page or writing your own cooking blog, it’s just as important to disclose any bias or payment you might have received. And if you’re not willing to disclose or admit the relationship, you might be crossing a line.
When creating content as a brand or with a partner, consider the following:
- If a product or service is provided, or an exchange of payment is made, ensure that that relationship is disclosed. If the influencer is tweeting about your brand have them use the hashtag #sponsored or #ad. If they’re creating a video to promote your brand, ensure that disclosure is provided within the video as well as the video description.
- If you’re asking a consumer to create and share their own content in exchange for an entry for a contest, be sure that content is tagged with a #Contest hashtag. To ensure that the consumer uses this hashtag it’s best to include it the full hashtag. For example with Polysporin, we hosted a contest where we encouraged users to share a picture of their most painful shoes and tag it with the hashtag #SavetheShoesContest.
- Just because Twitter has a 140 character limit does not mean you can’t disclose. In these situations #ad is the easiest and shortest option.
- Encouraging your employees to share great news, or sharing great news about a client is a great way to spread awareness among an engaged audience. Before you do so, inquire if your company has a social media policy – how much are you allowed to share as a company? Is there a process that you need to follow beforehand?
- If you’re allowed to speak publicly on social media about your company’s products or services, ensure that you’re disclosing the relationship within your social profile, but also the individual post or tweet.
All in all, Canadians aren’t regulated in the same way as the U.S., however by following these guidelines, you might be able to build a stronger and more trusting relationship with your consumers, and maybe even avoid a social media shaming from any missteps.