Back in 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated its ‘Endorsement Guides’ and followed up with an informal publication called “What People are Asking” to clarify some of the guides points. In May 2015, the FTC updated its guides once again in the FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking and some new answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). The basics regarding endorsements are:

  1. “Endorsements must be truthful and not misleading.”
  2. “If there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, disclose it clearly and conspicuously.”
  3. “If the advertiser doesn’t have proof that an endorser’s experience represents what consumers will achieve by using the product, clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected results in those circumstances.”

This expanded guide from May 2015, has resulted in some recent questions from social media outlets. For example, one of the updates to the guide and the FAQs discusses the question, “What about a platform like Twitter? How can I make a disclosure when my message is limited to 140 characters?” The FTC says that it “isn’t mandating the specific wording of disclosures. However, the same general principle – that people get the information they need to evaluate sponsored statements – applies across the board, regardless of the advertising medium. The words “Sponsored” and “Promotion” use only 9 characters. “Paid ad” only uses 7 characters. Starting a tweet with “Ad:” or “#ad” – which takes only 3 characters – would likely be effective.” #FTC guidelines.

And the FAQs also include, “I am an avid social media user who often gets rewards for participating in online campaigns on behalf of brands. Is it OK for me to click a “like” button, pin a picture, or share a link to show that I’m a fan of a particular business, product, website or service as part of a paid campaign?,” to which the FTC responds, “Using these features to endorse a company’s products or services as part of a sponsored brand campaign probably requires a disclosure.” Thanks for clarifying. Social media outlets are hoping to get even more updates to these vague guidelines as advertising and endorsements through social media become even more prevalent.

Most importantly, businesses should be sure to include information relating to the credibility of the speaker in all types of advertisements and stay up-to-date on FTC endorsement guidelines.