FTC to Social Media Marketers and Bloggers: Y'all Play Fair Now!

Marketers are dumping cash and gifts on bloggers. Bloggers have been hoovering up freebies. And everyone has complained about the idea of FTC regulation.

The truth: False advertising and fake endorsements have always been illegal. Just because it's social media doesn't mean you get a free pass.

Now that the FTC has clarified the rules of the game, we can all play fair and we all win.

Being honest is easy.

1. As a citizen, you're free to blog all you want, unregulated. But as soon as you take compensation, you've gone pro and you have to play by the same rules as all professional media. Very fair and reasonable.

2. As a marketer, you're free to earn all the blog coverage you want, unregulated. But as soon as you start paying for it, you are responsible for the actions of the people you pay. Very fair and reasonable.

3. We all play by the same rules now:
  • The average consumer has to understand who is paying for what.
  • Ads should look like ads, never hidden as editorial.
  • If you're a pro, you are responsible for what you do and say.

4. Three guides for safe social media outreach -- these will keep you safe:

  • Require disclosure and truthfulness in social media outreach.
  • Monitor the conversation and correct misstatements.
  • Create social media policies and training programs.

5. No more excuses

  • This is the law, not a matter of opinion or debate among social media experts.
  • Hidden or confusing disclosure doesn't count.
  • You can't blame the agency. If you pay for it, you're responsible.
  • "We can't control what bloggers say" doesn't get you off -- if you compensate them, they work for you, and you're responsible.
  • "I'm a free-speaking blogger" doesn't give you a free pass from consumer protection laws. If you get compensation, you're a business now.

6. The big test: Does the average person understand the relationship? We all know that a newspaper reviewer gets samples -- no issue. We don't expect that our friend got freebies to promote on his Facebook page -- disclosure is required.

In a nutshell: You don't get a free pass just because it's social media. There's not a single new rule in the FTC announcement. Bloggers and social media marketers aren't exempt from the same rules of honesty and fairness that everyone else has to follow.

The secret to honest, authentic word of mouth: Ethics come first. Honesty, service, and respect are how we earn the support and trust of our fans.

Note: For specific guidance on creating a social media policy for your company, download the Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit from the Social Media Business Council. (Disclosure: I'm CEO.)