Do You Disclose Sponsored Tweets, Updates & Posts?

New FTC guidelines offers tips for transparency online

Do you blog or post to social media for money? If you’re not being transparent about your relationship with the brands you work with, consider this your head’s up to come clean. The Federal Trade Commission is updating their guidelines for sponsored (paid) ads on social media and you need to know the how to protect yourself, your community and your business.

Are you crossing your fingers?Almost all social media sites use paid advertising messages as part of their revenue model. Individual bloggers, myself included, work with brands to promote products or services through those social media channels. Sometimes the nature of those messages is unclear, but that’s about to change.

The FTC is clear on one thing – transparency is your responsibility. “If you feel that 140 characters isn’t enough to make your pitch and provide a clear disclaimer, then the FTC thinks you should go elsewhere,” wrote Todd Wasserman on Mashable.

Why transparency matters

As a former journalist, transparency equals street cred. Give it up and it doesn’t matter how well you pitch an editor – you have nothing without your integrity. I was often asked to write advertorials, which paid a lot of bills for me, but those were written without byline and with a disclaimer on the page that the following editorial was paid advertising. For the reader, the message was simple and easy to understand – caveat emptor.

The issue of transparency feels trickier for bloggers. We grow and nurture communities that we’ve worked hard to earn the trust of, which makes us an ideal conduit between brands and consumers. And when we’re paid for our tweets and give a personal endorsement, the issue gets murky.

But does it have to be? Is there a reason to hide the fact that we’re in business – for money? I blog for many reasons and building my business is one of them. Does that make my online assets any less valuable or relevant?

“If I tweet anything regarding a client, I disclose by inserting (client),” said Ann Marie van den Hurk, principal of Mind the Gap. “It’s the right thing to do. Matter of trust.”

In January, Forbes reported a new relationship between Samsung and The Associated Press. It’s a new revenue model for the media giant as they would be tweeting sponsored messages from Samsung to amplify the tech company’s presence at the Consumer Electronics Show. AP’s Tweets began: “SPONSORED MESSAGE:” and that would be compliant with the FTC’s updated guidelines.

My social media disclosure policy

Julia and Grace attending the Dove eventI often tweet or post on behalf of the brands I work with and, while I think I’m transparent on my blogs, a social media housecleaning is in order. To help, I’ve written a new discloser policy for content I create outside of my blog – my social media channels.

For those who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, starting today you’ll see the following if I’m tweeting something that stems from a client or brand ambassador relationship.

#ad – Denotes an update written by someone else and pasted on my social media channel with minimal or no modifications. The content of the message will always be approved by me.

#spon – Denotes a financially compensated relationship with the brand but the update was written by me.

#freebie – Denotes that I received a free product or service. The message and opinions will always be my own.

If you see tweets or other social media updates from me about a product or service and one of these hashtags isn’t attached, that means I’m not doing it for money.  Simple.

SocialNorth’s disclosure policy

To make it easier for my readers to understand my business model – and ensure that trust I receive is earned, I’ve written a disclosure policy. You’ll find Information on how to write your own disclosure policy is at the end.

best practices for your brand's marketing strategyThis blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, please contact Julia Rosien.

This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation.

This blog abides by word of mouth marketing standards. We believe in honesty of relationship, opinion and identity. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog. That content, advertising space or post will be clearly identified as paid or sponsored content.

The owner(s) of this blog is compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. Even though the owner(s) of this blog receives compensation for our posts or advertisements, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the bloggers’ own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question.

This blog may contain content which might present a conflict of interest. This content will always be clearly identified. Our client list is updated on a regular basis online. We serve on the following corporate or nonprofit boards: WithIt and Women Powering Technology.

To get your own policy, visit DisclosurePolicy.org.

To see the updated guidelines, visit: FTC Staff Revises Online Advertising Disclosure Guidelines.

How do you handle the issue of disclosure on social media? What tips can you offer new bloggers who may not currently be compliant with their brand relationships? Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and let’s continue the conversation.

13 Responses to “Do You Disclose Sponsored Tweets, Updates & Posts?”

  1. Suzanna Keith says:

    Julia, So helpful. This is both Canada and The US right? Should we all use similar hash tags?
    Thanks

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hi Suzanna, Glad it’s helpful! I can’t answer whether Canadian bloggers come under the FTC guidelines but I can tell how I’m moving forward. Many of my clients are based in the US and in the interest of self-preservation, I’m following along. I actually wish there was a universal standard as the Internet is not bound by geographical borders. As bloggers, we’re at a pivotal point now – we can either band together to create our own standards or sit back and wait for rulings like this from the FTC. Makes more sense for us to do it, I think. Thanks for taking the time to comment – this is a BIG issue!

  2. Clare Kumar says:

    I was thinking the same thing Julia, short standardized tags to indicate the nature of the post. Well done.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thanks Clare. Seems like such a simple fix to a growing problem – I hope more bloggers embrace the change willingly! Thanks for stopping by to add to the conversation.

  3. Carolyn G says:

    Thank for the info Julia.

  4. Paula Schuck says:

    Yet his has had me in a quandary for about a week. I am pretty certain Canada has not adopted the FTC guidelines but that said your reasoning is solid. I need to do a bit more planning and discussing with my clients as to how we move forward transparently. Right now the bulk of my clients are Canadian so I think I have a bit of time to navigate this new territory.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hi Paula, I couldn’t agree with you more about this being a confusing issue – especially as a Canadian. Why isn’t there a universal standard? From the reading I’ve done, you have some time to decide how to handle the issue but I do think that this is a good standard to follow. I find it funny that we talk about transparency and authenticity in social media and yet issues like this arise. Good luck with your clients!

  5. Possibly the most essential information I’ve received today, so much so that I was compelled to post it to my Facebook pages. Standardization would be a huge help, but any words that communicate one is being paid for a service or promotion is not just truth, but professional. Having said that, I wonder how many bloggers will provide full disclosure if indeed at all?

    I wasn’t AWARE the FTC had ruled on this important topic. From this point forward I will make sure that I clearly indicate “sponsored message” or “promotional message” or whatever works within the FTC guidelines. Thank you for making this information available.

    -Nicole-

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hi Nicole, it’s funny that when the FTC ruled about bloggers being transparent on their blogs, the news was filled with info. This one seemed to slip under the radar. Considering how high the fines could be (up to $11,000 per post) it’s something everyone on social media needs to pay attention to. Glad to hear you were able to find the info you needed to make the right decision – and thanks for sharing :-)

  6. Fascinating. I don’t tweet on behalf of other brands much, but this is must-know stuff.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Agree, Nathan, it’s a must-know and there’s no longer an excuse for not knowing. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
      Julia

  7. Charmin says:

    Taking notes and making some changes! Thanks, Julia!

    This was super helpful. I really like the idea of creating a disclosure policy specifically for our social media channels and not just the website.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thanks for letting me know you found this helpful, Charmin! As a journalist, being transparent was always important to me and I’ve always found people are appreciative of the honesty.
      Julia


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