Disclose, Don’t Deceive: Follow FTC Endorsement Guides to Make Communication More Clear

Ever read a social media post, an online review or testimonial that sounds too good to be true? Wonder if the person was paid or received something in exchange for making an amazing comment or claim?

Sorting out fact from fiction and paid endorsements could become easier as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revises its Endorsement Guides that help regulate social media, advertising and marketing.

The endorsement guides pertain to common parts of public relations today, including testimonials, reviews, endorsements and more shared on digital, print, broadcast, social media and other platforms.

According to the FTC, endorsements must be honest and not misleading. That’s a lot like the spirit of the ethics principles we agree to adhere to as members of PRSA. Tell the truth. Provide the facts. Be honest and don’t mislead your audience.

Endorsements “must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser and can’t be used to make a claim that the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make.”

The FTC also says, “if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.”

Under the law, “an act or practice is misleading if it misleads ‘a significant minority’ of consumers.” That’s why disclosing the relationship between an endorser and the communicator is essential to maintain transparency and authenticity.

Whether you or your company comment directly in social media, or contract with someone to do it on your behalf, you’re still responsible for upholding FTC regulations.

If you’re employed by a firm, or contracted to work on its behalf, the FTC says you should disclose that relationship if you’re posting a glowing review or making other comments about a company. For example, if you’re employed by a firm and asked to make public comments online about a firm or its products or services, the FTC says you should clearly disclose that relationship.

Before you launch your next marketing, advertising or public relations campaign, check out the FTC Endorsement Guides, to make sure you’re communicating clearly, truthfully and according to the FTC regulations.

See the highlights of proposed changes and more about the guidelines here.

Get answers about common questions here.

The FTC may transition from voluntary endorsement guidance to putting more teeth into requirements by writing them into codes, so that penalties come in to play for violators of future FTC regulations. They’re proposing steps to help protect consumers from misleading information that’s flourished faster than the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Learn more about why FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra says it’s time to strengthen the guidelines here.

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