“Just like my Facebook page for a chance to win a Visa gift card.”
“Review my software application and I’ll give you a year of free service.”
“Tweet out ‘Product xyz is awesome’ for amazing prizes.”
Each of those is a no-no under the FTC’s expanded guidelines about disclosure.
As a brand, if you are soliciting endorsements, reviews, or other social media promotion from someone, you are responsible for making them aware of the disclosure rules. That means reminding them that promotional Tweets must have #ad or #sponsored or some other language that lets the reader know the Tweet was solicited. And no, the FTC doesn’t care that you only have 140 characters.
As a writer/reviewer, you need to be careful about telling your readers that you received something in exchange for any written review or endorsement. The disclosure needs to be clear, prominent, and honest. You cannot say you liked something if you never actually tried it. (One would think that doesn’t even need to be said, but hey.)
This doesn’t mean that brands can’t offer free samples, or send out books for review, or run contests. It means the brand has to find a way to tell the audience (in whatever format available) that there was an exchange.
The value of the item in question is also important. There’s a difference between a KitKat candy bar sample you got at the Mall, and the free use of a new car for a month.
If you are using an agency or another 3rd party to run your social media campaigns, you are still the one responsible for compliance. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the disclosure instructions being passed on to your audience by the agency or contractor.
There’s a lot of buzz around activating employees on social media as well. The guidelines make it clear that having your employer listed in your profile isn’t enough to establish disclosure. If you are an employee endorsing or promoting the product your company makes, you need to note your relationship within the context of the promotional post or review. Employers must also make it clear to employees that disclosure is required.
If these guidelines affect your role as a marketer or business owner, I strongly recommend that you go read the entire document. The rules have been in place for a while now, but the example scenarios and questions that were recently added make it even more clear that we all need to be paying attention.
In summary: honesty is always the best policy.