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If you blog, podcast, or otherwise provide endorsements or testimonials of free products you received for this word of mouth marketing, you could be sued $11,00 for not disclosing this connection. According to a 10/05 Press Release by the Federal Trade Commission, the rules for bloggers and others who use “word of mouth” marketing have been clarified. The new rules/clarifications go into effect December 1, 2009. While the press release also covers celebrity endorsements, there are two key items for those of us who blog, podcast, tweet, and so on and may give testimonials via other social media or any media:

  • Any payments, free products, or other “material connections” must be disclosed: So, if a bloggers gets money or free products for reviews or in other ways discuss the company or product, she or he must disclose this connection.
  • Advertisements (including word of mouth) that suggest one consumers’ experience is typical when it is not, must disclose the more typical consumer experience: So, if a blogger loses 30 pounds in 30 days with a new diet pill and this is not the typical experience, he or she must provide the typical results (say, 10 pounds in 30 days).

This will have interesting impacts on:

  • Mommy and other bloggers who receive free products.
  • Bloggers who use advertising linked to blog content and may accidently provide testimonials for ads on their site without realizing.
  • People who microblog and must now include their connections in their posts. For example, disclosing a connection in the 140 character Twitter provides could be difficult
  • Bloggers without any paid testimonials who do product reviews and are then offered money for future endorsements/testimonials from the company they previously reviewed (the original post would still be up on the site)
  • And more…

While the FTC recommends that companies paying the bloggers should inform the bloggers that they must disclose, it still behooves the testimonial/endorser bloggers to review the FTC’s rules.

Of course, it is one thing to have these rules, but what about enforcement in the Wild West of social media? Will the FTC act like the RIAA and make some examples of noteworthy rule breakers (like the kids the FIAA went after)? Will they go after bloggers with thousands of readers and those with only five readers equally? How will they even enforce this? Certainly universal enforcement (even in the US) is impossible.

At least the FTC is aware of this social media and web “thing” going on, unlike our sorely outdated copyright laws.

In full disclosure, this blogger has nothing to disclose. I’ve never been paid to discuss any product nor have I received any free products to review for this blog or podcast. But if you are interested, I’d be happy to disclose connections to your company for money and/or cool products! Just email me at jbowie@screenspace.org.

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