Marketers: You Must Disclose Your Relationships With Advocates, Clients and Sponsored Content

The subject of disclosure has been a hot button topic, particularly in today’s fast evolving social media world.

In August, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association released its WOMMA Disclosure Guide, which outlines directives for marketers sending sponsored messages to consumers within social media.

Some of the online platforms covered in the new guide include blogs, microblogs, social networks, video- and photo-sharing websites, and curated and sponsored content.

The guide is the result of the rising popularity of social media sites from blogs to Twitter to Facebook, where the “issue of ethical word of mouth marketing has taken on new prominence,” according to the guide.

“Many brands and agencies are designing word of mouth marketing programs to foster relationships with social media participants,” the guide says, referring to sponsored participants or speakers as “advocates.”

This conversation actually began a few years ago, when WOMMA responded to the Dec. 2009 effective date of the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. WOMMA’s members demanded additional meaningful disclosures for social media marketing.

So in late 2009, the group convened an expert panel to address transparency and disclosure in social media. From there, WOMMA created the Living Ethics Blog to allow comments/questions concerning transparency and disclosure, and incorporated feedback from the blog to create the first draft of the guide to disclosure.

Excerpts: If You’re a Marketer, This Applies To You

Marketers have a responsibility to ensure that their relationships to advocates are adequately disclosed in five ways:

  • Marketers must educate advocates, agencies, partners, networks and vendors they work with on marketing campaigns about the circumstances when disclosure is required and what that disclosure could look like.
  • Marketers must reasonably monitor campaigns to ensure advocates are making the required disclosures and that claims by agents and third-parties are substantiated and not false or misleading.
  • If the required disclosures do not appear or claims are not in compliance, marketers must employ commercially reasonable efforts to address the situation, which may range from having advocates insert the required disclosures to requesting they pull the content in question.
  • Marketers must ensure their agencies, partners, networks and vendors who may be responsible for engaging advocates on their behalf have a policy that are in alignment with the marketer’s policy or guidelines with regard to these responsibilities.
  • Marketers must educate their employees regarding the nature of required disclosures to ensure that when employees communicate about the products or services of the company for which they work, they appropriately disclose their relationship to that company and that they do not misrepresent themselves as ordinary customers in providing endorsements or reviews of the brands or products associated with that company.

The guide goes into clear and prominent disclosures and outlines actual sample language under its disclosure best practices.

Language is provided for each social media platform: personal and editorial blogs, product review blogs, providing comments in online discussions and/or reviews, status updates on social networks, and microblogs. Interestingly enough, the guide even provides disclosure-related hashtags for microblogs, including #spon, #paid, and #samp.

The eight-page guide covers a lot of territory and definitely is worth a read.

Toward the end of the document, it even covers additional disclosure issues, including contests and promotions, profile and background disclosures, product reviews, and sponsored content.

You can view the entire guide here.

Christine Cube is a media relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. You can follow her @cpcube.