The FTC views social media as forums in which consumers expect to find genuine user content, so “material connections” that might influence consumer choice must be disclosed. If a reasonable consumer would not otherwise expect that the endorser received payment or other compensation, the “material connection” between advertiser and endorser must be disclosed. The FTC guidelines give the example of a tennis star stating in a TV ad that her Lasik surgery at a particular clinic has improved her game; consumers would expect this to be a paid ad, and no disclosure is necessary. But what if the tennis star tweets the same comment? If the tennis star was paid by the clinic to do so, that fact must be disclosed. The FTC deems Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to be forums in which consumers expect to hear real people giving real opinions about people, products, and services. As a result, advertisers need to consider whether a disclosure of a material connection with the endorser is necessary. Your employees may be a willing and reliable source of positive reviews, and there’s nothing to prohibit the practice per se. But if a reviewer is an employee of the advertiser or paid by the advertiser that material connection must be disclosed or the employer/advertiser may be liable for false advertising. Employers should consider including a social media policy in their employee handbooks that provides guidelines for reviews and endorsements of the employer’s products or services. In contrast to employee reviews, consumer reviews on a personal blogs are generally not considered endorsements. Because consumer reviews earn higher credibility, they may be closely scrutinized for any connection to the product manufacturer or service provider whose goods and services are the subject of the endorsement. Where the consumer speaks positively about a product she bought herself, there is of course no material connection to disclose. Even if our blogger got free trial in the mail, that fact need not necessarily be disclosed. If, however, the blogger joins a network marketing program and gets free stuff in exchange for writing reviews, then a positive review - even if written voluntarily - would be considered an endorsement. Amazon, for example, invites select reviewers to join its Vine program. Amazon Vine reviewers receive free items in exchange for voluntary reviews. Amazon discloses this material connection by identifying Vine reviews with “Vine Customer Review of Free Product” with a link to its Vine description and policy page. Don’t neglect to pay attention to what your marketing firm is doing. A marketing firm, for example, may utilize a network marketing program, matching your company with individuals who will review company products and post their opinions on their social media accounts. If the claims made by the consumer reviewers are not substantiated, both your company and the reviewer may be liable. Make sure that your marketing service is providing reviewers with guidelines for their review, and you should monitor reviews for compliance with the policy. Download the white paper at HSMAI (PDF 2.1 MB)