Recently, the Federal Trade Commission updated the “What People Are Asking” section of its guidelines on social media usage and online endorsements.

Over the past five years, the FTC has issued warnings and has not taken any real action against brands that have violated their guidelines.

This update may be an indication that they are going to stop simply slapping wrists and start to truly cracking down. A statement issued by the FTC may confirm this suspicion: “We have given guidance. You are all on notice.”

  1. Contests and Sweepstakes – If contests or sweeps are on social media channels, the official rules must require some sort of disclosure in each entry. It is the responsibility of the brand and not the entrants, to ensure that this disclosure is being used. The FTC also indicated that the hashtag #sweeps is not clear enough. #contest or #sweepstakes must be used.
  2. Character Limits – The new guidelines state, “The words ‘sponsored’ and ‘promotion’ use only nine characters. There are others but they are not mandating these specific hashtags or words; they are simply requiring some type of obvious disclosure. So make the best efforts to be transparent if character limits are of concern and should fall within the guidelines.
  3. Facebook Like Buttons – Purchasing likes on Facebook from people that are not familiar with a business and the business’ products or services is strictly prohibited as this practice is deceptive. Buyers and sellers of likes may face enforcement action.
  4. Employee Endorsements – Any employee of a brand , or employee of an agency promoting content on behalf of a brand, must clearly state their affiliation in every social media post. This disclosure must go beyond their Twitter bio, Google+ description or other ‘About’ section copy. It must be clear and visible in all posts promoting the products or services of their employer and/or their clients.
  5. Online Reviews – FTC has indicated that businesses can incentivize customers to write online reviews of their business or products/services but they cannot require that the review be positive, and the reviewer must clearly state their relationship with the brand and any compensation or free product they may have received.
  6. Video Endorsements – It is required that videos must contain “clear and conspicuous” disclosers, which means that they must be made at the beginning of the video, must be repeated multiple times throughout for longer videos, and must be on the screen long enough to be noticed, read and understood.
  7. Image Endorsements – According to FTC’s guidelines, You don’t necessarily have to use words to convey a positive message. If your audience thinks that what you say or otherwise communicate about a product reflects your opinions or beliefs about the product, and you have a relationship with the company marketing the product, it’s an endorsement subject to the FTC Act.”

The FTC is likely to start making examples of brands to prove they mean business, and that’s the type attention and awareness you don’t want for your brand.