Sara Hawkins is a lawyer and blogger who merged the two in 2010 when she created The Blog Law Series. Sara's been a licensed attorney for more than 15 years and provides legal guidance to entrepreneurs, bloggers, online content creators, marketers, PR agencies, and brands regarding a variety of topics, including social media, digital rights, and ethics.
She's passionate about the law and making it understandable, accessible and fun. Online since 1995, Sara's been navigating the World Wide Web and its changes as they pertain to businesses and legal matters.
I invited Sara to Marketing Smarts to discuss the Federal Trade Commission's recent update to its endorsement guide, and what the clarifications mean for brands, bloggers, and influencers who want to keep their marketing legal.
Whenever content is in some way sponsored, or if a relationship exists between the brand and the content creator that isn't obvious to the reader, the FTC requires that a disclosure be included with the content itself.
The disclosure should make it clear, for example, that the travel blogger reviewing your resort received an all-expense-paid trip to that resort. On Twitter, you might disclose by including "[employer]" in your tweet if you tweet about your company's "revolutionary new product."
Sara and I have both addressed the FTC updates on our respective blogs, and given the number of questions we receive from brands and influencers, our discussion is sure to benefit marketers at all kinds of organizations!
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
Disclosure isn't just for the FTC: Consumers and competitors are watching to make sure your brand communications explain any paid sponsorships, client relationships, etc. (04:44): "You have to just constantly disclose, and it seems so dumb. And I realize that as a marketer, it seems dumb constantly throughout a Twitter party or Facebook chat to constantly list 'ad' or 'sponsor.' The problem is that some of these social media things exist for a very long time. There are potential consumers that you're marketing to who are looking at your review sites, your social media, and your past to find out do they want to work with you.
"And then there are competitors. While the consumer part of it is really, really important...your competitors are out there, and if you're not following the rules it takes very little time and effort on their part to make it known to the powers that be that you are not doing what you have to do. And in addition to the legal side of it, there's the public relations part of it. [Someone posts] one brand tweet that is rogue, and Twitter blows up about it."
Your employees have more influence than ever before, so empower them to share (as long as they don't share trade secrets!) (06:04): "Employee advocacy has been around for decades. It is not anything new; but, before, your voice was not as amplified. My husband has worked in consumer products for 20+ years, and when we would travel we always would stop into stores that were carrying the products he was working on to see them. It was always so exciting: You're standing there and someone's reaching for your product or has questions about something and you're like, 'Hey, I work for the company and I designed this' or 'I developed it...' You would just tell people, and they would know that you worked there because your friends knew where you worked.
"Well, now you're friends with like 1.4 million people, and even your close friends may not know that you're consulting with these seven clients. You don't work at Google and say 'I'm working on this new glasses thing.' Employees have a great perspective on 'I'm glad you love this product, we failed six times before we got it right...' That type of honesty. And try to encourage people to apply for jobs, try products. That's what real life is. We talk about things we love. we talk about our jobs. It's not something you have to be so hush-hush about. Just tell people 'I got it free.'"
Disclosure doesn't require you to use specific hashtags (or any hashtags) (19:05): "People aren't searching for [the hashtags] #sponsored or #client. I understand the hashtag #free, because people do search #free and #contest and #sweeps and those types of things. But nobody searches #paid or #client or #sponsored or #ad.... Nobody searches those. Drop the hashtag. Finish spelling the word."
Sara and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
This episode brought to you by...
Special thanks to production company Candidio, an efficient, affordable video production platform allowing marketers and communicators to collaborate and curate video content, with help from a team of professional, on-demand video editors for the finishing touches. Check them out!
Music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Sara F. Hawkins, social media attorney and blogger. Sara blogs at SaraFHawkins.com and SavingForSomeday.com and has presented about legal issues for bloggers, PR professionals, and marketers at conferences, including the Type-A Parent Conference.