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If you create content or talk about brands online, you disclose -- no, ifs ands or buts

FTC-Disclosure-Flow-Chart-400Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

A few years ago the FTC came out with some very specific language aimed primarily at bloggers who were endorsing, reviewing or talking about other companies and their products and/or services.

But today -- with so many companies creating content, sharing reviews, reaching out to influencers to get them to endorse products and the like -- the rule pertains to just about everyone who posts anything online from a Facebook status update to a travel blogger who reviews high-end spas.

Last month the FTC updated its “What People are Asking” PDF document to answer some of the more common questions and be very clear that they're not happy with some of the ways that  brands, bloggers and influencers have been dealing with endorsements, sponsored content and the like.

Bottom line -- the FTC is getting serious and basically is saying, "enough of the wrist slaps.  It's time to issue penalties, fines and fees."

Here's a quick look at some of the rules that probably impact you.

Clarity: You need to be crystal clear about your relationship with the company/product. You can't hint around -- if you received some compensation, from a free sample to a trip to tour the plant -- you must share that clearly in your content. No matter how small the consideration (a coupon, a mention on their blog of you/your product etc.) -- be safe and disclose.

No connection = no disclosure: If you bought the product or tried the service on your own just because you wanted to -- you don't need to say a word.  

Videos require more: Here's a special reminder if you are talking about a company, product or service in a video. Your disclosure must come at the front end of the video. And that disclosure needs to be included in both the video and the written description.

Break ups don't absolve you: Former relationships count too. Even if they are no longer a client or the sponsorship has ended -- you have to declare it. Or if you're doing a series -- you can't just include the disclosure on the first piece. It has to be included in every one.

No secret clients: When you or your employees post on social sites about a client or vendor -- you must disclose the relationship, even if you didn't get asked or compensated for talking about them.

To keep yourself safe -- just go out of your way to always tell the whole story. Ask yourself before you (or your teammate) posts anything -- do we have any sort of relationship with this company that isn't very evident in what we've written. If there's any doubt -- disclose.

You don't want to be the one writing the "what I learned from FTC prison" post!

Graphic from Kerry O'Shea Gorgone (and you can read her thoughts on the topic at the link as well)

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