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Blog Compliance With New FTC Disclosure Policy

Here we are well into 2010, and the new FTC policy on blog disclosure that went into effect In December of 2009 hasn’t resulted in any perceivable changes. Indeed, even the FTC has said it is unsure how it will actually enforce the new policy. Is this something publishers, bloggers, or social media consultants need to agonize about, or will the outcome be a paper tiger without any bite?

If you’re unfamiliar with the new policy, don’t depend on summaries from the web. You should read and try and understand the original FTC document. While the FTC doesn’t have a strategy yet, that doesn’t mean it’s something you can ignore. It’s something you’ll have to deal with eventually.

One of the chief complaints addressed in the document, has to do with unsubstantiated claims, or claims that were not typical. Websites or affiliates that make such claims to sell their products will probably need to make some adjustments. Examine your content and any user-generated content to make sure you are in compliance.

Advertising in nontraditional contexts is the focus in the second part of the FTC guidelines, and is much more problematic. Nontraditional context would be making a statement like “I had a wonderful time on my Caribbean Cruise last week” with any part of the sentence containing an affiliate, or otherwise incentivized link.

Other situations are affected by these guidelines as well. The simplest and most straightforward is where a person or organization pays you directly with cash for making a post, putting up a link, making a tweet, Facebook post or other social media engagement.

A significantly less clear situation is a cash-in-kind arrangement. Basically, a company or person will give you something that has a cash value in trade for you making a post, putting up a link, making a tweet, Facebook post or other social media engagement.

An incentive deal constitutes a cash or cash in kind payment at a later date for hitting traffic milestones, generating leads, generating sales, for making a post, putting up a link, making a tweet, Facebook post or other social media engagement.

Receiving payment for a sidebar banner isn’t what the FTC is worried about as they are usually labeled as advertisements. The context of the action is what’s important. It’s the links or tweets that are in areas that generally aren’t used for advertising and aren’t labeled as advertising, which will be most likely to cause problems.

Publishers and affiliates would be well advised to disclose anything they think might cause confusion. If this occurs with any regularity on your website, they should also look into incorporating a disclosure policy into their website or creating a page that deals specifically with disclosure.

Currently, the policy is a bit fuzzy and enforcement is almost non-existent. However, that doesn’t mean should throw caution to the wind, and carry on at full speed. Take this opportunity to get ahead of the curve and figure out how you are going to disclose. Don’t think approach at it from a negative position, look for ways you can turn disclosure into a selling point.

  

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