My friends own a company called Mental Mojo – it’s a powder that contains caffeine and cognitive enhancers that you mix in water. I drink it when I’m tired – it helps me get my work done without making me jittery. (I love that it turns my water super nerd green, which reminds me of this infamous exchange between Data and Scotty on Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
Because I talk about it so much online, I usually get my Mental Mojo for free (and they’ve invited me to the taste test for the new flavors). I’m not a paid spokesperson for this company, but I do get benefits from promoting the product. As such, every time I talk about drinking free product, I need to disclose my relationship with this company – not just because it shows transparency, but because the federal law requires it.
FTC Rules about Promotions
The Federal Trade Commission has strict rules about making “clear and conspicuous” disclosures when a person has a relationship with a company. These rules apply to spokespeople, online contest participants, product reviewers, and companies that use affiliate links on your site. When you are compensated for giving an opinion, you have to disclose your relationship.
If you fail to disclose a relationship with a company, the FTC can fine you up to $11,000. And they can go after you or the company.
Even in 140 Characters
And don’t think for a second that tweets or other micro-form social media sites are exempt from this rule. At the very least, you have to include “#ad” on your post. It’s not enough to include a link to a site that includes the disclosure of your relationship.
Truthfulness and Transparency
Whenever you write a product review, whether it’s on a review site like Yelp, a product review blog post, or providing a quote for their website or LinkedIn profile, you must provide a truthful and accurate review of the product or service. Posting fake or embellished reviews (positive or negative) violates the FTC rules.
I’ve written product reviews and I appreciate that my editors respect the FTC rules by asking us to describe the benefits and drawbacks of each product we try.
If you do reviews in video form – including unboxing videos – you need to disclose when you get free product and provide honest reviews. The FTC says it’s not enough to have the disclosure in the video notes. You have to say it or post verbiage to that effect at the beginning of your video and possibly repeat this information throughout the video depending on its length.
This disclosure doesn’t have to be complex. It can be something like, “The guys at Mental Mojo sent me this free box of their product. Let’s try it out.” (If you are trying Mental Mojo for the first time, the flavor may be a bit strong. Until you get used to the taste, you may want to mix it with club soda instead of plain water. The carbonation helps take the edge off.)
Disclose disclose disclose. If you get a benefit from talking about a product or company online, disclose it. Whether it’s your employer, a client, or a company that sends you stuff for free – it should be crystal clear to anyone who sees your posts that you have a relationship with the company.
If you work with spokespersons or campaign partners, make sure part of your relationship includes an educational component about their obligation to disclose your affiliation whenever they talk about you on any platform.
If you want more information about this topic, please check out 6 Things to Know About FTC Disclosures When Working with Influencers or my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about a specific question related to the FTC rules and promotions, you can contact me directly or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or LinkedIn.