During the event, I wanted to share photos of the meals on Facebook and Twitter. I also knew the conference organizers were expecting speakers to promote the event on social media.
So I did the wrong thing. I posted a few photos, and I didn’t say my meals were comped. It felt slimy! I didn’t want to! (Cue whining.)
That was wrong, by law in the US. (I hope no FTC officials are reading this.) From now on, I’m either not post anything on social media when I’m sponsored, or I have to disclose.
In the past, we’ve had lots of discussion about how to disclose relationships, gifts, and payment on blogs. The rules are that you disclose if:
1. A company pays you to post about their product, including in a recipe
2. You include affiliate links in your post
3. A company gives you free products or services (including meals, travel and books) that you endorse by writing about or photographing them.
(And by the way, most readers don’t like sponsored posts, according to a new study.)
But social media is murkier. Here are some typical situations for American bloggers:
Q. I wrote a sponsored post on my blog. When I link to it on social media, do I have to disclose that it’s sponsored?
A. Yes. According to the FTC, you must use #spon (sponsored) or #ad (advertisement) if you are paid — either in cash or in kind. A disclosure within the post is not sufficient.
While there are no hashtags on Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ or Instagram, my assumption is that the same rules apply, even though the FTC only talked about tweets.
Q. I’m promoting my friend’s new cookbook on social media, because I want it to do well. I’d want her to do the same for me if I wrote a cookbook. Is this okay?
A. It’s lovely to use your platform to help, as long as you disclose that she’s your friend. Otherwise, you are not coming clean about this ulterior motive. You don’t want to lose your readers’ trust. Just write “My friend Susie” every time.
Q. On a sponsored trip, I put a photo of a dish I ate at a restaurant on Instagram. The restaurant didn’t directly sponsor my trip, so I see no reason to disclose.
A. You are on a sponsored trip. If you are eating at that restaurant through an arrangement with whomever is sponsoring you, you are not paying for the meal. You must disclose, by law.
If you eat somewhere else, pay your own way, and endorse, that is less of a problem, but still murky. If the only reason you are writing about a restaurant is because you are on an expense-paid trip sponsored by that city’s visitor and convention center, the FTC might conclude that it qualifies for disclosure. So when in doubt, disclose.
Q. I got sponsored to attend a conference, and I have to promote my sponsor on social media while there. Do I have to say I’m sponsored every time I write something, or is the first time enough?
A. You can’t guarantee that readers saw the first mention. You must disclose each time.
Q. I got invited to a restaurant party, and I took some gorgeous photos of the meal. I put them on Instagram immediately. Did I have to disclose that the meal was free?
A. Yes. You were paid in kind (free food and drink), so you have to disclose.
“Endorsing” means that you liked your meal enough to mention it or photograph it. That is considered an endorsement.
So the next time you are in an ethical situation that requires disclosure, you have a few choices:
1. Take freebies and sponsors and disclose. This is what is required by law.
2. Take freebies and do not promote them. I have a problem with this one. It seems unethical to knowingly take goods and services meant for promotion and then not promote them. If you really want that new gadget, be up front and tell the person that you’d like it but you can’t promote it on your blog.
3. Pay your own way and promote all you want on social media. Sleep well at night.
What’s your take on these rules? Do you disagree with any of my answers? If you have other ethical situations you’re wondering about, let’s try to figure them out.
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