Word of Mouth Marketing Association Guide to Best Practices for
Transparency and Disclosure in Digital, Social, & Mobile M...

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Official WOMMA Social Media Disclosure Guidelines (2013)


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The WOMMA Ethics Code is the cornerstone for prudent practices in the WOM industry. In light of
the December 2009 effective date of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Guides Concerning the
Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, WOMMA leadership responded to member
demand for additional meaningful disclosures for social media marketing. Thus, in 2008, WOMMA
began formalizing best practices by engaging industry leaders, members, non members, academics
and consumers. These guidelines are considered living documents and are updated on occasion to
reflect changes in regulation and in the marketplace.

This is WOMMA's Official Guidance and reflect the FTC's 2013 .com Disclosures. This document was last updated in November, 2013.

To download WOMMA's Social Media Disclosure Guidelines visit, http://www.womma.org/SMDisclosure.

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Official WOMMA Social Media Disclosure Guidelines (2013)

  1. 1. Word of Mouth Marketing Association Guide to Best Practices for Transparency and Disclosure in Digital, Social, & Mobile Marketing Last updated November 18, 2013 In  today’s  constantly  evolving  interactive  world,  with  opportunities  to  deliver  messaging  across  countless  platforms  and  devices,  it  can  be   difficult  to  figure  out  the  best  way  to  ethically,  accurately,  and  consistently  make  disclosures.    However,  doing  so  is  critical  not  only  to   communicate   with   audiences   ethically   and   responsibly,   but   also   to   avoid   damage   to   your   brand’s   reputation   and   potential   legal,   regulatory,   and   financial   risk.     Some   fundamental   principles   to   keep   in   mind   when   conducting   your   marketing   and   communications   activities  in  digital,  social,  and  mobile  media  are  set  forth  below.    Please  note  this  guide  is  provided  as  a  courtesy  to  our  members  and  the   industry   at   large,   but   is   not   intended   to   be   legal   advice.     Always   consult   your   own   attorney   to   apply   current   law   to   your   specific   circumstances.     Be  transparent  in  your  communications.   • What   is   transparency?     Transparency   is   the   practice   of   disclosing   to   the   audience   that   a   “material   connection”   exists   between   a   speaker  and  a  company  or  brand.   • What   is   a   “material   connection”?     A   “material   connection”   is   any   connection   between   a   speaker  anda   company   or   brand   that   could   affect   the   credibility   audiences   give   to   that   speaker’s   statements   about   that   company   or   brand,   and   may   include   any   benefits   or   incentives   such   as   monetary   payment,   free   product,   discounts,   gifts,   sweepstakes   entries   or   other   incentives   and   any   employer/employee  or  other  business  relationship.   • When  is  transparency  required?    When  the  speaker  is  connected  in  some  way  to  a  company  or  brand  and  is  promoting  that  company   or   brand   in   a   way   that   might   influence   the   actions   or   opinions   of   the   audience,   they   should   disclose   the   existence   of   a   material   connection.   • Employees   and   agents.     If   your   employees   or   agents   are   talking   about   your   company   or   brand   (or   even   a   competitor   or   a   competitor’s  brand)  in  a  way  that  might  influence  their  audience’s  actions  or  opinions,  they  need  to  disclose  that  they  work  for  you.   It   may   not   always   be   clear   as   to   whether   a   message   might   influence   an   audience   to   the   extent   that   transparency   is   appropriate;   when  in  doubt,  the  best  practice  is  to  make  a  disclosure.   • Engagement  of  external  people/groups.  If  you  engage  with  a  blogger,  spokesperson,  celebrity,  professional  communicator,  or  other   external  individual  or  group  to  help  promote  your  company  or  brand  (for  instance,  if  you  give  them  free  products  to  try  or  any  other   monetary   or   non-­‐monetary   incentive),   any   communications   by   these   third   parties   about   your   company/brand   (or   a   competitor’s   company/brand)   should   disclose   to   the   audience   that   there   is   a   material   connection   between   you   and   them.     Depending   on   the   situation  it  may  or  may  not  be  important  for  them  to  reveal  particular  details  of  the  relationship  (e.g.  when,  why,  or  how  much  they   were  paid  or  given,  for  instance),  but  it  is  important  in  all  cases  that  they  alert  the  audience  that  a  material  connection  exists.   • Sponsored   or   paid   marketing   activities.   These   same   principles   apply   to   sponsored   or   integrated   marketing   activities   (including   so-­‐ called  “native  advertising”),  when  disclosure  would  be  appropriate  to  distinguish  between  editorial  and  advertising  content.   Making  the  necessary  disclosures.   • Where  to  make  the  disclosure.    The  disclosure  should  be  clear  and  conspicuous  and  should  accompany  or  be  part  of  each  message   for   which   disclosure   is   appropriate–   it   shouldn’t   just   live   on   the  speaker’s   profile   page.   The   disclosure   should   be   as   close   as   possible   to  each  applicable  message  and  must  be  included  even  in  space-­‐constrained  messages.   • How  to  make  the  disclosure.    Some  ways  to  do  this:    Posting  as  the  brand  through  a  brand-­‐controlled  website  such  as  an  official  Facebook  Page;    Using  a  brand-­‐designated  handle  such  as  “@JohnFromBRAND”;    Making  the  disclosure  within  the  message  itself  in  plain  language  and  in  a  clear  and  conspicuous  manner,  such  as  “I  work  for   BRAND,  .  .  .”  or  “My  partners  at  BRAND  .  .  .”;OR    Using   a   prominent   hashtag   that   is   understood   by  potential   audiences   to   mean   that   a   material   connection   exists   between   the   speaker  and  the  brand.    For  example,  this  could  include:    Standardized  hashtags  such  as  “#Ad”  and  “#Sponsored”;  or    Explanatory   hashtags   that   specifically   disclose   the   existence   of   a   material   connection   (e.g.,   “#Iwork4BRAND”   or   “#IworkwithBRAND”),   provided   the   hashtag   stands   out   in   some   way   –   it   shouldn’t   be   buried   in   other   text,   and   when   possible   you   should   use   bold,   italic,   or   a   different   color   font   for   the   hashtag.     Note   that   the   FTC   has   cautioned   against   the   use   of   abbreviated   hashtags   or   other   hashtags   that   may   not   have   a   clear   meaning   to   the   audience,   even   in   platforms   with   character  or  space  limitations.   In   all   cases   the   adequacy   of   the   disclosure   will   depend   on   the   context,   i.e.   –   the   nature   of   the   message,   the   platform   on   which   it   is   being   presented,  etc.   Word  of  Mouth  Marketing  Association  Guide  to  Best  Practices  for  Transparency  and  Disclosure  in  Digital,  Social,  &  Mobile  Marketing                                        November  2013  
  2. 2. Be  truthful  and  have  substantiation.   • Any   seemingly   objective   statements   you,   your   employees,   your   agents,   or   external   individuals/groups   you   engage   make   must   be   truthful   and  not  misleading,  and   you  must  have  substantiation  to  support   such   statements   in   your   files  at   the   time   the   statement   is   made.   • This  means  you  should  give  your  employees,  agents,  and  external  individuals/groups  you  engage  accurate  information  about  your   products  and  programs  and  instruct  them  that  they  must  speak  truthfully.  If  it’s  something  you  can’t  say  yourself,  they  shouldn’t  say   it  either.   • In  the  case  of  external  individuals/groups,  their  postings  should  reflect  their  honest  opinions,  findings,  beliefs,  or  experiences.  For   example,   do   not   tell   them   to   write   only   positive   things   about   your   products   and   services   and,   if   you   are   soliciting   them   to   post   comments  about  your  products  and  services,  you  should  not  delete  the  negative  comments  or  base  compensation  or  participation   upon  positive  reviews.   • Even   if   an   unrelated   third-­‐party   initially   made   a   particular   statement,   you   could   still   be   held   responsible   if   you   amplify   that   statement;  in  other  words,  linking  to  an  article  or  reposting  a  comment  made  by  someone  else  places  responsibility  on  you  to  verify   the  accuracy  of  the  statement.   Disclose  all  material  terms.   • When   making   comparative   claims   or   promoting   products   or   offers   that   have   (i)   limitations   on   availability   or   supplies,   or   (ii)   restrictions   on   applicability   or   eligibility,   be   sure   to   give   audiences   all   of   the   material   information   they   need   to   properly   evaluate   what  you’re  talking  about.    Some  ways  to  do  this:    Wherever  practical,  incorporate  any  relevant  limitations  or  qualifying  information  within  the  message  itself.    When   the   above   is   not   practical,   you   should   include   a   clear   and   conspicuous   disclaimer/disclosure   that   would   put   your   audience   on   notice   that   there   is   additional   information   they   should   know   and   also   informs   them   where   they   can   get   that   information.    This  disclaimer/disclosure  should:    Be  as  close  as  possible  to  the  triggering  message;  and    Be  viewable  on  whatever  platforms/devices  those  audiences  might  be  using  (e.g.,  mobile).   When   placing   the   qualifying   language   on   a   separate   page,   ensure   the   link   to   that   page   is   labeled   in   a   way   that   clearly   discloses   the   importance,   nature,   and   relevance   of   the   information   on   that   page.     For   example,   instead   of   using   a   generic   shortened   URL   (e.g.,   http://bit.ly/dwSQr5),  or  a  generic  label  such  as  “Terms  and  Conditions”  use  something  like  “Important  restrictions  apply;  click  here  for   details.”  which  more  specifically  indicates  the  nature  and  importance  of  the  information  being  disclosed.     Responsibility  of  Companies  and  Brands.   Companies   and   brands   have   a   responsibility   to   ensure   that   their   relationships   to   employees,   business   partners,   and   external   individuals/groups   are   adequately   disclosed   and   that   statements   made   by   these   engaged   parties   about   the   company’s   products   or   services  or  those  of  their  competitors  are  truthful  and  accurate.  To  meet  this  responsibility,  marketers  are  encouraged  to:   • Institute  company-­‐wide  social  media  policies  designed  to  ensure  compliance  with  these  principles.   • Make  sure  that  any  agencies  or  other  vendors  retained  for  social  media  activities  have  a  social  media  policy  that  is  in  alignment  with   the  marketer’s  policies.   • Educate  employees,  agencies,  partners,  vendors,  and  external  individuals/groups  you  engage  on  circumstances  when  disclosure  is   required  and  what  it  should  look  like.   • Reasonably   monitor   campaigns   for   compliance   with   policies   regarding   disclosure   of   material   connections   and   truthfulness   of   advertising  claims.   • Make   commercially   reasonable   efforts   to   correct   situations   in   which   appropriate   disclosures   are   omitted   or   non-­‐compliant   claims   are  made.       • Go   to   the   “Advertising   and   Marketing”   page   of   FTC’s   website   (www.business.FTC.gov)   for   their   latest   views   on   How   to   Make   Effective  Disclosures  in  Digital  Advertising  and  access  to  various  other  resources  they  have  published  in  this  area.         Visit   http://www.womma.org/disclosure/   for   additional   information,   updates   and   resources   regarding   disclosure   and   transparency   issues.   Word  of  Mouth  Marketing  Association  Guide  to  Best  Practices  for  Transparency  and  Disclosure  in  Digital,  Social,  &  Mobile  Marketing                                        November  2013