The FTC: Paying for a Tweet? It needs fine print.

Just over a week ago now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US ruled that ads in Twitter (or paid for/sponsored Tweets) need to follow the same basic requirements as the rest of the advertising world, eg: they need some fine print.

To prevent consumers being misled by their favourite celebrity, for example, sponsored social media must now be sure to include an explanation of sorts that explains that the content in question is paid for.

There are two kinds of responses to this ruling:

Response 1  (the dumb response):

“Oh my God?! Are you guys NUTS?! SMALL PRINT?! ON A TWEET?! WHAT? Does the FTC have any ideas as to what they’re talking about?! We’ve only got 140 characters to work with here! COME. ON!”

The FTC clearly state ‘Disclosures must be clear enough that they aren’t “misleading a significant minority of reasonable consumers. If a company can’t find a way to make its disclosure fit the constraints of social or mobile ad, it needs to change the ad copy so that it doesn’t require a disclosure.’

So we move on –

Response 2 (the smart response): 

“Oh, you mean sticking ‘#ad’ on the end of paid-for content? Yeah, sure. We can do that. In fact it makes sense and hell, it’s only three characters; that actually helps us!”

What’s great about this ruling is that they’ve been very clear about what does and what does not constitute ‘full disclosure’ and – to my mind at least – settles a long-standing argument over what is the best way to signal a Tweet is an ad.

Here in the UK both #spon and #ad are accepted or ‘recommended’ ways to indicate that the social media content you’re consuming is paid for. It’s something that I personally disagree with; #spon is too esoteric and doesn’t actually mean anything to the every day Twitter user. #Ad not only makes it clear what it is you’re looking at but it also uses less characters too. The FTC are in agreement:

‘Consumers might not understand that “#spon” means that the message was sponsored by an advertiser. If a significant proportion of reasonable viewers would not, then the ad would be deceptive.’

In short, when paying for tweets: #ad good, #spon bad. 

The full PDF from the FTC is available to download and, aside from being essential reading to every US-based social media practitioner, is actually a really insightful read and well recommended for anyone looking for a basic understanding of what is and what is not possible when it comes to the world of paid-for social media content.

I would especially recommend taking a look at ‘Example 17’ in the appendix to firmly understand the nuances involved when dealing with celebrity endorsements.

 

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