There are legal and best practice guidelines for how social media should and can be used by companies (Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be a lawyer. For legal guidance on these issues, please seek one out). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has governance over trade and advertising in the U.S. and they have set up guidelines for how social media should be used by companies. While the guidelines are meant to protect consumers, following them will also help you create a reputation for trust. Feel free to read the full guidelines yourself, but here are some general common sense principles that should help:
Be Upfront About Who You Are
Make sure that it’s completely obvious who you are when you’re interacting on social media. Any profiles that are used by the company (or by agencies working for the company) should clearly disclose that they are attached to the company. Setting up profiles and then acting as a consumer is a clear no-no with the FTC. Consumers need to be able to properly judge any statements about your products and services.
Don’t try to hide your ulterior motives on social media. Be transparent about your motives. People can sense when companies are trying to hide something. Once one person finds out, everyone will know which can have serious repercussions for your brand.
If you’re paying someone for a review, make sure they disclose that they’re being paid. Likewise, if you’re a blogger and you received payment or an item for free to review, you should disclose that as well as who gave it to you. If you use any affiliate or advertising networks, make sure any ads or links are clearly labeled as advertisements or affiliate links.
Basically, a consumer needs to have honest information in order to evaluate what you’re saying. If you’ve built up a reputation for honesty, then people will be more likely to listen. If you do take money for a review and disclose it, people can take that into account when making a purchase decision.
If you link to someone’s post, or use their image, make sure you give them proper credit. Copyrighted images usually can’t be used without specific permission from the author. When quoting someone else’s post, a few paragraphs is usually considered fair. Reproducing an entire article without proper consent can get you in trouble. When in doubt, just ask the author.
Just Be You
Really, if you are just honest and open about who you are and what you’re saying in social media you should be fine. Don’t say anything that’s not true and don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Make sure consumers have good information to evaluate what’s being said.
Obviously some industries like health, finance and law have more strict requirements on how they can act on social media. Seek out more industry-specific guidelines if you’re involved in one of those fields.
For more guidelines, the IAB has also setup a list of social advertising best practices, which you may find helpful.
(image by Mark Heard)