The Word of Mouth Marketing Association ("WOMMA") recently updated its Guide to Disclosure in Social Media Marketing ("Guide"). The current Guide is released as part of an ongoing effort on the part of WOMMA to memorialize best practices in the word of mouth marketing industry. WOMMA published the original version of the Guide—released in 2009—in response to the FTC's Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Given the rapid evolution of social media, WOMMA has updated its previous best practices for social media disclosures, including many specific references to the newest social media platforms and issues. The Guide covers key online platforms, such as blogs, microblogs, online comments, social networks, video and photo sharing sites, curated content, sponsored content, affiliate networks, referral networks, and podcasts.
The Guide focuses on ethical word of mouth marketing, stating that: "Consumers have a right to know the marketer behind sponsored marketing messages that could influence their purchasing decisions, but key sponsorship information is not always adequately disclosed in a social media context." With the goal of creating a blueprint for ethical best practices in social media marketing disclosures, WOMMA tackled the following issues in the Guide:
- The Responsibilities of Marketers: A "marketer" is defined in the Guide as "any individual or entity engaged in the promotion and/or selling of a product or service of that entity as part of a marketing initiative." The main responsibility of marketers are to: (a) institute a company-wide social media policy that takes the ethical guidelines into account; (b) ensure that their agencies, partners, networks, and vendors' policies are aligned with the marketer's policy; (c) ensure that advocates are educated, monitored, and supervised; and (d) adequately disclose their relationships to advocates.
- The Responsibilities of Advocates: WOMMA's Guide defines an "advocate" as an individual "with a material connection to a marketer sharing a message in connection with a marketing initiative." Advocates can be independent or affiliated to a marketer. Advocates are responsible to: (a) adequately disclose their relationship to a marketer when making statements or providing reviews about the marketer's product or service, a competitor's product or service, or as part of a marketing program in effect at the time of the review or statement; and (b) comply with stated social media or blogging policies.
- Clear and Prominent Disclosure: Both marketers and their advocates have responsibilities to adequately disclose their relationship in social media marketing. To that end, WOMMA's Guide outlines the following tips for appropriate clear and prominent disclosure: (a) language should be easily understood and unambiguous; (b) placement of the disclosure must be in a conspicuous place that is easily viewed, in the body of the message, near the statement the disclosure modifies, and not otherwise hidden; (c) font size and color should be readable and conspicuous to consumers where they are accessing the content.
- Social Media Policy Best Practices: Marketers, their agencies, partners, and vendors must have a social media policy under WOMMA's Guidelines. The various companies' policies must be clearly stated, communicated, and aligned with one another as needed. WOMMA identifies the following best practices for developing a social media policy: (a) comply with all applicable laws; (b) ensure those who work for you or with you have a policy to ensure compliance; and (c) monitor employees and advocates for claims and disclosures.
- Disclosure Best Practices: In addition to the general rules above regarding clear and prominent disclosure for material connections between marketers and their advocates, WOMMA's Guide provides sample disclosure language for personal and editorial blogs; product review blogs; online discussions or reviews; microblogs; social network status updates; video/photo sharing websites; and podcasts. WOMMA's Guide also provides additional recommendations to help marketers and advocates create adequate disclosures in the various social media platforms listed above.
- Additional Disclosure Issues: Although the social media industry is in constant flux, WOMMA concludes its Guide with a list of additional disclosure issues and practice tips for marketers and advocates in certain challenging and emerging areas. These areas include: like-gating, social incentives, celebrity endorsements, password sharing, syndication, and signs of approval.
TIP: WOMMA's Guide to Disclosures in Social Media Marketing offers practical and specific advice for marketers and advocates regarding social media marketing disclosures in many of the most important and emerging social media platforms. Social media marketers and advocates should follow the Guide to help with legal and ethical compliance in social media marketing disclosures.