The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) recently updated its Social Media Marketing Disclosure Guide, the organization’s self-regulatory guide to best practices and responsibilities of using social media. According to WOMMA, the Guide is a “living document” periodically updated to reflect developments in both the industry and social media. The best practices apply to a variety of social media platforms, including blogs and microblogs, online comments, social networks, video and photo sharing websites, sponsored content, podcasts. A copy of the Guide is available here.

The Guide outlines the various disclosure and monitoring responsibilities of marketers and their affiliates, in accordance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines. For marketers, WOMMA spells out disclosure responsibilities relating to marketers’ relationships with “advocates,” (persons “with a ‘material’ connection to a marketer who is sharing a message in connection with a marketing initiative” – both affiliated and independent), as well as employees, partners, agencies, and other affiliates.

The Guide sets forth five responsibilities for marketers to ensure the adequate disclosure of relationships to advocates:

  1. Education of advocates and other affiliates about when and how to disclose a material connection with a marketer;
  2. Reasonable monitoring of marketing campaigns;
  3. Employment of commercially reasonable compliance efforts, including compliance training;
  4. Requiring agencies, partners, networks and vendors to have social media disclosure policies in place; and
  5. Education of employees as to required disclosures and the importance of not representing themselves as ordinary customers when providing endorsements or reviews.

The Guide also requires that marketers institute a company-wide social media policy that takes their disclosure responsibilities into account, both for their own employees and to ensure that their agencies, partners, networks and vendors have policies that align with the marketer’s policy or guidelines. The Guide recommends the key considerations for developing best practices:

  1. Mandate a disclosure policy that complies with the law;
  2. Make sure employees and others who work for or with the marketers have a policy in place to ensure compliance; and
  3. Monitor what employees or advocates are doing on the marketers’ behalf for claims and disclosure.

The FTC also requires that advocates disclose material relationships to marketers. The WOMMA Guide notes that disclosures must be clear and prominent, and provides examples of best practices for adequate disclosures on specific platforms, including the use of specific hashtags, or links to a URL explaining the material connection between advocates and marketers for platforms with character limitations, such as Twitter. WOMMA also “strongly recommends” that all advocates include a “Disclosure and Relationships” statement on profile pages. The updated Guide also include discussion of emerging and evolving issues in social media disclosure including “like-gating,” syndication of social media messages, password sharing, and privacy and data collection and retention.