HOW TO Ensure Your Employee Advocacy Program is FTC Compliant

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1 1 HOW TO Ensure Your Employee Advocacy Program is FTC Compliant

2 2 INTRODUCTION In May 2015, the Federal Trade Commission updated its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising with FAQs that specifically addressed compliance in the area of employee endorsements. It is important to understand that these FTC Guidelines apply to all employers and employees at all times, regardless of the existence or operation of a managed employee advocacy program. This SocialChorus overview is designed to help you understand the guidelines and ensure your employees social activities are compliant with the guidelines. Our opinions are informed by our own review of the FTC guidelines, as well as consultation with our legal advisors and the best practices of many of our customers. This ebook should not be considered legal advice, and we urge you to consult your company legal resources when establishing or attempting to follow policies and practices. For source material, you can read the full text of the FTC Guides here. The FTC FAQs address a wide array of endorsement-related matters on social media, but the guidelines fundamental requirement remains the same: Endorsers (including employees) must disclose their material connection regardless of the form of media used. This encompasses subjects like your employment relationship and, any receipt of payment or free products. The FTC FAQs make it clear that not only does the endorser (e.g., employee) have an obligation to provide a disclosure regarding the connection to your company, the company also has an obligation to advise employees of this obligation and to take reasonable steps to monitor employee compliance.

3 3 FTC Guidelines for Employee Endorsements The FTC FAQs state that before using social media to talk about the employer s products or services, an employee should check with the employer to ensure compliance with the employer s policies. The first step to compliance is crafting a social media policy and training employees on that policy. According to the FTC, if an employee uses social media to talk about his or her employer s products or services, the employee should clearly and conspicuously disclose the employee/ employer relationship within the social media post. This would include Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media channel. As an example, on Twitter, the inclusion of the hashtag #employee at the end of a tweet may satisfy FTC compliance. The FTC FAQs emphasize that employers should establish a formal program to train and remind employees of proper employee/employer relationship disclosure policies. If an employer learns that an employee has posted a review on the company s website or other platform without an adequate disclosure, the employer should remind the employee of existing company policies and ask him or her to either remove the post or amend it to adequately disclose his or her relationship to the company. Employees of an advertising or public relations agency also have a material connection to clients that should be disclosed in all social media posts promoting a client s products or services. If such an agency asks its employees to endorse clients on social media, the agency must advise their employees to disclose their relationship with the client when making such posts. As with the clients they serve, agencies should also have a social media policy in place and train all agency employees on that policy.

4 4 The Need for Clear and Conspicuous Disclosures The FTC FAQs reaffirm that a clear and conspicuous disclosure is one that has unambiguous language and is clearly noticeable to the audience. The FTC recommends that such disclosures be placed in close proximity to the claim to which they relate, in an easily readable font, and in a shade that stands out against the background. Disclosures in videos should appear onscreen long enough to be easily noticed, read, and understood. Disclosures in audio should be read at a speed that consumers can easily follow, using words they will readily understand. On social media platforms, the FTC FAQs emphasize that a disclosure should be placed where the majority of the intended audience will notice it. While having an employee list his or her employer in the individual s social media site profile is considered a good practice, that isn t enough. People who simply read what the employee posts won t always see the employer information. Thus, a disclosure needs to be included in each and every post made by the employee that promotes the employer s products or services. The FTC does not mandate specific wording of a disclosure made by an employee. The guidelines state that the employment relationship must be clear. Here are some examples that employees might use when promoting a company product or service on social media. Adequate Disclosure Examples: Inadequate Disclosure Examples: A new [widget] is hitting the stores this week. So proud! #[companynameemployee] I m so proud of my company s new [widget] that is hitting the stores this week! New [widget] is hitting the stores this week. Go get one today! This [widget] is the most amazing [widget] ever!

5 5 Monitoring What Others Say on Social Media The FTC FAQs explain that companies are expected to make reasonable efforts to monitor endorsers that post on their behalf on social media. For example, when using a network of employees to promote the company s products or services, companies are responsible for developing and maintaining programs to train and monitor that network of employees to ensure clear disclosure of the employee/employer relationship. Reasonably, the FTC understands that it is unrealistic for companies to be fully aware of what their employee network is doing at all times. Thus, as long as the company makes a reasonable effort to train and monitor its employee network, it is unlikely that questionable practices by a single employee will lead to formal FTC action. Nevertheless, companies should remember that they are responsible for what employees say online on their behalf. According to the FTC, if a company s social media program is run by an outside party, the company remains ultimately responsible for what employees post on its behalf. As such, the company should make sure that it has an appropriate social media program in place to train and monitor members of its employee network.

6 6 Practical Tips for Complying with FTC Guidelines In our view, compliance with FTC guidelines boils down to three important actions for employers: TRAIN REMIND MONITOR As stated, companies are responsible for developing and maintaining programs to train and monitor that network of employees who participate in social media endorsement. As part of a training program, your company should have a social media policy in place that requires employees to disclose their employment relationship when promoting your company s products and services. Employees should be trained on the social media policy and agree to its terms and conditions. All participating employees should be trained on how to clearly and conspicuously disclose his or her connection to your company on social media when sharing content about your company s products and services. While there is no magic language template, the goal is to effectively communicate the relationship between the employee and the company where he or she works. Employees should be regularly reminded that if they post content promoting the company s products or services on behalf of the company or the company s clients, they must disclose their relationship to the company and/or the company s relationship with the client. Reasonable monitoring programs to ensure employees are making adequate disclosures should be instituted, along with actively enforcing your company s social media policy.

7 7 Using SocialChorus to Streamline Compliance with FTC Guidelines for Employee Endorsements The SocialChorus app offers comprehensive techniques for training and reminding employees of the FTC guidelines so that you can stress less while remaining compliant. Some examples of how you can customize your program to train and remind employees follow. When employees join the program, you can present them with your terms and conditions and your social media policy. You can also present a training video that explains your policy, including how to disclose their relationship to the company. Employees must acknowledge they have reviewed these materials before they can join the program. With non-shareable content, regular reminders about your policy can be incorporated in your content feed. One example is information that reminds an employee to use the employee hashtag or a link to the existing social media policy for a refresher. We recommend sharing this type of content quarterly, and provide templates that you can use. Push notifications on their mobile devices can remind employees of company social media policy or disclosure requirements. Reminders of employee hashtag and disclosure requirements can go out in regular notifications to participants. A content channel to house social media tips and links to the company social media policy, along with training videos, can be shared within the platform.

8 8 Some Final Considerations For many social networks, pre-populated messages are available that include disclosure language and your employee hashtag. While employees can edit these messages prior to posting, they serve as a reminder on how to properly disclose in compliance with FTC guidelines. There are also a number of best practices outside of the SocialChorus app, such as posting reminders to other internal communications platforms, reviewing the policy in new hire orientation, and establishing social media listening programs.

9 9 IN CONCLUSION FTC warnings to large advertisers that failed to make adequate ad disclosures have shown consumer protection laws apply equally to marketers across all media. Using the SocialChorus app for personalized news and content, real-time notifications, and social sharing will keep your company informed, engaged, productive, and more easily compliant with FTC concerns. 89% of your employees time spent on mobile is spent using mobile apps, you should have a place on their home screen. Our daily news app for work earns you the right to be there. The SocialChorus app delivers personalized news and content, real-time notifications and social sharing. Employees using SocialChorus are more informed, engaged and productive. CALL US: REQUEST A DEMO

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