BlogWell: How Big Brands Use Social Media is an amazing series of events presented by that features 8 great case studies in corporate social media. To learn more, visit

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In his BlogWell New York ethics briefing,'s CEO, Andy Sernovitz, shared his recommendations on how to stay safe and ethical in social media.

Andy covered the latest FTC updates, the fundamentals of proper disclosure, and how to make sure your agencies and vendors comply with your standards.

Below is live coverage from the event:

–- What makes social media so special is that it depends on trust of those who spread the word. It's all about trust. Ethics isn't something you bolt on later. Putting the ethics program together is the first step.

-- Disclosure is the difference between honesty and 'sleazery'. Nothing new here -- it's what newspapers did 100 years ago: editorial v ads. "And now, a few words from our sponsor" was the well-understood cue.

-- This is the law, backed by FTC regulations. Go to your lawyers -- because the 'old laws' regarding false endorsements and paid advertising still apply.

-- Guides for Safe Social Media Outreach -- from the FTC

1. Require disclosure and truthfulness in social media outreach. You can do stuff but you have to be open and honest about it.
2. YOU must monitor the conversation and correct misstatements. If you (the brand) see people you have endorsing your product and they are making incorrect statements, you need to make sure it's cleaned up.
3. Create social media policies and training programs. Brands must teach #1 and #2 from above. It's your job.

-- Andy's version of the 3 rules:

1. Never pay. If you pay, it's advertising. Eventually, word will get out and you'll lose trust.
2. Real disclosure. 'Clear and conspicuous' makes it easy. Sample: "I was given samples of this product by company X and here's what I think..."
3. Don't lie to your mom. Make it "apparent to the average reader" that there is a relationship between a blogger and a brand.

-- Keep it simple. "I work for ___ and this is my personal opinion." Then, go deeper:

1. Who are you? (Do you work for agency? Work for company? Part of advocate program? Let the average reader know what you're deal is.)
2. Were you paid? If you say, "The company sent me X...", the reader knows and can make their own opinion about what is written next.
3. Is it an honest opinion based on a real experience? It's always wrong to recommend something you haven't used -- or something you tried and didn't like but said you did like.

-- Training failure is source of biggest risk. You need a formal program and a policy. If you have those things, FTC will not hold the company responsible for the act of a rogue employee.

-- has a Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit. It's available for free download. It was written by 24 companies, reviewed by biggest companies, and lots of lawyers. Take it. Use it.

-- FTC says to brands, "Be careful who you hire." If you hire an agency and they subcontract out to someone, your company is still on the hook for those firms' actions. Get them to agree contractually to the terms outlined in your policy (or in the Toolkit).

-- The evolution of email marketing toward spam is what we need to avoid. It's costly and it's a stain on an otherwise good medium.

-- Keep the standards high. Benefits:

1. Save your brand. Save your reputation. Save your job.
2. Real consequences: Bans by Google, others. Plus lack of trust.

-- If you have to ask, the answer is no. It's easier to be honest. Pass it on.

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