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

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

Below is live coverage of this session by staff:

— Andy: As social media leaders, we are responsible for representing the brand in social media and defending the brand in social. And there is so much pressure to get results.

— Andy: How do we know what’s right? It’s your job to stay FTC compliant, do the right thing, and be ethical. Here’s what you need to do to stay out of trouble.

— Andy: The secret to success in social media? Trust. Trust is the only way to be successful. People aren’t going to share your stuff if there is no trust.

— Andy: The difference between honesty and sleazy? Disclosure. You can’t pretend not to be a brand or a marketer. As long as you disclose — you’re in the clear. Disclosure helps: 1. increase trust, 2. make people more likely recommend your brand, and 3. increases credibility.

— Andy explains that disclosure is the law. And these laws are nothing new. It’s always been illegal to deceptively advertise. Disclosure laws were passed by 1914 by Woodrow Wilson.

— Andy shares: 3 (+1) Rules for Safe Social Media Outreach:

1. Require disclosure and truthfulness in social media. Don’t lie about your job and relation to the brand.
2. Monitor the conversations and correct misstatements. If a blogger forgets to disclose, it’s your job to correct them.
3. Create social media policies and training. It’s your job (as a social marketer) to teach and enforce rules.
+1 Don’t pay for it. Don’t pay cash for posts. If you bought it, it’s not social media. It’s advertising.

— Andy shares these 10 Magic Words: “I work for ____________, and this is my personal opinion.”

— Andy explains what to disclose:

-Who are you? (Employee, partner, advocate, evangelist)
-Were you paid? (Any and all kinds of compensation count — product samples, experiences, etc.)
-Is it honest opinion based on a real experience? (If someone is using something that they’ve never used, it’s a false endorsement.)

— Andy gives this definition of disclosure: Clear and conspicuous to the average reader. That means disclosure needs to be obvious and upfront.

— Andy: The 2013 FTC Warning says, “Stop ignoring us, stop faking it, and if you can’t be honest and disclose properly then you should not be doing it.” We can assume more enforcement is on the way.

— Andy shares fake disclosure FAILS. Examples:, “native ads”. None of these are adequate.

— Andy: Brands are 100% liable for what their agencies do. It’s your agency, you’re paying them, you are completely and legally responsible.

— Andy explains that it’s important to reread the rules and make sure FTC rules = brand ethics rules and guidelines.

— Andy emphasizes the importance of training and education. Everyone in the company needs to be informed and briefed on the rules.

— Andy shares this fact: If you create a social media policy and include it as part of your social media training program, you will not get in trouble for a rogue employee.

— Andy encourages social media leaders to check out our Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit. It can be download for free at

— Andy: We, as social marketers, have the opportunity to do good. It’s our job to put a stop to the deception in social.

— Andy: Have brand pride. Be ethical. Show off your brand!

— Andy: Raise your standards. Anything that makes an ad look like a “not-ad” is wrong. If you have to disclose it, it’s probably deceptive.

— Andy says the FTC recently put out a message that explains, “The need for disclosure is really a warning sign that it may contain some element of deception.”

— Andy: If you have to ask, the answer is no. It’s easier to be honest.

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