It was bound to happen. The tremendous growth of digital marketing and زيادة متابعين تيك توك was an invitation for government regulation. For instance, the Federal Trade Commission recently updated its truth-in-advertising guidelines, which were last revised in 1980, to address the commercialism of the Web. Federal and state regulators are taking the position that social media is not a loop-hole for deceptive marketing practices and are actively enforcing and cracking down on social media deception. Proper social media ethics are now a matter of law, not just personal preference.
The FTC’s updated Endorsement and Advertising Guidelines require companies to ensure that their posts are completely accurate and not misleading, and planting or allowing fake reviews is a violation. The Guidelines are extremely broad and can apply to anyone writing reviews on rating sites, web sites or promoting products through social media sites, including blogs.
There are several companies out there that offer seemingly quick and easy ways to improve your ratings on review sites. Be careful! A Dealership in Texas suffered devastating reputation damage because of the review-posting practices of a company they hired. A customer discovered that suspicious “reviewers” were writing 5-star reviews about all kinds of businesses and dealerships across the nation on the same day. This debacle was uncovered in October of 2010, yet news stories continue to show up on the dealer’s page one search results.
While the above case may be an example of a dealer who unfortunately hired the wrong vendor, an area of real concern is the activity of a company’s own employees. The FTC recently charged a California marketing company with deceptive advertising after it found that the company’s employees were posing as ordinary consumers posting positive reviews online.
Dealers may face liability if employees use social media to comment on their employer’s services or products without disclosing the employment relationship. The FTC requires the disclosure of all “material connections” between a reviewer and the company that is being reviewed. These connections can be any relationship between a reviewer and the company that could affect the credibility a consumer gives to that reviewer’s statements, such as an employment or business relationship. So if employees, friends, family or vendors post reviews to prop up a dealership’s online reputation, they must clearly disclose any relationship they have with the company. In addition, all reviews must be an honest opinion based on a real experience. Reviewers must never endorse a product or service that they have not used personally or create any other form of false endorsement. It’s all about transparency and full disclosure.
Besides the obvious potential damage to a dealer’s reputation, failure to follow these regulations can result in substantial penalties. In recent actions, the New York Attorney General fined a cosmetic surgery company $300,000 for ordering its employees to write fake reviews of its face-lift procedure and the FTC ordered a company marketing instructional DVDs to pay $250,000 for fake reviews posted by the company’s affiliate marketers. The FTC has indicated that companies are fully responsible and liable for all inappropriate actions of their employees, their vendors, and any advocates they recruit. Reviewers may also be held personally liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements.