FTC latest online ad rules

Advertisers should think twice about placing promotional messages on mobile and social media platforms like Twitter if those ads require disclosures or disclaimers to avoid being deceptive or unfair, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday.

The updated guidelines for online advertising represent the commission’s attempt to catch up to more than a decade of fast-evolving new technology, from the advent of the mobile revolution to an explosion in social media like Facebook and Twitter.

This year, as in the last report issued in 2000, the FTC holds online advertisers to the same standards of honesty and full disclosure as newspapers and television.

But the limited space available on mobile platforms maintained by Twitter, Facebook and others means that it is difficult to place appropriate disclosures close enough to the ad, or prominently enough, to ensure users see it.

“Advertisers should make sure their disclosures are clear and conspicuous on all devices and platforms that consumers may use to view their ads,” the FTC’s Lesley Fair said in a blog post accompanying the 53-page report.

“That means that if an ad would be deceptive or unfair (or would otherwise violate an FTC rule) without a disclosure — but the disclosure can’t be made clearly and conspicuously on a particular device or platform — then that ad shouldn’t run on that device or platform,” Fair wrote.

And the FTC discouraged the use of pop-ups for disclosures since they are so often blocked.

“Most webpages viewable on desktop devices may also be viewable on smartphones,” the FTC said in the report. “Advertisers should design the website so that any necessary disclosures are clear and conspicuous, regardless of the device on which they are displayed.”

Twitter already requires celebrities and others who endorse products to disclose that they are being paid. Facebook had no immediate comment.

“Many of the themes about social media were already surfaced (by the FTC) a few years ago,” said Eric Goldman, Professor of Law and Director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law.

He said the FTC’s guidelines placed the burden more on advertisers and users who take payments, than on platform companies such as Twitter or Facebook. “I don’t see anything that specifically tells Twitter, Facebook or other platforms how they have to design their platform.”

“The guidelines don’t have the force of law. but the FTC is trying to let industry know what it expects industry to do, and when the industry doesn’t do what the FTC wants, the FTC tends to get cranky.”

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FDA: No Unsubstantiated Claims, Even on Social Media

No Unsubstantiated Claims on social mediaIn case some wondered, FDA guidelines apply on social media as well and liking a post from one of your followers promoting unsubstantiated claims is an endorsement of those claims.

In December 2012, the FDA sent a warning letter to Amarc Enterprises regarding two websites. This letter has garnered attention because it references Facebook. The FDA details a variety of serious concerns over the way Amarc is marketing their vitamins, in particular their websites have numerous testimonials that are unsupported by clinical data.

For example, “PolyMVA helped save my life. I began a regimen of PolyMVA… After 3 months, the Stage 2 cancer was down to Stage 1.” These vitamins have not been approved by the FDA and are being improperly marketed as drugs. Similar claims were made for pets using the products and the FDA notes that this is also a violation.

Here is what the warning letter says about Facebook: “We also note claims made on your Facebook account accessible at: https://www.facebook.com/poly.mva, which includes a link to your website at www.polymva.com. The following are examples of the claims: In a March 10, 2011 post which was ‘liked’ by ‘Poly Mva’:

  • ‘PolyMVA has done wonders for me. I take it intravenously 2x a week and it has helped me tremendously. It enabled me to keep cancer at bay without the use of chemo and radiation… Thank you AMARC’”

The product’s Facebook page has been taken down, but it appears that the claim was posted to the wall. Not only was the claim left on the wall, it was “liked” by the page administrator which would be a clear endorsement of the claim. The letter also mentions a blog post on the Amarc site that makes claims that are unsupported by scientific data.

Interestingly, their other Facebook page is still live and posting things like this: “THE BINDING OF PALLADIUM, A RARE TRACE MINERAL, WITH ALPHA LIPOIC ACID, A POWERFUL ANTIOXIDANT, DRAMATICALLY INCREASES NUTRIENT ABSORPTION AT THE CELLULAR LEVEL AND THROUGHOUT THE BODY – A BREAKTHROUGH THAT DISTINGUISHES POLY-MVA® FROM ANY OTHER SUPPLEMENT!”

I posted a link to the FDA warning letter on their wall and asked for a response. They replied, “Discussions with the FDA are ongoing and the issues raised are being addressed. AMARC is committed to our products and working with health agencies in complying with any applicable rules and regulations. This is somewhat of a normal review in the industry. Thank you for the inquiry and we will continue to support our clients and our products.”

Follow existing guidelines
It’s clear that these websites, the Facebook page and blog provided no clinical data to support any of their claims. This warning letter isn’t really about Facebook or blogs, but about following existing guidelines. The FDA is very clear on labeling and how companies can promote their products. Companies that continue to follow this guidance (on websites, Facebook and blogs) should be fine

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Healthcare Company Kaiser Permanente Leverages Video

Healthcare company Kaiser Permanente’s director of digital media and syndication, Vince Golla, talked about how the company brought its fans’ genuine, unscripted stories to a bigger audience without hiring an expensive production company.

Some key takeaways from his presentation:

  • You can’t sample healthcare. Kaiser Permanente needed to show people in compelling, honest ways reasons customers love the brand. So the company turned to video testimonials and spotlighting the people who make it great: its staff.
  • Your videos don’t have to be perfect. Golla says to keep the video blog sustainable, the company had to pull production off on its own. So the company hired an indie filmmaker to show the staff some basics and an intern to teach them how to edit it.
  • Make your great content usable everywhere to get the most out of it. Kaiser Permanente didn’t stop at posting videos in social media. The healthcare company played them in waiting rooms, at meetings and on its internal channels to build pride in the content, while still spreading the word.

Companies’ Approach to Advertising on Social Media

Since the arrival of social media platforms, companies have tried to figure out how to best use them to get their messages to consumers, often with mixed results. Some brands have embraced the notion that social platforms like Twitter allow constant interaction, for better or worse, with their customers.

Others have turned away from some strains of social media, as General Motors did last spring when it stopped advertising on Facebook while raising questions about the return on its investment. The move had a ripple effect in the advertising world, with many brands questioning whether the costs of being on social media were worth it.

A new report issued Tuesday by Nielsen and Vizu, a research company owned by Nielsen, shows that brands think they might be turning a corner, specifically when it comes to paying for their use of social media.The report examined the opinions about social media marketing among more than 500 digital media professionals — including brand marketers, media agencies and advertisers — from September to October 2012.

The study found that that

  • 89% of advertisers continued to use free social media products. Nielsen did not release the names of specific social media platforms mentioned by the respondents, but they are likely to include Facebook and Pinterest, as well as Twitter.
  • 75% of the companies surveyed said they were also spending more for social media content, which could include paying bloggers to write posts about a product or using third-party technology to push videos on to the Web in the hope that they become viral.
  • 70% of the advertisers surveyed said they dedicated up to 10 percent of their budget to paid social media advertising, while 13 percent dedicated more than 21 percent of their budget. Those numbers are expected to increase in 2013.

The results come as companies like Twitter and Facebook are making more diverse advertising options available to brands. Last year, Twitter announced a number of advertising and media initiatives, including a survey product that enables marketers to ask Twitter users a handful of multiple-choice questions. Facebook began testing a new advertising mechanism using a technology called real-time bidding, which allows advertisers to place bids on ad space at specific times.

“Advertisers are starting to look at social media as an integrated part of their advertising strategy,” said Jeff Smith, the senior vice president of product leadership for advertising effectiveness at Nielsen.

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Google+: You can bring a horse to the water but you can’t force him to drink

In an effort to challenge Facebook and boost it’s Google+ social network, Google  is now using a more than controversial tactic and forces users of its other platforms (Gmail, Zagat, YouTube, Picasa…) to create a public Google + account.

Because using Google+ requires people to sign in to their Google accounts, Google will be able to blend mounds of data about individual users’ search habits and the websites they visit with their activities on Google+. That is a potential boon to Google’s ad business, from which the company derives about 95% of its more than $40 billion in annual revenue

But as Google is learning, you can bring a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink.  According to research firm comScore Inc. a year ago Google+ users spent an average of three minutes on the site each month, versus more than 400 minutes for the average Facebook user.

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AMA Social Media Policy

Professionalism in the Use of Social Media

The Internet and social media in particular, have created the ability for medical students and physicians to communicate and share information quickly and to reach millions of people easily. Participating in social media, social networking and other similar Internet opportunities can support physicians’ personal expression, enable individual physicians to have a professional presence online, foster collegiality and camaraderie within the profession, provide opportunity to widely disseminate public health messages and other health communication. Social media, blogs, and other forms of communication online also create new challenges to the patient-physician relationship. Physicians should weigh a number of considerations when maintaining a presence online:

(a) Physicians should be cognizant of standards of patient privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained in all environments, including online, and must refrain from posting identifiable patient information online.

(b) When using the Internet for social networking, physicians should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible, but should realize that privacy settings are not absolute and that once on the Internet, content is likely there permanently. Thus, physicians should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure that the personal and professional information on their own sites and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate.

(c) If they interact with patients on the Internet, physicians must maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship in accordance with professional ethical guidelines just, as they would in any other context.

(d) To maintain appropriate professional boundaries physicians should consider separating personal and professional content online.

(e) When physicians see content posted by colleagues that appears unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate actions. If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the physician should report the matter to appropriate authorities.

(f) Physicians must recognize that actions online and content posted may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, may have consequences for their medical careers (particularly for physicians-in-training and medical students), and can undermine public trust in the medical profession.

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Social Media Influencial in Food Decision

According to a new survey by eMarketer, social media influences purchasing decision when it comes to food:  36% bought a new brand after seeing a close friend’s recommendation, 30% after not so close friend recommended it, 20% after they saw products highly rated by users in their network and 17% after they read highly rated reviews from people they do not know

Leading Sources that Influence US Internet Users

In addition, the survey shows that when it comes to food, users are primarily sharing two thing: photos and recipes.

A May Blogher survey shows that recipes are one of the most sought-after pieces of food content online with 89% of internet users interested in food content going online for recipes.

Ina another survey, Allrecipes.com found that 65% of females who regularly used recipe sites bought branded ingredients called for in the recipes at least sometimes. 21% said they “usually” did this.

In yet another May survey, Compete found that food was by far the leading topic category for interactions on Pinterest leading to conversion.  25% overall had bought a product after discovering it on Pinterest, and surprisingly, considering Pinterest’s reputation as a female stronghold, 37% of male users were spurred to buy, compared to just 17% of female users.

US Female Bloggers* vs. Internet Users Who Go Online for Select Food-Related Content, May 2012

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