FTC Guidelines May Require Disclosure by Conference Speakers Using Social Media

Date: March 28, 2013

Takeaway: If a nonprofit organization asks its conference or meeting speaker to use social media to promote the organization’s event, the Federal Trade Commission’s "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" may require the speaker to disclose his or her relationship with the organization.

Discussion: The FTC Endorsement Guides address the application of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act regarding the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising and set forth the basis for compliance with the law by advertisers and endorsers.  The Guides state the general principles that the FTC uses in evaluating endorsements and testimonials, and provide examples showing the application of those principles.  The Guides are not intended to cover every possible use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising; the specific facts and circumstances of the advertisement or testimonial at issue are determinative of whether the endorsement is deceptive.

The original Endorsement Guides were drafted in the 1980’s.  While the principle of “truth in advertising” that is the basis for the Guides has not changed, the FTC has revised the Guides in recent years to address new media, including blogs and social networking websites.  However, the law still requires an endorser who has been paid or given something of value for advertising a good or service for a marketer to disclose the relationship with the marketer.  If such disclosure is not made, the advertisement is deemed misleading.

The foregoing principle likely applies to nonprofit organizations contracting with conference or meeting speakers.  If an organization requires a speaker to promote the organization’s conference or meeting via social media as part of the speaker’s contract and the speaker is being compensated or given something of value to speak at and promote the event, then the speaker should disclose the fact that he or she is being compensated to promote the event within the social media platform.  While the FTC has not specified the exact wording for the disclosure, the relationship between the organization and speaker should be disclosed clearly and conspicuously by the speaker.

Additional information regarding the Endorsement Guides can be found here.