Social Media

WOMMA Webinar: Digital Word of Mouth & the ‘Ethics of Endorsement’

September 21, 2009

By Orli Sharaby and Margot Inzetta, 360i Emerging Media

In preparation for the FTC’s imminent release of new rules for the disclosure of online brand endorsements, on Sept. 14 WOMMA held a panel discussion on the Ethics of Endorsement, an important issue for any marketer today.

360i had the chance to sit in on the discussion and hear from some of the most trusted voices in the field, including:

  • Paul Rand, President Elect of WOMMA and Moderator of the discussion
  • John Bell, WOMMA President and Managing Director at 360 Digital Influence
  • Jory Des Jardin, Co-Founder/President, Strategic Alliances at BlogHer
  • Sean Corcoran, Interactive Mktg Analyst at Forrester Research
  • Tom Collinger, Chair of Integrated Mktg Communications program at Medill School Northwestern U
  • Anthony DiResta, WOMMA general counsel and partner with Advertising, Marketing & Media practice for Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

The discussion about online endorsements – paid or unpaid reviews, brand experiences, product sampling, pay per post, etc. – has become heated recent months as word of mouth marketing continues to evolve. Online word of mouth is a proven way to influence consumer behavior and establish loyal brand advocates.

According to the latest Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey, 90% of consumers said that they trust recommendations from personal acquaintances, and 70% trusted consumer opinions posted online. Given these numbers, it’s no surprise that marketers are jumping in; a PQ Media study notes that spending on word-of-mouth marketing rose 14.2% to $1.54 billion in 2008. The question still remains, though, what is the appropriate amount of disclosure needed to remain ethical when leveraging online word of mouth?

The bottom line is it’s crucial to be transparent and authentic in all blogger communication, a point 360i highlighted in our Social Marketing Playbook and which we abide by in our own dealings with bloggers (download 360i’s Code of Ethics here). All three panelists in last Monday’s WOMMA Webinar agreed on three main requirements for proper disclosure:

  • Be complete: Make sure Terms of Engagement exist so that readers & followers know exactly what was provided, by whom and with what purpose.
  • Be in context: Consider the placement and the prominence of the disclosure. No fine print will do in this case; terms of engagement must be clear and conspicuous, not be distracted by other items on the page, and be written in language that is easily understandable to the intended audience.
  • Be yourself: Influencers should make sure that reviews or paid placements are relevant and match up with their actual opinions and site content. Be authentic.

But how can we ensure that these three criteria are met? The FTC has suggested that marketers could potentially be held responsible if a blogger does not fully disclose the relationship, so the WOMMA panel suggested a number of best practices. In addition to ensuring compliance with the upcoming regulations, the following will also result in true brand loyalists and advocates.

  1. Develop consistent and strong relationships with bloggers so they feel comfortable stating that they’re doing work with your brand.
  2. Have policies in place with brand and legal teams before engaging in any paid influencer campaign or product review, so that everyone on the marketer’s team is aware of the process and there are no surprises.
  3. Develop standard terms of engagement that can be linked on the marketer’s site and/or reused for future campaigns.

There’s no doubt that the new FTC regulations will have a significant impact marketers engaging with bloggers and other online influencers. 360i recommends following these standard best practices and those outlined in the Social Marketing Playbook in order to comply with the regulations while establishing trust in your brand and creating lasting relationships with your customers.