What You Need to Know About Advertising Your Services Online
On December 1, 2009, recent changes to the Federal Trade Commission Act affecting online marketing, blogging and advertising will go into effect. The expanded regulations affect every US-based individual and business that sells or recommends products and services on the Internet. So if you have a website for your freelance bookkeeping business (and you should) or post on social media, you need to know about this.
What's it all about?
“The original FTC act ‘prohibits deceptive and unfair acts or practices in commerce and misleading advertising of drugs, foods, cosmetics, devices and services,' and these prohibilitions apply online and offline,” explains Richard Cleland, Assistant Director of the FTC Advertising Practices Division in a recent online interview.
The new guidelines expand on how the regulations apply to online marketing. With the ease in posting recommendations for third party products and services, such as using Amazon affiliate links, this change affects nearly everyone who has any kind of commercial dealings on the Web.
In which situations does it apply?
Specifically, the new rules apply to anyone who posts on a blog or website using affiliate links or where customer testimonials are used to sell a product or service. Any kind of reviews or recommendations online where compensation is involved are also included.
The fact that there is compensation involved now must be plainly disclosed. Where testimonials are involved, average customer results must be disclosed. It is no longer adequate to state that “your results may vary,” as has commonly been done by many.
What to do next
Since the new regulations go into effect next week, if you have a website where you use testimonials or affiliate links, you should figure out what needs to be revised on your blog(s) and/or website(s) to bring them into compliance and avoid getting snagged by the authorities. You may also have to change the way you post information with commercial connections on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
The rub is, the new guidelins are not especially clear on how they specifically apply to some situations. So the best advice is to check out the information available on the FTC website itself. I've also included additional resources below, including an interview just released this week by online business expert, Jim Edwards, and FTC official, Richard Cleland, which includes real life examples of online advertising and how the requirements for disclosure apply.
The official FTC guidelines that take effect on December 1st.
Jim Edwards interviews FTC Official for clarification of the new guidelines