Facebook’s new contest rules and FTC guidelines – has social media marketing adapted?

by Susan Getgood on January 5, 2010 · 27 comments

in Blogger relations,Blogging,Facebook

Warning – long post

Are social media marketers implementing the new Facebook contest rules and meeting their obligations under FTC guidelines? Survey sez: maybe not, or at least, not yet.

Background

Social media marketing. A bit like the wild west of our imaginations — a little bit glamorous, a little bit dangerous, and as practiced by some, perhaps just a little bit dirty.

At the end of 2009,  however, the Sheriff came to town. Or at least a few parts of it. Facebook’s new rules for contests and sweepstakes were announced in November and updated in December. The revised FTC guidelines for endorsements and testimonials went into effect on December 1.

The landscape is bound to change. In fact, strictly speaking, it should have already. Marketers had plenty of warning about the proposed changes to the FTC guidelines, and their responsibilities under them.

The Facebook changes were more of a surprise but they seem fairly straightforward (and a revenue boon to third-party app developers) although there was a great deal of confusion about whether you could require someone to be a fan to enter a contest. The answer BTW is yes, although you cannot have the action of becoming a fan equal an automatic entry in the contest or sweepstakes. There must be an explicit entry form, and there are very specific rules governing how you can administer the contest on Facebook.

I wondered.

Were marketers informing bloggers of the obligation to disclose when they offered free stuff? The evidence, including that in my own inbox, indicated: not so much. Every so often, I would hear of efforts like Procter & Gamble’s for its Vocalpoint program. They sent an email informing community members of the FTC requirements and telling them how P&G would support them. Not surprising perhaps, given that P&G’s programs and products were cited in more than one news story about the guidelines, but still smart and commendable.

By and large though, it seemed the offers were still coming without any information about the FTC requirements.

On the Facebook front, on Christmas, an email from Lands’ End promoted a contest that one could enter simply by becoming a fan on Facebook. Oops.

Now, I adore Lands’ End, and think their marketing is top notch. If a big brand could make such an error, what about the smaller ones on Facebook? Not to mention all the bloggers who had been running contests to build their fan bases.

It seemed to me that perhaps marketers hadn’t got the message yet. So I decided to do a survey.

Disclaimer: In no way does this survey purport to be scientific or definitive. I just wanted to get a better idea of what was going on in these two areas, and figured a survey would give me access to far more data points that conversations and Twitter chat. It was promoted to my Twitter and Facebook friends and here on the blog, and to Blog with Integrity’s fans, followers and email subscribers. Friends and colleagues kindly retweeted and emailed the link as well. The survey was published on December 27th and closed this morning, January 4th.

Survey Says

Here are the raw results with a little bit of analysis.  Later, I am going to do some cross-tabs and other fancy stuff that SurveyMonkey lets you do when you have to buy a paid account because your responses exceed the 100 you can get with the free account. But not today.

  • Started the survey: 243
  • Completed the survey: 198 (81.5%)

One to 10 pitches per week was reported by more than half the respondents. The answers to the next two questions were equally compelling. Seventy-percent (70.2%) reported that the number of pitches they receive on average every week had stayed the same since December 1 when the FTC guidelines went into effect, and 63.7% reported that pitches since December 1 contained offers for free products, review products or other compensation.

Seems like business as usual. Time for the money question: Thinking about the pitches you’ve received since December 1 2009 that offered free products or other compensation, *generally speaking* how many have contained guidance or information about a blogger’s obligation to disclose his/her relationship with the company?

It’s cut off in the chart but that orange bar in position one represents nearly 50% reporting that NONE of the pitches contained any information about the obligation to disclose. One of the comments in “other” states that this information did come after the blogger had accepted the offer. Fair enough, but in my opinion, that isn’t soon enough. If we are offering free products or other compensation, we need to state the terms of the deal clearly and up front.

Moving on to Facebook. I asked how often the respondent used Facebook and if they had recently entered any contests.

There are a few interesting things here:

  • Most respondents would be classed as fairly or very active users of Facebook.
  • The majority of respondents hadn’t recently entered any contests. Is this because fewer contests are now held “on the wall,” they are being held somewhere else (Twitter?), the holidays or some other reason? Questions for a future survey.
  • 37.1 % entered by becoming a fan of the page, which is a violation of the new rules.
  • Clearly some companies are beginning to implement the new rules, or at least holding their contests appropriately by accident,  with 40 respondents indicating that they entered a contest in a way sanctioned by the new rules.

Demographics



Does this survey prove anything? Yes and no.

No, because it didn’t use a rigorous model. I’d like a more even representation of the blogosphere than “folks who know Susan, Blog with Integrity or Susan’s colleagues,” and I wish I had done a better job on the list of primary topics for the primary blog. If I do another survey, I’ll dig into what people replied for ‘Other’ to make sure I cover more categories.

On the other hand, nearly 200 responses isn’t too shabby. Bottom line, I think these results are a good place to start our exploration of how well — or not — companies are implementing these new rules.

Because like it or not, once the law shows up in town, you gotta live by the rules.

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