Social media has come a long way since the day I sent out my first tweet several years ago, as a supermarket dietitian looking to publicize my upcoming store tours.
It took a while to learn how use Twitter most effectively Ultimately I was seeking to connect with existing and potential new customers to alert them that their local grocer had a registered dietitian (RD) on staff to help them with their food and nutrition concerns. With the click of a button, I could share nutrition and shopping tips, provide info on upcoming events, promote new products, stay abreast of vendor promotions, and connect directly with customers and the community at large.
Today, as a private dietitian consultant, I’m still learning how to use social media to accomplish many of the same goals. Recently, an RD colleague queried me about ethics and disclosures when using social media. She noticed that I was tagging a specific branded produce item in my tweets that included the item in recipes, or nutrition and health articles that happened to mention the fruit. As a nutrition ambassador for this particular brand of produce, I was enthusiastic about tagging it in my tweets.
What I didn’t realize was that doing this is considered an endorsement, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In 2013, the FTC released new “dot.com disclosure” guidelines extending to social media, as a measure to further protect consumers from false or misleading advertising. It doesn’t matter if you’re a dietitian, a doctor or a mommy blogger, if you’re sharing information for which you’ve received any form of compensation, including money, coupons, free samples, gifts or anything else of value, it’s important to disclose this relationship to your audience. If you’re posting on behalf of a retailer or a brand and directly using its social media accounts, disclosures aren’t required because it’s already understood where content is coming from and that it may be promotional in nature.
My personal Twitter handle, @BarbRuhsRD, includes a short description of who I am and the type of content I generally like to share. I tweet a lot about food, health and recipes, but I also share a lot of unrelated health content based on my personal interests.
Here are some guidelines that can protect you, your employer and any brands that you endorse if you’re posting as yourself, or on behalf of your retailer but not on its official account:
Tags: If you’re an RD and have an alternative account that doesn’t include your retailer’s name, make sure to tag the name of your retailer in your tweets.
Transparency: Unless you’re using your retailer’s or brand’s official social media account to post information, you must disclose if you’ve received anything in exchange for your endorsement. Forty-six percent of consumers trust online reviews, while only 15 percent trust posts by companies or brands on social networks, according to a report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.
Disclosures: These must be clear and conspicuous in every relevant post — it’s not enough to post them on your website or in the headlines. If you’re posting on a blog and you receive complimentary products, include a brief disclosure sentence. On Twitter, use #ad, #spon or #client to indicate you’ve been compensated in some way. If you’re reposting content from an official social media account, it’s implicit that the information is coming from a branded location, so disclosure is unnecessary. When in doubt, find a way to include a disclosure to protect not only yourself, but also any clients or brands that you’re promoting.
The point of social media disclosures is to shield the consumer from false and misleading advertising. Remember to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes: Is what you’re posting information that could influence his or her perception of a product or service?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a dietitian, a doctor or a mommy blogger, if you’re sharing information on social media for which you’ve received any form of compensation, it’s important to disclose this relationship to your audience.