Magazine article Communication World

Clearing the Air: New Guidelines on Endorsements Mean New Responsibilities for PR Professionals Leveraging Social Media

Magazine article Communication World

Clearing the Air: New Guidelines on Endorsements Mean New Responsibilities for PR Professionals Leveraging Social Media

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The PR professional of the future (meaning tomorrow, not 2012) needs new skills and talents. Social media and the complexity of consumers' lives have seen to that. We are well on the other side of the tipping point of social media. Fewer and fewer communication experts claim that it's a fad. Those who do will often readily admit that "It's the next guy's problem," meaning they don't dispute how it changes their profession, but they have no intention of becoming social media literate themselves. Time will correct for this.

Complexity is another matter. The explosion of micromedia (thousands of media-like outlets online) and technology innovations that give us useful iPhone apps, real-time search options that blend Google and Twitter, and "engagement ads" in Facebook require new skills to deliver communication that can build reputations and sell products and ideas. Many of the fundamentals of public relations still apply. For every new skill required--say, search engine optimization--a fundamental capability remains highly relevant. Many, like media relations, must evolve.

Changes to earned media

If you are a PR professional pining for the simple days when a good journalist pitch and relationship could land your client in the spotlight, well, things just got a lot more complicated. I am not talking about the advent of blogs, millions of Twitter users, the small-nation status of Facebook or the emergence of the lifestream (a single feed of all of an individual's social networks feeds, usually including Facebook, Twitter, blogs and more). Plenty has been written about each. Rather, I am referring to the new U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Guidelines on Endorsements and Testimonials, which have a lot to say about how you reach out to bloggers/ influencers online. They will require many communicators to change what they are doing--starting today.

While the FTC is a U.S. regulatory agency, many countries already have or will soon implement some sort of consumer protection dealing with marketers' use of social media. Just as the Internet is a global phenomenon, communicators in Shanghai, Sydney, Sao Paulo and London are all connecting with new influencers through social media. This is the new "earned media," and PR pros are adopting different ways to connect with so-called "mombloggers," tech Twitter users, Facebook group owners and more.

The basic foundation of new earned media outreach can be summed up as follows:

* Be open and transparent about who you are and who you represent.

* Show respect for the influencer--who they are and what their interests are.

* Only do relevant outreach--don't try to pitch popcorn to an iPhone expert.

* Know what the "value exchange" is--why should a blogger give you his attention or even write about you? (This goes beyond relevance and is its own social media topic.)

* Work with the influencers to find the right opportunity and the right way for them to engage with a brand--don't assume one approach fits all.

* If you provide a product or service at no charge, disclose this fact and request that the blogger do the same.

That last point about disclosure brings us to an important shift. There are some additional practices you will need to adopt in the U.S. based upon the FTC Guidelines on Endorsements and Testimonials:

* Always disclose the material connection between you and the influencer/blogger.

* Always require that the blogger disclose in a clear way whatever that material connection is, whether it's a loaner car or a case of the product or a keeper laptop.

* Ensure that your influencers are disclosing in a best-practice manner and making no false product claims.

* Make certain that your celebrity endorsers are disclosing their material relationship--no matter what their venue--and that any stated opinion about your product is genuinely their own. …

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