In late March, shoe retailer Cole Haan got an unpleasant surprise when the Federal Trade Commission sent a letter about its #WanderingSole Pinterest contest. Cole Haan had been offering customers the opportunity to win $1,000 if they submitted photos of themselves wandering in Cole Haan shoes with the #WanderingSole hashtag. The FTC stated that the photos constituted an endorsement (since entrants were incentivized to submit through the financial reward potentially offered to them) and thus, identifying the content as sponsored or advertised was necessary.
Although Cole Haan didn’t end up having to pay a fine, this episode shows the legal hurdles that brands can face when trying to use social media to create buzz and leverage UGC on brand sites to drive conversions and revenue. FTC guidelines can prove challenging, and you must know how to navigate them. How can you avoid such issues in your own digital marketing? Some advice:
1. Always ask permission.
Legally, you must always have users’ permission before displaying their content on your website or social media. Allow users to opt in to having their content used as promotional content for your brand, placing them in the driver’s seat for whether they want to participate.
2. When holding a contest to gather the best user-generated content, always ensure that users are properly identifying the fact that they endorse the brand as part of the promotion.
While the FTC’s March decision did not involve a financial penalty, in part because it was the first ruling on the need of endorsers in a social media marketing campaign to identify the underlying financial motivation for their post, this incident set a precedent for potential future penalties. You can’t fully control what people post about your brand on social media, but nevertheless, you’re expected to inform users involved in a campaign that they must disclose their connection to your company.
3. Ask users to verify that they are not underage.
According to COPPA, children under 13 years of age cannot have their information collected by online sources; additional regulation is in place in some states, such as California, that requires websites to remove minors’ previously-posted content upon request. With these strict regulations, working with minors is difficult. Before using content, ensure that users verify their date of birth. If you want to use minors’ content, ensure that state regulations are being followed, permissions have been granted both from the originator and his/her parents, and that originator is 13 or older.
Having sufficient permission and legal compliance is important. Putting your customers in the driver’s seat with content permissions allows them to feel confident that you will follow their wishes. Building up trust with your fans in this way allows for mutual benefit: they feel confident sharing their user-generated content, so they share more, providing you more high-quality content to choose from.
Download The Savvy Brand’s Guide to Legal Risk in Content Marketing to learn more about how to display UGC in your marketing with full compliance.