All (smart) employers want an engaged workforce. Employees who love their employer are highly coveted and considered to be a potential marketing goldmine. Marketing gurus encourage employers to put their employees’ voices to work, especially in the social-media context, letting employees “spread the word” via blogs, social-networking sites, and Twitter. Certainly, employees who believe in their employer’s mission can have great impact in communicating their devotion to others. But,thanks to the FTC, all of these public displays of affection (“PDAs”), by employees are not without risk.
As I’ve written in previous posts, the FTC’s recent Enforcement Guidelines require employees to disclose their relationship with their employer any time they post a positive review or comment about their employer’s products or services on a social-media site. The Guidelines apply not only to employees, but also to any individual who receives compensation (whether monetary or in the form of free product or other gifts), from the subject of their positive comments.
Ann Taylor Loft was the first company to receive an enforcement letter from the FTC, following a promotional event where bloggers wrote favorably about the company’s products but failed to disclose that they had received free products.
Reverb Communications is the first employer to receive an enforcement letter for the conduct of its employees. According to the FTC, the on-line public relations firm sought to promote its clients’ gaming applications by having its employees post positive reviews on iTunes. During a nine-month period, Reverb employees gave the games 4- and 5-star reviews and posted comments such as “Amazing new game” and “ONE of the BEST.”
And perhaps they were–great games, that is. And perhaps the employees really did think that games were some of best games around. The problem, though, according to the FTC, is that the employees failed to disclose that they worked for the company that was retained to promote the games.
If the FTC’s version of the events is accurate, Reverb did more than fail to train its employees–it took affirmative steps to encourage its employees to engage in behavior that violated the Guidelines. Should employers just abandon the idea of employee engagement or stop encouraging employees to stop spreading the word about their employer’s great products or services? Not necessarily. Instead, employers need to be aware of the FTC’s guidelines and make sure that employees also are aware of what they can say, can’t say, and must say. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating–employers must have a social-media policy in place that addresses these and similar issues, and they must educate employees about the policy if they don’t want to receive a letter from the FTC.