Category Archives: FTC Endorsement Guidelines

Breaking Down The FTC’s 91 Letters About Social Media Endorsers

The FTC showed that they were taking social media endorsements seriously when they sent a series of 91 letters warning brands and endorsers alike about the need for disclosures.  45 letters were sent to brands and the remaining 46 letters were sent to the individual endorsers who posted on Instagram.  The sheer number of warning letters, 91!, coupled with the FTC showing the form letter they will use for future violations signals this issue will likely come up again for brands and organizations who aren’t following the Endorsement Guides.

The National Law Journal submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain copies of all the letters and they were successful.  I read through all 91 letters to see if there were any interesting tidbits and I’ve summarized the results so you don’t have to do the same.  Enjoy!

Product categories

Four main categories make up the majority of the 45 warning letters, with some significant overlap between some of those categories.  I broke down the products into the following categories and distinguished between them as follows:

  • Beauty – 14 letters.  Products that are marketed towards changing your appearance without some associated health benefit (which would put it in the Health category).  Admittedly, some of the products are difficult to classify between Beauty and Health.  Cosmetic goods like eyeliner fall neatly into a Beauty category, but what about a product that claims to give your body the vitamins it needs specifically so your hair doesn’t break in the winter?  I erred on the side of any health-related claim, no matter if it has clinical support or not, went into Health.  So these 14 letters, still the most of any category, are only products that make no health-related claims.
  • Fashion – 10 letters.  Clothes, shoes, and accessories.  Also includes subscription boxes that primarily have products in this category.
  • Health – 9 letters.  Products whose primary purpose is to impact your health or who make some kind of health-related claim.  Includes external health products (blister bandages), internal health (vitamins), or items that could also be considered Beauty products but are using some kind of health claim (Flat Belly Tea and Flat Tummy Tea, both have a primary Beauty purpose but use marketing around giving you more energy…I’m not making a judgment on the veracity of those claims, just how to categorize them).
  • Food – 9 letters.  Food and beverage products including subscription boxes with food products.  I also included alcohol in this category–not because I consider them food but because they are consumable goods most similar to food.  If you want to break it out then there was a single vodka product in the 45.
  • Gadgets – 1 letter.  There was a single gadget product (a hoverboard) that didn’t fit into the other categories and seemed different enough from Toys.
  • Toys – 1 letter.  There was a single toy (My Little Pony) that received a letter.
  • Retail – 1 letter.  There was a single letter to Cabela’s, an outdoor/hunting/fishing focused retailer.  The picture featured a celebrity in front of dozens of fishing poles, none of which are easily identifiable as to brand, but beneath a large sign showing the store was Cabela’s.

What to take from these data: Certainly if your brand operates in one of the categories then the FTC has shown it is potentially looking at your endorsements.  But the intentional inclusion of three categories with just a single letter is, I think, an obvious shot across the bow warning everyone that any endorsement may be scrutinized by the FTC.

Endorser engagement

To look at engagement I only looked at the number of likes or hearts (since all the posts were on Instagram) that the posts received by the time the FTC printed them to include in the letters.  While posts also received comments, those are both a more substantive form of engagement that could require further classification and, frankly, I don’t have that kind of time.  But more importantly, Instagram posts prominently show the number of Likes/Hearts a post receives while the callout for the number of comments is both lower, smaller, and in a more subtle font color than the simple engagement count.

Individually, there was a large range of endorser engagement for the posts targeted by the FTC.  The highest single engagement in a post was a video that was viewed 1.4 million times (videos on Instagram have their views displayed most prominently, Likes/Hearts are buried lower in the description for videos than for pictures).  The highest non-video engagement belonged to Jennifer Lopez for her post about Beluga Vodka (631,000).  The lowest engagement on a targeted post Belonged to Farrah Abraham for her post about TeeSpring, a t-shirt printing company (1,550).  This shows the FTC was considering a broad range of posts in terms of how effective they were in engaging with customers.  Overall, the numbers were considerable at the category level (note that some letters included multiple posts which were used for the average calculation rather than just the number of letters received):

  • Beauty Total Engagement: 2,280,364.  Average Engagement: 142,523.  If you removed the video that received 1.4 million views from this calculation (the only video post in all the FTC letters) then the total engagement drops to 880,364 and the average drops to 58,691–those numbers would significantly drop the Beauty category in these rankings.
  • Fashion Total Engagement: 1,844,686.  Average Engagement: 141,899.
  • Food Total Engagement: 1,656,756.  Average Engagement: 165,676.
  • Toys Total Engagment: 501,000.  Average Engagement: 501,000.
  • Health Total Engagement: 170,791.  Average Engagement: 17,079.
  • Retail Total Engagement: 85,800.  Average Engagement: 85,800.
  • Gadgets Total Engagement: 28,400.  Average Engagement: 28,400.

I chose to rank the product categories above in order of total engagement.  If they were ranked by average engagement then Toys would have easily led the pack.  I’m not sure if that’s the subject matter (My Little Pony is popular, after all) or the category itself.  The individual who endorsed My Little Pony, Vanessa Hudgens, is one of the few who received a warning from the FTC for multiple posts–her other endorsement for Graze Snacks only gained 269,000 Likes/Hearts, so there is something to be said for My Little Pony’s draw.

What to take from these data: The difference between the number of letters sent to brand categories versus the total and average engagement received shows that the FTC is looking at a wide variety of effectiveness when it comes to Endorsement Guideline enforcement.  Using high-profile endorsers or a series of less well-known endorsers can equally draw the FTC’s attention.  Bottom line: if your brand is considering engaging an endorser than you are probably hoping for more engagement than the minimally engaged post in the FTC’s letters (1,550); meaning you are potentially in the crosshairs.

Attempted Disclosures

The vast majority of posts the FTC took issue with made no attempt whatsoever to disclose a relationship between the endorser and the brand.  Of the 45 brands that received complaints, only 11 of them had some attempt to disclose that relationship, yet none of them were sufficient to avoid receiving the FTC letter.  The FTC has not expressly blessed any form of disclosure, the closest they have come is saying that starting a post with “#Ad:” may be sufficient.

The FTC’s form letter, customized for each violation, calls out that disclosures need to be “clear” and “conspicuous” (FTC quotes, not mine).  The FTC says this standard is met by making the disclosure unambiguous and it should stand out.  Since social media platforms such as Instagram don’t allow for text formatting, the ability for a disclosure to stand out largely depends on its placement and the context of the entire post.  That became one of many contextual elements called out by the FTC.  In a few instances noted below, the FTC added to the form letter to address attempted disclosures as inadequate.

Examples of inadequate disclosures:

  • “Thanks…”  Five of the complained about posts did contain some form of thanking the brand.  The FTC called these out as being inadequate since a satisfied customer might equally thank a brand–just a thank you to the brand did not communicate that the endorser was being paid in money or products in exchange for the post.  The FTC also noted no difference between text that thanked the brand by tagging them or just by using their name.
  • Disclosure outside visible space.  Every letter sent by the FTC mentioned that a consumer shouldn’t have to click the “More…” link to read text that couldn’t initially be loaded in order to see a disclosure.  One example violation, Shea Moisture, had so much text that the screenshot couldn’t capture all of the text–it is unknown if that post had any disclosures by the end of the text.  The standard text the FTC put in their letter mentions the first three lines of an Instagram post being visible for mobile users, strongly suggesting that’s where the FTC would like to see those disclosures.
  • “Partner.”  In two of the Instagram posts, the term #Partner (or a brand specific #fffpartner) were used in a post.  The FTC said that this hashtag is insufficient to convey that the post was sponsored.  The FTC recommended the hashtag #Compeed_Partner (that’s how they spelled it, so I think they meant #Comped_Partner although it’s interesting to note the FTC thinks “Comped” is sufficient to communicate “Compensated”) as one “more effective” option (note they did not explicitly say it would be enough, just better than what was done).  In the example of #fffpartner, the FTC suggested that “FabFitFunPartner” would be “clearer” (bringing up the same caveat as with the “more effective” option).  It is also interesting that the FTC lists a hashtag with a brand name and partner as a potential option even though that doesn’t include a specific call-out about pay/compensation.
  • Multiple hashtags.  The FTC also called out when disclosures are made surrounded by other hashtags or tags.  One example post, by Scott Disick for Pearly Whites (teeth whiteners), ended a paragraph of text accompanying his photo with the URL to the product’s website, the hashtag #nosensitivity, the disclosure hashtag #ad, and ending with another tag of the sponsoring brand’s Instagram account.  The FTC noted that the attempted disclosure here may be obscured by putting it at the end of the text and in the middle of multiple hashtags and mentions.
  • #sp.  This abbreviation for “sponsored” is likely not to be understood by consumers according to the FTC.
  • Employment and ownership.  While being paid for an endorsement is an obvious material connection to the sponsor thereby requiring a disclosure under the Endorsement Guidelines, other material relationships can exist without being explicitly paid for.  One such material connection is if you are the owner of the brand, as the FTC pointed out in their letter concerning Sean Combs’ AQUAhydrate post, a bottled water company in which Mr. Combs is a part owner.  With other FTC actions addressing employee disclosures in social media posts (the Playstation Vita case), it is clear that the FTC considers employment and ownership worth of disclosing in posts about that brand.
  • “My friend…”  Although not expressly called out in a letter customization, one post in the batch attempted to reference the sponsoring brand as being a friend of the endorser.  This was insufficient as a disclosure.

What to take from this: The FTC has still never provided a clear way to disclose an endorsement. They have, instead, taken shots at attempts to disclose and have hinted at various techniques that might be more effective at disclosing a relationship, but nothing so concrete as “If you say X then you have met your obligations under the Endorsement Guidelines.”  These letters still don’t get us to a place where brands know exactly what to do, but we’re getting closer by knowing what methods are not sufficient.  If your disclosure program isn’t exceeding these complained-about tactics listed above then you need to up your disclosure game.

Perceived Endorsements

One post in the batch of letters caught my attention in the list.  The FTC sent letters to both the Dunkin’ Brands Group (owner of Dunkin’ Donuts) and Heidi Klum over the following post (poor quality because grabbed from the PDF):

I thought the inclusion of this post was a bit strange because I wasn’t sure if it was an actual endorsement.  Yes, Ms. Klum is sitting behind a very obvious cup showing the Dunkin’ Donuts marks.  But she is doing so because the picture was taken on the set of America’s Got Talent (AGT), a talent competition show with which I am familiar mostly because my 11-year-old son loves it.  Dunkin’ Donuts sponsors the cups that sit on the judges’ table during episodes–in previous years the cups have been sponsored by other brands.

While it is entirely possible that Dunkin’ Donuts, in addition to whatever deal they made with the AGT producers for cup branding, also made a deal with Ms. Klum for her to post this picture.  It is also possible that Ms. Klum, in the middle of doing a job that she has posted behind the scenes photos from in the past, just did another picture and took advantage of the fact that most fans of the shows would recognize the cup and know that she was on set (which can also be made out in the background, although not easily).  The text accompanying this original post, “Guess what I am doing today,” makes no mention of the Dunkin’ brand or even something tangentially related to the beverage itself.

Ms. Klum responded to the FTC letter by taking down the original picture and posting this cropped version with a new, telling caption:

“This is NOT a sponsored Dunkin Donut post … and I did NOT get paid for this!!!” You can tell she’s serious because it has three exclamation points.

What to take from this: When it comes to social media influencers and celebrities, any inclusion of a brand could raise the suspicion of a paid-for endorsement.  There’s little you can do from the brand perspective to prevent these kinds of posts (in fact, you’re not so secretly hoping you get them) but to avoid upsetting the FTC it would be an excellent idea to have a strong disclosure program for the endorsements your brand does pay for.  Then when the rare unpaid, innocent endorsement comes along you can point to your existing program as support for your claim that this was not the kind of post that requires a disclosure.

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So You Want To See A Social Media Law Final? (2017 Edition)

It’s that special time of year again when I have just submitted the final grades for my Law & Social Media class at the University of Texas School of Law.  Hard to believe that I’ve been teaching it for five years now but every year brings something new to the area.  This year’s exam was inspired by some recent events, the Gabbing Geek podcast, and a few too many detective movies (well, really, all the Dresden Files books).  How would you have done?

Question One

She keeps looking out the dirty windows to make sure her Tesla isn’t being broken into. Your office is in that part of town, a part that she normally won’t be caught dead in. But here she is now.

“Mind if I smoke?” she asks, tapping on a silver cigarette holder that you thought only existed in black and white hard-boiled detective films.

“Yeah.” You toss your thumb to point at the giant “NO SMOKING” sign on the wall behind you. Right next to the “Social Media Fixer, Inc.” sign you used to hang on the outside door but too many people kept marking it up.

“They said you could help me,” she says in disbelief. Looking around the threadbare office, she looks like she’s been the victim of an online prank.

“Maybe,” you tell her. “Don’t judge me by the offices. I’m a big deal on Instagram. That was a joke.” You offer the last part because you’re not sure if she’s ever heard a joke, judging on the look she’s giving you. Or maybe you’re just telling it wrong.

“Fine,” she settles back into her chair. An impressive feat because you know how uncomfortable that chair feels. “I run an incredibly successful social media platform called Modular Academic Dreams Exist, Uniquely Personal. But everyone just calls it MADE-UP. We have hundreds of millions of users around the world. We allow them to share content with each other, interact with their friends’ posts, and even schedule events.”

“So, like Facebook,” you respond.

“Yes, but MADE-UP. Anyway, when we first launched we had one sentence for our Terms of Use: ‘Be cool.’ But now we realize that we need a more…robust document.”

“Might help,” you offer.

“Right. But I’m really not sure where to start. And I need to convince my Board of Directors to make the change. Could you give me some advice? Maybe start with three of the most important parts of the Terms of Use we should create, and some kind of strategy for rolling out those changes? Something I can take back to my Board because…” she glances out the window, “I doubt they’ll want to come here.”

“No problem,” you tell her. She leaves. You crack your knuckles and start typing.

Question Two

Six months later, the MADE-UP CEO is back in the uncomfortable chair. She left the Tesla at home this time, electing to take a taxi since Uber and Lyft still haven’t come back to this part of town. She looks about as comfortable as last time but just the fact that she’s back means you gave her good advice and she knows it.“Those Terms you wrote are great,” she says. “Okay, more than great. They’ve

“Those Terms you wrote are great,” she says. “Okay, more than great. They’ve really helped us out of some problems and our outside counsel say that without those Terms we would’ve been in a lot of trouble.” You try not to look too hurt to discover she’s hired other lawyers.

“But the one argument our other lawyers” ouch “keep facing is when users claim they never saw the new Terms. So we want to make a giant, splashy campaign all around the Terms. We don’t just want people to see them—we want them to WANT to see them!

“So I came up with a plan and everyone tells me it’s brilliant,” she smiles. Probably because you’re the CEO, I think, but wisely don’t say. She continues, “I want you to give me some honest feedback. It’s a two part plan.

“First, I want to create a graphic novel out of our Terms of Use. We’ll hire artists to create pages that copy other comic books, only instead of people talking or thinking or whatever they do in comic books, it’ll be our Terms instead. Since the pages will look like the most famous comic book heroes everyone will want to read it. We’ll use all the best heroes: Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Madame Xanadu—the true icons of the industry!

“And then second, we’ll do something similar but with video. I know some digital artists who say they can take video clips from the hottest movies and TV shows and then alter the characters’ lips to show them reading our Terms. We’ll hire some celebrity impersonators to do the characters voices so it’ll look like these people in The Walking Dead or The Magicians or Better Call Saul are reading our Terms!”

You grimace. She notices.

“What?” she asks. “Tell me what’s wrong with that plan. Or tell me what works. Just tell me!”

You take a deep breath and tell her what you’ve been thinking.

Question Three

Another six months, another taxi drops off the MADE-UP CEO at your doorstep. Well, your landlord’s doorstep. She eyes the chair warily before sitting back down in it. You’ve been meaning to get a more comfortable chair. But you haven’t.

“I should have come to you sooner,” she starts. “Especially since you’ve given me such great advice before. But I’ve learned my lesson. We fired our General Counsel over this mess—help us fix this problem and the job is yours. I’m guessing it pays…” she adjusts herself in the uncomfortable chair, “Slightly more than your current wages.

“Our marketing team started working with the most influential users on our platform. People with tens of thousands of followers. We would connect those users with brands wanting to promote their products. It was a win-win situation, the marketing team told me.”

“Marketers,” you nod knowingly.

“Right. So we had this program. Brands pay us a few thousand dollars, we pass most of that money along to the users, and the users would post pictures and videos of themselves using the products. And we would help promote that content by giving it preferential viewing for anyone on our MADE-UP platform.

“About a dozen of the brands and the influential users in the program got some letter from the FTC. And now those brands are upset with us because we never told them about some need to disclose? Is that really a thing? I guess it is.

“Now we need to change our program so that our brand partners and influential users are following the disclosure rules. I need you to draft some kind of rules or communications or training or something so that I can make everyone understand what they need to do.

“Tell me what to do for our brands, for our users, and for my marketing department. Fix this and you’ll be our new General Counsel.”

You stand up and remove the “Social Media Fixer, Inc.” sign from the wall. You won’t be needing it anymore after you give her your advice.

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So You Want To See A Social Media Law Final? (2016 Edition)

Hamilton-Poster

Cower before my mad shop skillz.

Another year in my Law & Social Media class is in the books at the University of Texas School of Law.  Having just submitted my grades today, I’m now pleased to share with you this year’s final exam.  I had to look around for the right inspiration for this year’s final, only to realize it’s been staring at me for over 15 months.  Let me know in the comments what you think, or what issues you spotted in the final exam.

And now, the final exam:

QUESTION ONE

Your dream has come true. Not only have you passed the Bar but you have landed a job with famed Broadway production company Eat The Cheesecake! (ETC). ETC is getting ready to launch a new hip-hop musical about a little known figure from American history: President James A. Garfield. Garfield: An American Musical has been anticipated by theater goers and critics alike for months. The cast has been intensely rehearsing and they are quickly approaching the first few performances.

Although the musical theater crowd all knows about Garfield, ETC management is concerned that few people generally know about President Garfield. The original poster for the production, a picture of the actual President Garfield, tested poorly with focus groups because nobody recognized the photo. To develop a poster that would appeal to more people, ETC launched a pair of contests to come up with a new, consumer friendly mascot that could be the marketing face of the musical. They launched these contests one month before they hired you and they are now about to close.

The first contest allowed individuals to upload an image of the proposed new mascot. The second contest allowed individuals to submit names for the mascot. The online crowd quickly responded with thousands of entries. Unfortunately, despite the high volume, more than 99% of entries in the first contest consisted of a well-known cartoon cat by the name of Garfield. While over 99% of the entries for the second contest all named the new mascot “Garfield McGarfieldface.”

ETC doesn’t want to use these images or name and want to know their options. They eagerly point out to you that, really, they can do whatever they want because it won’t break the rules–they didn’t post any rules for the contests. They just said the winning entries would get a pair of tickets to the show every week for a year (a prize with an approximate retail value of $15,000). ETC would like you to brief them on what their options are for moving forward with the contests and, if they want to run any more contests in the future, what they should keep in mind when creating new promotions.

QUESTION TWO

ETC firmly believes that if they can just get people to hear about some of the exciting aspects of President Garfield’s life then everyone will want to buy tickets to their new musical. To get that message to the masses, their head of Marketing has decided to create a program called Garfield Lovers And Supporters And Generally Nice Announcers (LASAGNA).

Participants in this program would be selected based on their sizable social media following. They would then be invited to a special performance of the musical and they would all leave the show with a collection of pictures and interesting facts about the cast and crew. Program participants would then be instructed to post about the show on social media. For every post LASAGNA members make on social media platforms, ETC will pay the author $10. If the post receives over a thousand interactions (comments, shares, or simple interactions such as Likes) then the author will receive a bonus $20 in celebration of President Garfield being the 20th President of the United States.

ETC has already identified 200 potential influencers for this program–one for every day President Garfield was in office. The only requirement they want to impose upon the participants is that every post needs to have a link to a website where people can buy tickets to the musical.

The head of Marketing would like to know if there are any potential legal concerns over the Garfield LASAGNA program and, if so, how they could be corrected.

QUESTION THREE

Based on your advice with both the contests and the LASAGNA program, Garfield has now been open for a month and the crowds love it. Ticket prices have soared, the cast are swarmed every time they visit a convenience store, and you are officially sold out for the next six months.

One downside to the sudden popularity of the show is the amount of pirated material that is showing up online (YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram mostly). Audience members have been recording some of the songs from Garfield such as “Rosencrans’ Right-Hand Man,” “The Election of 1880,” and “I’ve Been Shot!” While ETC loves their fans’ enthusiasm, the online videos are grainy, shaky, and with horrible audio quality typical of a pirated video from a smartphone. ETC is afraid people might see these videos and think badly of the show.

The cast is also unhappy at seeing so many phones being used during the show and would like for something to be done about it. But the cast is also loving the attention from their fans. One of the stars of the show, Keslie Otum Sr., has said that he would like to schedule some live streams from behind the scenes using Periscope. The live streams would mostly be about hidden details from the show that audience members can’t see, but he’d also like to stream what the cast does backstage when the show is being performed—especially their now nightly ritual of everyone getting together right before the show and singing an inspired cover of “Baby Got Back.”

ETC would like you to let them know what their options are concerning the videos being posted online by audience members and what they should tell Keslie about his live streaming idea.

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Oh Hey, Want To See A Great Social Media Law Final Answer?

Final-examsThis is the fourth year I’ve taught my Social Media Law class at the University of Texas School of Law and each year I’ve posted the final exam here on the blog.  I’ll be doing the same for this year’s exam later in the week, but I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before: post a model answer.  I presented this answer to the class this year after getting permission from the writer, the top score in the final and class last year.  Worth Carroll wrote the answer so all credit to him.  If you want to re-read the questions he’s answering, here is the final exam from that year.

Would you have answered differently?  When I went over the answer in class there were certainly points that came up that weren’t in this answer, and this answer also had points that the class hadn’t considered as well.  Taking a law school exam is always a difficult task so it’s hard to say what you could do in the three hour situation, but this was a fantastic set of answers to the questions.  Take a read after the break and see if you agree.

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So You Want To See A Social Media Law Final? (2015 Edition)

Readers who were smart enough not to attend law school (congrats on that!) may not realize that a law school final is serious business.  The vast majority of your classes during those three years will have you reading and discussing cases and listening to a professor for an entire semester; then you get one test and that’s your grade.  No repeats.  No making it up down the road.  One and done.  Scary stuff.

Readers of this (increasingly infrequent, sorry) blog also know that I teach a class on Social Media Law at the University of Texas School of Law.  This past year was the third time I offered the class and it’s always interesting to see the issues that have emerged from year to year or even during the year I’m teaching.  I also spend a lot of time thinking about the final, both because I want it to be interested and because I want the students to have ample opportunity to show what they’ve learned over the entire semester.

Below is the final from my 2015 class.  (Here’s the final from last year and here’s the final from 2013 if you’re curious.)  I wanted to post it now to give you some time to think about it (or discuss in the comments).  Later I’ll post what ended up being the top grade in the class’ answer (yes, I asked for and received permission to post it).

Before I get into the text of the final, let me thank the inspiration for elements of these questions: my work SMaC team for pulling social media lessons from the movie Chef, the movie Real Genius, my youngest son Isaac who thinks “Poo-poo” is the funniest word ever (he’s not wrong), and many real world examples that I tweaked for this exam.

And now, the final exam:

QUESTION ONE

Fresh out of law school and after passing your Bar exam, you are quickly snapped up by a hot new company called Pop-Up Pop-Ups (PU2).  PU2 has a unique business model where they partner with other companies to create mobile marketing experiences.  In the past, PU2 has worked with a volleyball company to hold an impromptu volleyball tournament in the middle of a city block.  PU2 has also worked with fashion companies to hold flash mob style runway shows in unexpected locations such as rooftops and swimming pools.  PU2 prides itself in organizing events that shock its audience and get people talking.

PU2 picks the locations for its events by identifying certain key social media users and targeting an experience around this individual, hoping that the individual will then be the origin for a cascade of social media posts that gets the word out about the event.

The CEO of PU2, Mr. Knowslittle, lets his staff handle the social media elements of the business.  This past year he saw the movies Chef and Catfish and now thinks social media might be a risky area for him but he knows his team relies on social media to conduct their business.  He has asked you to advise him on any practical or legal risks his business might face due to social media and to put them in perspective with the potential benefits his company could receive.  Since he has never used any social media platforms but really enjoyed the movies Chef and Catfish, he would like you to use examples from these movies to help illustrate your points.

Compose an email to your CEO advising him about his company’s social media risks and potential rewards.

QUESTION TWO

PU2’s latest marketing stunt involved building a giant pyramid in Times Square.  An actor wearing sun-god robes stood on the top of the pyramid while a hundred other actors stood at the base of the pyramid and threw little pickles at the sun-god.  Your CEO is unclear what this event was supposed to promote but it did receive a lot of attention on social media.

During the event, the well-known action movie star Arnold Schwarzeblecher (“Arnie” for short), was filming Total Recall 2: Totaller Recall nearby.  Seeing all the commotion, he came to Times Square and proceeded to take part in the event.  He laughed, he cried, he said it was better than Cats as he stood and threw little pickles.  Several bystanders saw Arnie participating in the event and they all took pictures and videos and posted their content to social media.

When Arnie returned to his trailer he had several urgent messages from his public relations team.  They saw all the posted content and, even worse, so did a number of entertainment websites who are now running articles that Arnie is working with PU2 to promote…whatever the pickle throwing event was supposed to promote.

Arnie’s team is demanding you pull down all content using Arnie’s image.  Your CEO, Mr. Knowslittle, has received some of these demands as well.  Not only does he want to keep the content up but he’d also like to start posting some of these pictures and videos directly from all PU2 social media accounts (“Whatever those are,” he says, because he still doesn’t really get it).

Compose an email to your CEO addressing the demands from Arnie’s public relations team as well as Mr. Knowslittle’s desire to post this content from PU2 accounts.

QUESTION THREE

Your CEO, Mr. Knowslittle, has sent the head of Human Resources to speak to you about an employee matter.  The Marketing Department had extended an offer to a new Event Manager, Helen Clueless, a week ago.  Helen accepted the offer almost immediately and the team had been thrilled to bring in their newest team mate.

Some of Helen’s strengths which carried her through the interview process were her extensive social media skills and ability to build online communities.  She had built her personal brand on Twitter and had an account with over 20,000 followers at the time of her interviews.  The hiring manager, unsure of how to handle Helen’s Twitter account during the interview, was especially careful not to read the content of Helen’s tweets and ensured that everyone involved in the hiring process did the same.

After the Times Square pickle throwing, Helen tweeted out several messages that are highly critical of PU2.  Some examples include:

  • I cannot believe I’m starting a job next week with this company. #picklethrowing
  • Sure, the job pays well, but am I going to work on stupid events like this for the rest of my life? #picklethrowing #worstjobever
  • Please, Twitterverse, find me a job before I start working for these morons. #picklethrowing #willworkfortweets
  • Just wish my last gig hadn’t fired me for that drug bust. #justpot #legalizeit

The last tweet caught the attention of HR in particular and they then reviewed the content of her Twitter account.  They discovered dozens of tweets referencing drug use and other behaviors that are clear violations of your Code of Conduct.

To make matters worse, now other people are starting to reply to Helen’s tweets and including PU2, asking your company if they really hired someone who is just going to insult her employer before she even starts her job.  HR would like to know what options they have regarding Helen.

Compose an email to your head of HR and CEO advising them on what they can do about Helen and if there is anything they should change in their hiring practices to mitigate this risk in the future.

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My Awesome Announcement

I hate tooting my own horn but this is one of the proudest moments in my still short social media law career.  Please forgive the somewhat staged presentation but those who know me know that if I’m going to tell a story I need to make it interesting.

I was at the University of Texas Co-op’s law school location last week browsing the Nutshell books.  (Go with me, people.)  For those of you not in the legal profession, congrats on that by the way, know that the Nutshell series is put out by West Academic (one of the biggest names, if not the biggest name, in the legal publishing world) and is a fantastic resource for an overview of legal issues in a particular topic.  They aren’t casebooks–larger books with often edited cases to look at judicial rulings on certain areas.  Nutshells get right to the point and provide essential information on the overall legal topic.  I used more than one when I was in law school and as a practicing attorney.

But I noticed something was missing from the Nutshell section.  Can you spot it?

Can you spot what's missing?

Can you spot what’s missing?

That’s right, there’s no Social Media Law in a Nutshell.

Let’s fix that, shall we?

I’m proud to announce that I will be writing Social Media Law in a Nutshell for West Academic.  My co-author, Thaddeus Hoffmeister, is a professor of law at the University of Dayton School of Law and has previously published a book on social media in the courtroom.  His knowledge of social media litigation, evidence uses, and applicability in criminal cases will combine with my information on the marketing, content, employment and other social media uses to make this a comprehensive review of social media across all legal channels.

Doing this as a Nutshell book feels perfect right now.  There isn’t a wealth of case law on social media issues, but there are certainly cases out there.  In some areas the most fascinating legal issues are taking place outside of a courtroom so a Nutshell allows us to cover those topics in ways a casebook couldn’t.  Plus, when the movie rights get picked up we all agree that Hugh Jackman can play me.  He’s just a more talented and better looking version of me who can also sing and dance and has a better accent.  The resemblance is uncanny.

I’m not sure when the book will be released but it certainly won’t be until 2015 at the earliest.  Rest assured I’ll let you all know as the process unfolds.

Yesterday I published the 100th blog post here on SoMeLaw Thoughts.  When I look back at how much has changed in social media since I started writing about it, not just my own professional involvement, it’s staggering.  I feel incredibly lucky to take this journey and contribute to the field as well as participate in a line of books that I personally value.  To join the ranks of the Nutshell books blows my mind.

Thanks to all of my readers and friends on social media who have pushed/pulled/heckled me along the way.  An even bigger thanks to my family for putting up with my little side projects.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do.

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Wish I Was Legal

It’s a movie.

I’m a social media law geek.  I have long accepted this fact and it shouldn’t be a revelation to you since you’re, you know, reading a blog about social media law.  So nobody should be surprised that when I attended a movie premiere for Wish I Was Here last week and everyone took out their smartphones to take pictures of Zach Braff and Donald Faison I, instead, took pictures of the disclosure form and privacy warning.  Because I’m geek like that.

I was a backer of Mr Braff’s Kickstarter campaign and paid to get two tickets to the Austin premiere and Q&A session.  I am not a superfan of Mr. Braff–I thought Garden State was okay and I only watched a season or two of Scrubs–but I do think he’s a talented actor and saw him perform in Twelfth Night at Shakespeare in the Park.  I was also intrigued by the Kickstarter project, being the first high publicity original movie to be funded after Veronica Mars.  I sent my money, read the updates, and watched the backlash roll in with curiousity.

There were four items of interest that struck me regarding social media law at the movie premiere.  I’m going to tell you three of them.  Just kidding, here’s all four.

photo 11. The release form

I’ve enclosed a picture of the consent and release form that all attendees were required to sign prior to entering the theater.  Much of it is standard for a movie screening where filming will take place if they may use the footage for behind the scenes featurettes.  But the item that jumped out to me is the item IN BOLD ALL CAPS.  Because, you know, that’s what bold all caps is supposed to do.

That text reads

I agree that to the extent I make any statements about the content including via social media or other public forums (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc.) that such statements (“Statements”)…IF THE STATEMENT IS MADE ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR ANOTHER PUBLIC ON-LINE FORUM, I WILL DISCLOSE NEXT TO MY STATEMENT(S) THE MATERIAL CONNECTION BETWEEN MYSELF AND FOCUS FEATURES (I.E. I SAW THE PICTURE FOR FREE AT AN ADVANCE SCREENING

This statement is for participants to comply with the FTC Endorsement Guidelines.  They’re even explicitly called out in the next sentence of the release but they aren’t IN BOLD ALL CAPS so you might have missed it.

That’s a great call-out for such a long release form.  It may be the only sentence you actually read if you’re handed this page and given a minute to sign before getting out of the hot Texas sun into the air conditioned theater.  Although I may quibble with some technicalities (I paid for the tickets via Kickstarter so it wasn’t free, and I paid Zach Braff’s group not Focus) I’m a professional quibbler so I’m willing to focus on the positive.  A good call-out for a venture they know will get mentioned on social media.

photo 22. The consent sign

This sign was posted inside the theater before you could get to the orchestra seating and visible from the stairs leading to the balcony.  While I understand the need for something like this, heck I’ve drafted a few in my career, I also think this sign goes a bit overboard.  First, the release was already in the signed form that everyone had to fill out before they got inside so this is duplicative at best–but as a lawyer I can appreciate having multiple points where consent was gained just in case a lawsuit comes up (especially after DVDs have been produced).

I take less issue with the repetition than I do with the scope–while the signed form seems more targeted in the consent, this poster goes a bit overboard.  Sure, it’s easier to print a sign with less language like YOU GIVE ME ALL THE RIGHTS! RAWR! it also goes beyond the scope of the event.  According to this sign, Focus Features can now use my photograph to publicize an entirely different movie or event and that doesn’t help anyone.

I don’t think Focus would use my photo to publicize a different movie, mostly because I thoroughly enjoyed Reign of Fire and therefore have horrible taste in movies, but also because this is more likely just a defensive consent.  If someone were to sue for being on the DVD then the company has a signed release form and this poster to use in their defense.

Still, even though I may be the only person who read this sign (and definitely the only one to take a picture of it), I have to wonder what would happen if someone took issue with the consent.  I paid for the tickets to the premiere–that’s what the Kickstarter event promised me.  There is some general language in the Kickstarter campaign that if a reward conflicts with laws they’ll work to give you a substitute, but it isn’t a conflict of law for me to attend without giving consent to filming.  Just a small thought–perhaps they had a special area reserved for non-consenting audience members or they figured the odds were so low of this being an issue it wasn’t worth developing a plan.  I just find that kind of thing interesting.

3. The backlash

During the Q&A session after the film, one man asked Mr. Braff if he experienced any backlash over the funding.  The response was along the lines of “Where have you been?  Did you contribute and then go off-line for a year?  Did you just land from the space station and thought, ‘Hey, I can still make the premiere!'”  It was funny and the audience’s reaction showed they were all aware of the backlash as well.

The answer was interesting as well.  Mr. Braff explained how his world is all about getting films financed and when something is your world you unrealistically expect that other people will know something about that world.  So when the backlash started rolling in about the Kickstarter project he suddenly realized that people didn’t really understand how films are financed and why Kickstarter could help him.  So that was a lesson learned, but ultimately something he wasn’t concerned about since his fans and other interested parties did back him and that mattered more.

Mr. Braff did express some concern over the backlash regarding Kickstarter itself–specifically that people attacked him for taking money away from other Kickstarter projects that could use the money more.  He said that Kickstarter was quiet at first but later spoke up saying that high publicity projects like this do draw attention to the platform and ultimately bring in new users who end up funding more projects–the net being more money shared with more projects.  I can’t find a link to Kickstarter’s statement but that makes sense and is also probably a lesson learned for future high publicity projects.

4. Reflecting on the social world

At the end of the Q&A session, Mr. Braff and Mr. Faison sang “Guy Love” as a special treat to the audience.  They said it had been a while since they performed it and don’t get a lot of opportunities to sing it together so everyone should record it.  And so they did.  This was my view of the song:

photo

Working in social media I often take for granted the world of information and connections we have at our fingertips.  But every once in a while it strikes home.  When I looked at the event before my eyes I wasn’t watching the stage, I was looking at all those phones.  Yes, in my head I realized everyone probably has one, but it takes events like these for that to sink in sometime.  Seeing everyone recording the event, having their own perspective and building their own memories and being able to share it with all of their friends as well.

That’s awesome.  That’s social media.

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