01 Oct 2019

Has Social Media Influenced How You Manage Your Compliance?

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been monitoring the role of influencers and how they interact with consumers since at least 2017.  In 2018, they began issuing letters to influencers for failing to meet advertising requirements in their sponsored posts, and in June 2019, the FTC (along with the FDA) issued 4 warning letters directly to the sponsors of similarly concerning posts.  The June 2019 posts were flagged for violating the FD&C Act, misbranding their products, and deceptive marketing: the ads were missing mandated warnings, and failed to disclose the influencer's relationship.

The past 20 years have seen a huge change in the different media we use to communicate, and the ways your company uses them to interact with the public are much more complicated.  It's a treacherous tightrope: if everything goes smoothly, you can reach a huge audience and may reap incredible benefits – but if you slip, even if it's not your fault, the fail video will be going viral less than an hour later.

But like a tightrope walker's harness or balancing pole, you likely have your own communication safety systems in place.  With branding guidelines, approval matrixes and other quality processes, you're probably feeling quite secure, but when was the last time you reviewed them?  Like safety harnesses, quality processes can "expire" if they aren't kept up to date with how you are communicating.  If they fall too far behind, they may fail to follow your project all the way through to the end – the equivalent of wearing a harness but never attaching it to an anchor point.

Do your current processes consider the following?

  • Are you aware of all of the channels with which your organization communicates with the public?
  • Do all of the people who communicate outwardly realize that they may have an obligation to communicate information back to the company?
  • Do you have a clear delineation between advertisements and other communications?  Remember, advertisements have extra legal requirements.  Does the FTC agree with your definitions?
  • Do you have a protocol specifically for working with social media influencers?
  • Are your approved messages being abbreviated or otherwise modified by outside sources before they reach the public?
  • Are you confident your company isn't making any unintentional claims through uncontrolled channels?

If any of the above questions made you uneasy, it may be time to revisit your processes.  The FTC's 4 June warning letters are likely only the tip of the iceberg – don't let your company be part of the next batch.  Your brand should be constantly managed, and that means identifying the resources required to protect you and focusing on systemic risk mitigation through policies, processes, and best practices as you navigate through changes in technology and communication; whatever the form of communication.   It is important to bring your products to market with transparency, and brand alignment, as it will result in the best possible consumer experience.


Wesley Chen,
Director, Product Assurance
Health, Environmental & Regulatory Services (HERS)


Today's expert blogger, Wesley Chen, manages our global quality assurance team within Product Assurance. He has led advisory and implementation projects across all of the industries that Intertek operates (i.e. automotive, packaging, consumer goods, cosmetics, mining, etc.), and he has worked with and advises several companies from multi-billion dollar retailers to small family owned businesses.

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