Employees' Online Endorsement of Company Products
Employees who endorse company products online must identify themselves -- or your company could be liable for misleading customers.
Can your employees endorse your company's products online? This issue might come into play if your company sells its products on websites that allow users to comment or review the products -- sites like Amazon, for example. Or if your company appears on online review sites like Yelp. Or if your company's products are discussed on user boards, blogs, and/or social networking sites. If this is the case with your company, you need to make sure that employees always identify themselves -- and their relationship to your company -- if they post content about (or reviews of) your company's products.
In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal government agency that regulates deceptive advertising and other consumer protection matters, issued regulations governing endorsements and testimonials about products, including statements that appear online. The purpose of these rules is to make sure consumers fully understand the relationship between the person making the endorsement and the product that's being endorsed, so people can make informed decisions about how much weight to give the endorser's statement. A statement by an actor or a paid spokesperson probably isn't as credible as a statement by an actual user of the product, for example. Simply put, the FTC rules seek to shine a clear light on the nature of the relationship between the product and the person raving about it.
What do these rules have to do with employee posts? If employees post anything about your company's products online, they must identify themselves as employees of the company. The FTC has said that an employment relationship is the type of connection that a consumer would want to know about in evaluating product endorsements. (The FTC gives the example of an employee secretly promoting their company's playback devices on an online message board for enthusiasts of music download technology.) So your policy must tell employees that, if they post reviews or other types of statements about company products, they must be upfront about their relationship to the company.
Sample Policy Language
Your company should have a policy on social networking and other online posts by employees. (To learn why, and find out what should be in such a policy, see Nolo's article Employee Posts on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Blogs.) Given the FTC's guidance, your policy should also address posts that could be considered endorsements of a company's products or services. Here is some sample language you can adapt for use in your company. As you can see, it not only tells employee what not to do, but also explains the reason for the rule, which is often the best way to encourage employee compliance.
Posts About Company Products or Services
Do not engage in covert marketing for the Company or its products or services. If you post anything about a product or service our Company sells, you must identify yourself as a Company employee. You are legally required to identify your employment relationship if it might be relevant to a consumer's decision to patronize our Company, or your failure to do so could be misleading to readers. This means, for example, that employees may not post anonymous online reviews of Company products, or any review that fails to identify the poster as an employee of the Company.
Need to know more about technology policies? Pick up a copy of Nolo's Smart Policies for Workplace Technologies, by Lisa Guerin (Nolo). It's full of guidance and sample policy language governing employee use of email, smart phones, social networking sites, and much more.