FTC Guidelines for Health Leaders

If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen sponsored ads and posts from people promoting all sorts of products, services, and offerings. From celebrities and influencers to bloggers and Youtubers, people endorse things all the time.

But did you know that there are rules and regulations about disclosure and honesty that endorsement posts need to follow?

This is where the FTC guidelines come into play. You may have zero connection with a brand and choose to endorse a product or service of your own free will. But in other circumstances, you might have a relationship with the company that you are speaking about. And that includes healthcare companies who partner with patients to promote drugs, treatments, or therapies to their audiences.

In this article, we break down the information you need to know to stay on the right side of the law while endorsing services and products online and on social media.

What is the FTC?

The FTC stands for the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is the consumer protection agency in the United States. It is responsible for protecting consumers by enforcing laws and regulations related to fair competition, antitrust, and consumer protection in all kinds of industries, including the healthcare industry.1

What are the FTC Guidelines?

The FTC guidelines help to make sure that people and organizations who provide industry-related information and services are transparent about their financial interests and relationships. These guidelines are designed to protect consumers from potential conflicts of interest and help them make informed decisions.

The FTC guidelines are in place to protect people on both sides – the consumer and the endorser. As a Health Leader, you must follow the FTC guidelines. Knowing the FTC guidelines is a skill all Health Leaders and patient advocates should have.

Why disclosure matters in healthcare

Disclosure is important because it helps to protect the public by ensuring that information and recommendations are based on the best interests of the patient rather than the financial interests of the Health Leader. When patient advocates follow these guidelines, they foster trust and credibility with their audience, which is paramount in the healthcare industry.

Who needs to disclose?

Disclosure about a partnership with an organization or brand is vital. You are required to include a disclosure if you are being paid to:2

  • Endorse or provide a testimonial about a product, or
  • Write a review about a product that you have received at no charge.

You must also include a disclosure if you are a relative or employee of the marketer.

When do you disclose?

Let’s say you have no brand relationship and are just telling people about a product you bought and happen to like. In that case, you do not need to declare that you don’t have a brand relationship. However, if you do, it’s important to share with your audience.

According to the FTC Guidelines, you must disclose if:2

  • You have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand.
  • If a brand gives you free or discounted products or other perks and then you mention one of its products, make a disclosure even if you weren’t asked to mention that product.

Other things to keep in mind:2

  • Brand partnerships don’t always mean money is exchanged. Disclose the relationship if you got anything of value (free product, for example) to mention a product.
  • Don’t assume your audience already knows about your brand partnerships.
  • Even if you think your opinions are unbiased, make the disclosure clear and honest.
  • Remember that tags, likes, pins, and similar ways of showing you like a brand or product are also seen as endorsements.
  • If posting from outside the US, the law still applies. And foreign laws might also apply.

How do you disclose?

First and foremost, be upfront and clear with your audience. Don’t deceive your network with confusing, misleading information. Always remember, your endorsements must represent an actual experience – so be honest and transparent.

Also, make sure that disclosures are clear and easy to understand. Here are some reminders:

  • Make sure any disclosure statement is in a font that is easy to read.
  • Make sure it is in a shade that stands out against the background. For example, avoid using white text on a white background.
  • For video, keep any disclosure statement on the screen long enough for it to be noticed, read, and understood.
  • For audio, read at a cadence that is easy for listeners to follow and in words people will understand.

What are some acceptable ways to disclose?

There are plenty of ways you can choose to disclose ethically and practically. Here are some ideas to consider.

For Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, put the following in your captions:

  • Lead with “Ad:” or “Sponsored”
  • Lead with #Ad or #Sponsored
  • Affiliate link: _______
  • Sponsored link: ________
  • NOTE: Using the abbreviated hashtag #spon is not sufficient. Spell it out instead: #sponsored

For videos and Youtube:

  • Include disclosure at the beginning of the video.
  • Disclosure statements must be in your video. It cannot just be written in the description.
  • NOTE: If the video reflects an influencer’s opinions or beliefs about a product and they have a relationship with the company, then it is an endorsement.

The bottom line: When in doubt, disclose

We hope these tips help you understand the basics of the FTC Guidelines in endorsing products and services from brands and companies. If you have questions, consider taking the Social Health Network’s course that goes through the FTC Guidelines in more detail.