Is squeaky clean for FTC next wave in social media branding? Hope so.

If you find it hard to trust the product information you find through the blogs, Twitter feeds and video of the Web, then the full transparency mission of Cmp.ly will resonate with you. If you are a brand playing wait-and-see on social media marketing because you fear regulation, Cmp.ly might be  a solution for you.

Cmp.ly makes it easy for a brand to signal the presence of a material connection — payment of any sort— between itself, bloggers and other digital producers through a system called iconic compliance. Using Cmp.ly,  a brand sets up an iconic tag  at the beginning of a social media campaign and then invites its influencers to participate. All social media elements materially connected to the brand running that campaign — from Tweets to blogs — clearly signal the degree of their relationship — from promo to sponsorship — by using the appropriate icon. Consumers will see immediately whether a blog post, Tweet or video is materially connected.

Cmp.ly was created as a solution when the FTC updated  its guidelines related to testimonials and endorsements Oct. 5, 2009, extending them to the digital sphere.

Industry observers say the FTC update  was past due.

“The FTC has not done a terrific job of protecting consumers,” said Joe Cappo, who was a publisher for 20 years at Crain Communications, and who now consults and teaches at DePaul University, Chicago. “There are no rules to govern all this stuff. “

“When a media becomes as important as network television, I think someone needs to step in and set up the ground rules. “

“I believe that a lot of bad information creates the demand for good information,” Cappo said. “There are too many bloggers who don’t care, who are just doing it to make money or to make trouble. Can we regulate it? It would be very difficult.“

The FTC update caused an uproar among bloggers at the time. Some felt the Internet rules  stomped on their rights to free speech and they criticized the rules for being impossible to implement.

Internet marketer and social media guru Chris Brogan responded  to the FTC by calling out to bloggers to provide voluntary full disclosure.  Brogan’s marketing company specializes in developing social media marketing campaigns for brands. At the same time, a blog disclosurepolicy.org was launched to help bloggers  develop their own full disclosure rules – the site has not been updated recently.

“Traditionally journalists had certain ethical standards to abide by, while Joe Shmo on the street — did not necessarily,” said Daliah Saper, a Chicago-based attorney at a recent session on the FTC rules at Social Media Week Chicago. “The traditional definition of journalists does not exist necessarily any more and that is why the new media guidelines were added,” she added.

But brands, not blogs, are the focus of FTC scrutiny and the solutions developed by Cmp.ly meet FTC regulations exactly, said Ruth Wagner, VP Sales/Shareholder for the company who was also present at the Social Media Week session.

Wagner says cmp.ly is the only commercial solution available and that it is at the vanguard of a move toward transparency and full disclosure.

“The adaption of social media transparency and cmp.ly are identical. “ she said.

The FTC has indicated it will be increasing its watch for brands that are engaging in deceptive practices. In one recent case, Legacy Learning Systems was required to pay the FTC a $250,000 penalty and is subject to monthly audits for 20 years. Other cases include Reverb Communications.

On its website, Cmp.ly says it has three goals:

Simplify and standardize regulatory compliance and disclosures so businesses can contribute to an open, transparent marketplace and build trust with consumers

Enable companies of any size to meet regulatory and disclosure challenges in an efficient, cost-effective manner

Provide consumers with a simple way to recognize and understand business relationships, affiliations, and marketing practices

For brands, the first two goals ease operations under FTC guidelines.

From my perspective as an individual who uses the Internet to research products, the third is music to my ears. The lack of transparency on the Web has undermined the ethical fabric of all our transactions there. I simply don’t know who to trust and I’m not alone in that. Free blogging tools have been around for only ten years, but I shudder to think what the blogosphere will look like in another ten without some oversight.

Using the Cmp.ly solution are LinkedIn, EBay, Hewlett Packard, Infinity, Ford, JC Penny and Ugg Australia, among others, Wagner said. Cmp.ly is also developing solutions for the highly regulated financial and health industries.

While brands must pay to use Cmp.ly, individuals can use the cmp.ly system for free. In addition, Cmp.ly links provide appropriate social media analytics to measure the success of a campaign.

Although brands have found an exciting new marketing channel in social media, it’s time to slow down and refine  practices used in word of mouse marketing.

To my mind, tools like Cmp.ly could significantly quiet the marketing stream for consumers.

It’s getting very loud out there on the virtual continent that is the Internet. Some days I’d just as soon listen to a jackhammer as look at my email so clogged is it with email newsletters reciting the charms of something I don’t want. In its outermost public circle, Twitter is blatting out marketing messages that pollute my stream of must see information. Google+ is great for my more thoughtful friends – thankfully a little quieter than Facebook, where a feed now calls out at every tiny touch between entities – brands, friends, causes, colleagues and family. Give me some earplugs and a blindfold or better yet it’s time to turn off the Macbook and go outside.

This would be shortsighted, however, because the social web is here to stay. If we can all hold on, the next wave of disruption promises to offer some help for ordering this chattering assault into something resembling harmony.

I am on the lookout for tools that will help with this transition.  I think one such tool could be Cmp.ly.

If you know of others, please let me know.

Tags: , , , , ,