The FTC Guidelines You Need to Read

Legal documents

This is not a sponsored promotion. If it were, according to the FTC Dotcom Disclosure Guidelines, I would have to tell you that right now.

This is going to be a short, but important blog post. Short, because I am not an expert in the field I want you to know about. Important, because you really need to take a look at this before you get to promoting, well, just about anything, online. Thankfully for me (and therefore you), while I am not an expert in this topic, there are many people online who are. I will share some of their wisdom with you here, and point you to it directly for even more. Settle in, get some coffee, this is one that you may need to really think about to understand completely.

The very first thing to know is that these are guidelines, not laws. The guidelines are meant to clarify things for those laws the FTC does enforce. In other words, they are using these guidelines to decide whether or not the law has been broken and so that you can know whether you are breaking the law. I know, I am still kind of confused too. The guidelines themselves are nearly 30 pages long, and you can go read them for yourself if you are curious here.

“On March 12, 2013, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released the long-awaited Dot Com Disclosures. The Dot Com Disclosures guide provides guidance for online and mobile advertisers. Last released in 2000, the internet back then looked very different than it does today. Even now, after over a year of working on this update, some of the information seems dated because technology is changing so quickly.”

“Who should use the Dot Com Disclosures? This guide should be used by brands, entrepreneurs, small businesses, PR companies, marketing strategists, online professionals, social media consultants and strategists as well as bloggers and others who use social media in conjunction with promoting a product or service to the consuming public.”

The above is excerpted from a very complete article on 

After having researched this for the last few days, all of this seems to come down to one basic idea, you have to tell people you are making money for promoting something when/if you are being directly compensated. The FTC is looking out for consumers, and they think consumers should know who is selling to them, versus someone who is being totally impartial. If I am interpreting this correctly, that means that technically, if you are promoting your book directly, because you are being compensated for the book, you are supposed to disclose your activity as being an “ad”. Now, if you say, “go read my book review”, is that promotion? Not clear. If you say, “I loved this book and you will too – it changed my life” and it is not obvious you are the author, it seems likely you are supposed to disclose you make money on the book sales somehow, somewhere. Although in my opinion (my non-lawyer-ly opinion), as long as you say you are the author, that seems like pretty clear disclosure to me, in and of itself.

What caught my eye in particular, was this little gem – for the first time, the FTC addresses disclosure on space-constrained platforms – i.e. Twitter. In other words, even on Twitter, where you only have 140 characters, you are supposed to say first and foremost, that what you are writing is, “sponsored”, “promoted” or an “ad” when it is.

As I said, I am not a lawyer, and am not going to pretend to be an expert on this, as I barely understand it myself. The best source I found, is the one I referenced above which is an article on written by Sara Hawkins. Sara is, in fact, a lawyer, and does, in fact, understand all of this stuff.

So, go forth and educate yourself further! I plan to.


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