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Everybody's A Brand: Navigating Social Media Disclosure Rules

Scott Ki
Boise State Public Radio
Nordstrom Rack in Boise

The lead up to the opening of a Nordstrom Rack in Boise last week turned into a mash-up of gift cards, cocktails, and social media. Twitter traffic was high and it raised questions over whether Nordstrom and tweeters followed Federal Trade Commission guidelines on endorsements.  There’s a lot of fuzziness when it comes to these guides.

Buzz is good in the public relations and marketing world.  High Twitter traffic and Facebook likes are to social media gurus what candy is to that clichéd baby.

Twenty-four year-old Kelli Ryder of Boise is a relative newcomer to that world. She launched a blog in December called Leopard and Lavender. "It focuses primarily on fashion, but I touch on really everything as part of my lifestyle," says Ryder.

Hundreds subscribe to Ryder’s website and follow her on Twitter so when she got the invite to Nordstrom Rack’s sneak peek, Ryder felt like her work was paying off. "I’d never been invited to an event like this and I read a lot of bigger fashion blogs. This is a common event for a fashion blogger to go to so I was really overwhelmed and excited."

Tristan Sluder also got an invitation. He’s a year older than Ryder and has about 900 followers. He tweets as BoiseVegan.  "Fitness gurus, foodies.  A pretty diverse group," are his followers according to Sluder.  " I just kind of tweet maybe some vegan stuff, some fitness stuff, and just some stuff that’s just on my mind."

Dozens of others bloggers and tweeters in the Treasure Valley also caught the attention of Nordstrom representatives.  They invited the social media savvy to a sneak peek of the Rack two days before its grand opening.  

Store employees greeted them with a deejay, catered food, brightly colored martinis, and other freebies.  Each received a tote bag, a $50 gift card, and a chance to win other prizes if they tweeted about the store. 

According to Leigh Ann Dufurrena, reaching out through social media like this is nothing new.   "Brands have been doing this with celebrities and the like for several years. "  Dufurrena, who has nearly 1,500 Twitter followers, specializes in social media for Red Sky Public Relations in Boise.  She says companies are motivated to reach people who “influence” buying decisions.  "But, what they’re seeing now with social media is that to an almost hyper-local level, they’re giving the celebrity-dom to local influencers."

Dufurrena  and others from Red Sky attended the event, but they set some ground rules beforehand.  They decided to use # ad or # sponsor on their tweets to let their followers know they received something of value.  Dufurrena says they know about Federal Trade Commission guidelines.   Those guidelines state companies and social media users should disclose when gifts are exchanged to endorse companies or products.    "I can definitely see how large corporations could take advantage of just regular people that might not be aware that they are potentially being used for their opinion,"  according to Dufurrena.

Lisa McGrath, who has about 2,300 Twitter followers, is an Idaho lawyer who focuses on social media and the internet.   She’s written about Federal Trade Commission guidelines on endorsements.  McGrath says, "They really want consumers to know when someone is being paid in cash or in product to endorse that product." 

In other words, the FTC is saying these relationships need to be transparent.  Case in point, the Commission investigated the clothing company Ann Taylor LOFT in 2010 for a fashion blogger event.  The FTC decided not to penalize Ann Taylor partly because the company had posted signs that bloggers needed to disclose gifts they received. 

Kelli Ryder, our aspiring fashion and lifestyle icon, already knows about disclosure rules.  She has a section devoted to it on her website.  Ryder says she follows the practices of other women who are successful fashion bloggers.   "I take my credibility really serious. And the whole purpose of my blog is to develop myself as a brand.  And I have to be honest with how I’m doing that so keeping everything very transparent."

While Ryder wants to be a brand, Tristan Sluder is still wrapping his head around the idea.  "It’s kind of weird being called a brand when you’re just a person with a Twitter handle," he says.  "But if I do go to something like that in the future I might have to say that it’s sponsored in the tweets but, yeah, now that I know that I feel a lot easier about it."

The Nordstrom Rack sneak peek helped build buzz on social media about the Boise store.  Two days later, more than a thousand people lined up to shop and hunt for prizes when its doors opened.  The event also helps show that everyone on social media is an advertiser whether they want to be or not.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio