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The FTC's New Guidelines on Testimonials on Websites

Testimonials on Websites - Guidelines

thumbs upHello! Happy "Cyber Monday" everyone! If you do retail sales on the Web, then this is a fun time of year. Predictions are that it will be better than last year. Hopefully you have your website all tuned up and ready for the blast.

Something that takes effect tomorrow (Dec 1, 2009) is the way you can use testimonials on your website. The FTC came up with some new guidelines ("Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising"). They can be found starting here:

FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials (www.ftc.gov)

If you have testimonials on your website, you should review it and seek legal counsel.

I'm not a lawyer (again, seek legal counsel yourself to be sure) but I saw a presentation on these new guidelines and here's a recap of how they were explained to me and what it means for having testimonials on websites. In general, you'll need to be a lot more transparent about them.

The Glowing Testimonial

What's common with some testimonials is to put the most spectacular one you can find out in front. Maybe someone did really well with your program or just found your product to be the best thing since sliced bread. You used to be able to get by with the disclaimer of "results not typical" but that's not the case anymore. You'll need to state some kind of statistics showing what the actual typical results are somewhere very visible on your website. Again, transparency.

Testimonials from Customers or Clients

When you post testimonials on your website from your clients (like we do), you're going to need to set some company policies to manage those testimonials. They should only be current clients and you will need to check in with those clients from time to time and make sure what you're showing on your website or using in your materials is still an accurate testimonial from them.

Celebrity Endorsements

If you are a celebrity or use endorsements from celebrities, then you have to make it clear that the celebrity is being paid (if they are) to talk about your product or service.

Affiliates

If you sell a product or service and have affiliates promoting those products or services, then you may be liable for what they're doing. You'll need to keep a close eye on them, know where they're marketing and know what they're saying. You'll need a much closer relationship with them.

Conclusion

Again, if you're worried about this, then get a lawyer. Right now, since this just came out, nobody is really sure how it's going to be enforced and to what extent. Some simple maintenance on your website testimonials is a good idea. With our Content Management System (CMS), you're able to easily go in and unpublish any testimonials that you think may be out of date. Soon, you'll want to check with the people that gave the testimonials you have and make sure they still approve of them. Do it over email again and then save those emails somewhere so that you have it all documented in case the testimonials you use are questioned.

Make sure you're clear on your website about any claims that your testimonials make. If your testimonials make huge claims that are not typical results and you don't fully explain why that person did really well or explain what typical results really are, then you could be in hot water.

By all means, if you have any testimonials that are fake (for some reason), take them down immediately. You shouldn't have used them in the first place.

Here is some more that I found... the Guides state that:

  • Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions and true experience of the endorser. If paid actors are used, this fact must be disclosed.
  • Endorsements may not contain any representations which would be deceptive, or could not be substantiated, if made directly by the advertiser.
  • Endorsements must be representative of what consumers can reasonably expect to achieve. Any claim made by the endorser must reflect the opinion or experience of a significant proportion of consumers. Disclaimers like “results not typical” are no longer sufficient.
  • All material connections between the advertiser and the endorser (including research or medical organizations) that consumers would not expect must be disclosed, including free products or monetary compensation.

I think the FTC is just trying to keep people honest. These rules have not been updated since 1980, so it's about time. There have been some out there that have abused it and these rules are just to help consumers know what's true.

How We Add Testimonials to Websites

With websites we make, we set up a testimonials module and it's really easy to use. What it does is let you add any number of testimonials. When a page is loaded, one testimonial from that group is randomly displayed on that page. You can even have groups of them set up - for example, if you have a group for customer service, then a customer service testimonial is loaded on those pages. You can have another group for your About Us page or one group of them for you Products section and so on.

If you're interested in getting testimonials added to your company website, let us know. We'd love to help!

-Tony

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