Wednesday, November 13, 2019

FTC Cracks Down On Edu-Influencers

One of the small tricks that education marketers have developed is to enlist teachers as brand ambassadors. Teachers are, after all, the voices most often trusted by other teachers, so it's got to be a real boost if you can get Mrs. Teachwell to tout your product on Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest. And the beauty of it is that Mrs. Teachwell may come cheap-- some free product, box of pens, maybe even some actual money.

It's a fuzzy ethical line; do teachers who accept some sort of marketing deal compromise their professional judgment? On the other hand, if you find an edu-product you really like, isn't the fact that you can get a few goodies for plugging just sort of gravy? People are not exactly lined up to give teachers things. Still, it's a pain to be talking to someone who you think is just offering a professional insight and then it turns out they're a paid-ish endorser.

Now the FTC has decide to add its voice to the conversation. EdWeek talked to FTC attorney Michael Ostheimer to get some clarity on the new rule, and it doesn't seem very hard tp grasp.

The connection between an endorser and a brand—whether it’s swag or a trip or getting paid money—that should be disclosed to the endorser’s audience,” said Ostheimer.

Just noting the connection in your profile is not enough. Every time you post about how awesome the Gradeinator 3000 is, you must also post that you are a Gradeinator 3000 Ambassador.  The guidelines indicate that you must reveal any "financial, employment, personal, or family relationship." Financial is of course not limited to being handed cash. Some of the guidelines are sensible (the notification has to be plain and clear and in the same language as the rest of the communication) and some of them will be  challenging. Liking a tweet or post by Gradeinator 3000 counts as an endorsement, so somehow your "like" will have to include your relationship. If you're doing a live stream that involves the Gradeinator 3000, you need to include your relationship frequently, so that your audience can't possibly miss it. (If you just really like the Gradeinator 3000 and you say nice things about for free, then you're off the hook.)

The rules don't seem to include second-hand benefits. In other words, my school district sent me to Seattle for PLC training, which was a definite benefit, but that was m district's money, not the PLC people's. But what about my SMART board training? The district paid for it, but the company certified me as a trainer, and my trainer status let me earn more hours toward my continuing education requirements, which were necessary for me to keep my job. That trainer status could have allowed me to make some extra side bucks as well, but I didn't. So did I get a financial benefit from the SMART board people or not? Ditto for anyone who has a collection of official Microsoft certifications.

The companies are supposed to get their "ambassadors" or "endorsers" or "influencers" or "good buddies" up to speed on all this, but it seems fair to be skeptical about that happening. If you want a quick primer, there's a nifty video that I'll embed. In the meantime, if you are all excited about the swag you're going to score by pushing the Gradeinator 3000, you might want to pause a moment and study up.

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