Friday, April 1, 2011

Will Your Social Media Expert's Advice Violate the FTC Advertising Regulations?

Will your social media expert's advice and/or actions violate the Federal Trade Commission's Advertising Regulations? This is a question you may want to answer before you engage a social media guru for your company.

Social Media Credential Fraud is a growing problem. Social Media Credential Fraud may occur when someone utilizes social media to create a false impression that they are an expert in their profession for commercial gain. Under the FTC's Advertising Regulations, it is crystal clear that engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices is unlawful.

I believe it is important to discuss this issue again because a self-described "social media expert" started following me again today on Twitter. This "social media expert" followed me last year and then as soon as I followed him back he un-followed me. Of course, I un-followed him back because I only followed him in the first place because he initially followed me. This social media expert's Twitter feed mostly consists of public conversations with a small group of his friends and/or fellow legal marketers, strategic Foursquare check-ins, and re-posts of his old articles and blog posts. Every once in awhile he will post a link to an interesting article written by someone else; unfortunately, he mostly clogs his Twitter feed with useless and self-serving information so I will not be following him back. Since I will not be following him back, he will un-follow me in the near future. I guarantee it.

This "social media expert" is desperate to keep his followers above 41,000. I mean Muammar Gadhafi desperate. His whole persona is based on the impression that he is a social media expert and has a large organic Twitter following. If he did not practice Social Media Credential Fraud he would be following tens of thousands of more people than are following him back. Last year, he wrote a blog post that said something along the lines, "I un-followed almost 50,000" people. In this rationalizing post, he stated that he could no longer focus on new followers so it was time to do a mass un-follow.

Does this "social media expert" think he is Lady Gaga or Britney Spears? Lady Gaga follows 144,000+ people and Britney Spears follows more than 415,000 people on Twitter. Would Lady Gaga or Britney Spears ever un-follow 50,000 people to better focus on their most die hard fans? Absolutely not. Therefore, this self described "social media expert's" explanation why he did a mass un-follow is not believable. The "social media expert" has un-followed at least 50,000 people to hide the fact that he needs to first follow tens of thousands of people before some of those people he initially followed follow him back.

On January 13, 2011, this "social media expert" was following 4,417 people and had 41,049 followers. As of this writing, he is following 7,000 people and has only 41,009 followers. In approximately, 2.5 months this "social media expert" has followed 2,583 more people but has lost 40 followers. This statistic demonstrates that this person is a "social media expert" at one thing: following tens of thousands of people on Twitter and un-following tens of thousands of people on Twitter. That is it.

If your social media expert is personally engaging in activity that may violate the FTC's Advertising Regulations you may want to ask yourself will he advise my company to do anything unlawful or unethical? If a "social media expert" appears to have great "social media credentials" take a look beyond the numbers to determine how they were achieved. Perform your due diligence and fully review all social media activity. If a "social media expert" appears to have celebrity like Twitter "Following to Followers" figures there is a good possibility that Social Media Credential Fraud is involved.

To learn more about social media ethics and to learn how to avoid violating the FTC Advertising Regulations you may contact me at

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.


  1. Brilliant and timely post. Twitter seems to house more than its fair share of "Social Media Experts" in my opinion. I get followed by and follower requests on a daily basis.

    While the definition of "expert" for purposes of the FTC rule on "deceptive" or "unfair" advertising statements is subject to interpretation, I think there is a general consensus that the purported "experts" are people like you and me: people who post on Twitter and/or have blogs.

    Heed Bradley's warning. Claiming to be an expert does not make one so.


  2. Hi Tyson, Thanks for the comments. I try to call it like I see it. The fraud occurring online is increasing every day. It will only get worse until the FTC cracks down.