Feds Warn Teachers to Disclose Ties to Ed-Tech Vendors

Associate Editor

Any educator who receives freebies for promoting an educational product or service must make that connection clear in social media posts when they tout the brand, according to FTC guidance released recently.

The Federal Trade Commission published guidelines to help social media influencers understand what is expected of them—and how often they need to explain their affiliation with products when they tout them online.

EdWeek Market Brief reached out to the FTC to see how the announcement affects educators and the so-called ambassador programs they may be invited to join if they are fans of a product.

Anyone who has “an arrangement with a brand” should disclose it, said Michael Ostheimer, an attorney in the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices, in a phone interview.

Huge companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple—and smaller ed-tech businesses—invite educators to become part of what many call “ambassador” programs where the teachers share their enthusiasm for a product and receive something in return.

“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.

It’s not enough to simply post that association in a social media profile, he said. “We don’t believe disclosing that on a person’s Twitter or Instagram profile would be adequate,” he said. “Too many followers don’t bother reading those at all,” or they can miss it if they subscribe to a person’s feed, he said.

That means educators will need to specify their relationship to a company and its product every time they recommend them on social media.

However, any educator or consumer who is excited about a product, but who receives nothing in return for their endorsement, can share that excitement on social media. “An enthusiastic customer who is just an enthusiastic customer doesn’t have to make a disclosure,” he said.

As for their part, companies that incentivize people to endorse their products or services “need to educate those they’re incentivizing,” the attorney said. The businesses should explain “both for the need for disclosure and how that disclosure should be made,” he said.

A report from the National Education Policy Center released earlier this year questioned the ethics behind educator ambassador programs. Educators may be encouraged to present at conferences, post on social media, and find other ways to be cheerleaders for a product. In return, participating teachers may get free access to upgraded tools for their schools, extra training, stipends or payments.

Educators can learn more about the FTC’s requirements in its recently released publication, Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers.
Watch the full FTC video with the advice below.

Advice for Social Media Influencers from Federal Trade Commission on Vimeo.

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