Is Your Social Media Plan Legal?

SOCIALI?ve written before about accidental PR disasters such as the McDonald?s #McDStories campaign (instead of nostalgic memories it led to disgruntled customer tirades), government sites that went dark during the federal government?s shutdown, or even a physical altercation between a PR lead and a heckling journalist, all recorded on video.

This month another PR gaffe is making national headlines: the Topps Company (maker of the ?Ring Pops? jewel-shaped candy on a plastic ring) may be investigated by the FTC for their most recent social media campaign ? #RockThatRock ? a promotion that invited teenagers to upload photos of themselves wearing Ring Pops to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The complaint alleges the campaign violates the Children?s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting and disclosing personal data from children under 13 without their parents? permission.

The R5 band featured Ring Pop photos in a music video (Image courtesy of ?fan site Ready5SetRock.com)?

Not the outcome the company was looking for, clearly.

A blog article in the New York Times reports the company launched the campaign by inviting teens to submit pictures of ?the ways they ?rock? their edible bling? with submissions going up on the company?s Facebook and Twitter pages along with contestants? social media names. Winning pictures were also featured in a music video by R5, a pop-rock band that is popular with teen and pre-teen girls.

But some of the photos featured teenage girls and some who appear even younger in provocative poses with their lips wrapped around the Ring Pop candies. Parents and advocacy groups erupted in rage.

?Showing young girls licking the candy in a Lolita-type way, it?s outrageous,? Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist in Potomac, Md., told the New York Times. ?By knowing the contestants? user names you could get in contact with them. Children shouldn?t be put in this situation.?

Oops.

As brands work to engage audiences on social media it is critical they understand FTC guidelines, best practices and even the practical implications of the ways a seemingly innocuous campaign can go wrong. ?Katie Creaser, vice president of NYC-based PR and social media firm Affect, has offered up the following tips and planning questions to consider before launching a social media campaign as follows:

Do you understand applicable rules and regulations, including FTC and individual platform guidelines?

Do you have the resources to support the promotion once it?s launched? Is there a plan for community management as participation grows?

What are the goals of this contest? Are they clear and realistic?

What are the guidelines for engaging audiences of various ages?

Is there a plan in place to respond to negative feedback or reactions to the promotion?

Read more at?FORBES