Handshake 2.0’s Social Media Authenticity Policy

When I wrote about the “Honesty lets me be myself" school poster, I thought also about transparency and authenticity in social media.  My thinking has been evolving and is informed most recently by the question Mark Schaefer asks, Can you outsource authenticity? and the New York Times article sent to me by Robert Geller, Notice Those Ads on Blogs? Regulators, Do, Too.

Handshake 2.0 is a business news and public relations blog that accepts advertising, so its content falls under the Federal Trade Commission's FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, referred to generally as truth-in-advertising rules.

With regard to social media, debate involves proposed changes to Section 255.5 Disclosure of material connections.  The document explains:

The Guides define both endorsements and testimonials broadly to mean any advertising message that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experience of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser. 16 C.F.R. §§ 255.0(a) and (b). The Guides state that endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser. 16 C.F.R. § 255.1(a). Furthermore, endorsements may not contain any representations that would be deceptive, or could not be substantiated, if made directly by the advertiser. Id.

Jeff Byskal, writing for Consumer Reports - considered the bastion of objective product reviews, primarily because it accepts no advertising, pays for the products it reviews, and doesn't accept free samples – summarizes what the FTC wants in Is that blogger review really a paid ad?  The FTC wants you to know.:  "The honest opinions or experiences of the blogger/endorser, no false or unsubstantiated statements, and disclosure – by the blogger – that he or she is being paid."

Ah, good.  That means that I can trust that the blogs I read are written by real people sharing their real experiences.  If they're paid or rewarded in any way to write about their experiences, they'll say so.

Good.  That's Handshake 2.0's policy, too. In fact, we intend to exceed, not just meet, expectations generated by the FTC's Guides revisions.

Here's an excerpt from Handshake Media, Incorporated’s Social Media Authenticity Policy – Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials:

Anne Giles Clelland, President, has editorial power and discretion over posts and produced content on all blogs and social media channels owned by Handshake Media, Incorporated, including Handshake 2.0.  If content does not meet her criteria for quality, integrity, and taste, she will not post it.  If she becomes aware that a post includes mistakes, she will correct them. 

  • Blog posts are not ghostwritten, i.e. written by one person with authorship attributed to another person.
  • The author of the post is identified in the post.
  • Posts written by guest bloggers writing on behalf of their own companies, products, or services, or on behalf of others, are identified as such in the post.
  • If the post is written for a client, that relationship is stated in the post.
  • The author of the post has full discretion to share his or her full experience.
  • If the author of the post has a relationship, whether personal or financial, to the person, company, product, or service he or she has written about – or has linked to – that has been stated in the post.
  • Handshake Media, Incorporated, a digital public relations firm, is the parent company of Handshake 2.0. As social media consultants to our clients, we treasure the genuineness of social media, practice it our own social media postings, and foster it in our clients.
  • We do not pose as our clients, nor do we post our words, images, or videos as those of our clients.

In other words, I tweet as myself, no one tweets for me, and I don't tweet as my clients.


I welcome feedback, questions, and comments.

Today's Eclipse - Seebrich Riesling Spatlese
Handshake Media, Incorporated’s Social Media Authenticity Policy - Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials


  1. In thanks to Mark W. Schaefer, author of {grow}, I left this comment on his post, “Can you outsource authenticity?”

    After studying your post and the thoughtful, informed comments that followed, I created a “Social Media Authenticity Policy” for my company and its sites. I even had it reviewed by legal counsel. I found the process challenging, the idea of taking a stand both risky and necessary, and clicking “post” ultimately mission-fortifying. I posted about the policy’s creation, then linked to the policy for all to see. Your point, “If this debate is not relevant to you right now, it will be in the near future as the demand for content explodes,” inspired me to choose to make it relevant right now. Thank you for inspiring me to equate online authenticity with the integrity of my company.

  2. Anne, this is terrific. Mark is part of a thread on my blog on whether journalistic ethics should be required of Web 2.0 writers. I’d be interested in your take on the comments there, if you can spare the time.

    I remain concerned that ostensibly objective journalism may be replaced by what essentially is commercial speech — we may know the biases of writers as disclosed, but that leaves the consumer in charge of veracity — caveat emptor. That makes information of the same ilk as other products, and I’m not sure that is a good thing.

    Thanks again for posting this. (and to @markwschaefer for tweeting it.)

  3. I read your comment and your post with great interest. I will ponder.

    I treasure and am imperatively dependent upon journalism, news, as factual and objective as it can get. Since human beings are the reporters, I know I need to be discerning, but I count on and trust that the intent is to inform me, not sway me.

    I’ll think more about this after I listen to NPR.

    Thank you so much for commenting, Sean.

  4. Since so many of us are paid in direct and indirect ways by the federal government, a literal extent of the law might prevent the cautious among us posting on any government activity … a type of universal Hatch Act.

    I look at “disclaimers” but don’t read them. I assume they are saying “I wrote all of this but probably don’t mean any of it.”

    The fear of litigation is silencing for the small business start-up … for all of us. How sad.

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