Do they really, really like you on Facebook? Or did they click the "like" button because they got something?
The Federal Trade Commission holds a workshop today that will look at how companies should disclose incentives on social-media platforms that allow only short messages or a simple sign of approval.
Incentives for consumers to "like" companies on Facebook fall into a "gray area" that depends on whether the number of likes a company has influences consumers in choosing their products. The FTC's advertising endorsement guidelines require compensation to be disclosed, as with Twitter hashtags such as "#paid."
The National Consumers League's says consumers on social media need the same protections as with traditional advertising. Consumers need to be protected from false and deceptive advertising in new media.
Recent plugs with perks:
•Target was offering a free "beauty bag" with makeup samples last week in return for a "like." The company has 1.8 million likes on its Facebook page. The company would not comment about how many were received in return for the bags, but a spokeswoman says Target has given away a million beauty bags in this and another Facebook giveaway.
•Amazon was offering $3 instant video credits last week to people who sent out a pre-written tweet for them.
•Mattress Discounters in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, entered recent buyers into a drawing for a $100 gift card if they hit their Facebook "like" button, posted pictures of their beds and added comments. The page has 492 likes.
A resident of Woodbridge, N.J., clicked "like" on Target's page and tweeted for Amazon to get the freebies, but says social media doesn't affect her shopping decisions. She finds it "irritating" when her Facebook news feed is full of brand-related tweets when it is obvious that they are being paid.
But companies can't rely on loyal fans to spread the word about products, says Christopher Barcelona, of digital marketing agency Resource Interactive. That makes incentives more important than ever.