An article was passed to me today about a settlement between a company that produced guitar-lesson DVDs and the FTC over the company's failure to disclose that the people posting positive reviews were being paid a commission.
The FTC, which was revised and clarified its positions regarding online endorsements and testimonials in 2009, has ruled that any "a positive review by a person connected to the seller - or someone who receives cash for in-kind payment to review a product or service - should disclose the material connection between the reviewer and the seller of the product or service."
So what does this mean?
This particular charge was levied against a company that was paying a company directly to craft websites and positive reviews. While this certainly isn't unheard of online, it is relatively rare among legitimate companies. What has become more common, however, is the offering of something of value such as a discount, a cup of coffee, or other small incentive for the posting of a review on Yelp, Trip Advisor, "Liking" a company on Facebook, or "following" on Twitter. While I don't see the FTC knocking on your door over offering a cup of coffee, it does seem to violate the letter of their current rules.
The ruling is open to public comment for 30 days.