Educators as Ed-Tech Company Brand Ambassadors Raises Ethical, Policy Questions, Report Finds

FTC: Ed-Tech ‘Ambassadors’ Must Follow Social Media Influencer Guidelines

“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 FTC 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.
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Tips for Educator ‘Influencers’
In a video on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, attorney Amber Lee offered the following guidelines for anyone who recommends or endorses products on social media:
Whenever you endorse the product, you have to tell people if you have a relationship with the brand.
If a brand pays you, gives you free stuff or discounts, tell people about that relationship when you promote anything from that brand.
Make sure people will see and understand the disclosure. Tell people about your brand relationship along with your endorsement—not in your profile or in a series of hashtags.
Put it early in the message or super-imposed prominently on the picture.
In a live stream, it should be repeated often enough that people will catch it.
Make it plain and simple.
You can say your post is an ad, advertisement, or sponsored.
Or you can label yourself a partner or ambassador. Again, make sure to put your disclosure where people can’t miss it.
More information is available at ftc.gov/influencers
Some Questions/Concerns: 

Does this apply to Administrators and IT people too?
Administrators are not forward marketers, not brand ambasadors. They are investors and behind the scenes. This is not worded to touch them.
Does this apply to school board members and superintendents ?
Is there a way to enforce this? Would it take a lawsuit to enforce it?
It seems that the Administrators become brand ambassadors by approving and providing first line decision making in their districts. Example: BVSD white approved Typing Pal (free version) which has COPPA violating direct marketing AND it is directed to families by teachers using it.

Ann Marie Banfield works as a parental rights advocate in New Hampshire.  She has been researching education reform for over a decade and actively supports literacy and academic excellence in k-12 schools. You can contact her at: banfieldannmarie@gmail.com