Chances are you have one of the most powerful marketing tools there is: Fans!: People who like your business or product and who are willing to tell others. Indeed, some of them have likely already told others through reviews on Yelp, Google, 4-Square, Twitter or countless other review sites or social media platforms. Who knows? Maybe even a celebrity, like, say, your next door neighbor who is the early morning TV weather guy is a fan, and, come to think of it,  he might be willing to be your company’s spokesperson on your website or radio ads, also.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could use all those shout-outs, thumbs-ups and endorsements in your advertising?

The answer is “yes,” but the reality is this: There are laws and regulations that serve as guidelines for what you can, and cannot do, when it comes to using endorsements from people in your marketing activities. These guidelines cover everything from what bloggers can do all the way up to  Lebron James endorsement deals. Overseen and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), such “truth in advertising” and “truth in endorsements” are very specific in spelling out the rights and wrongs of how you can use endorsements.

While you may not get in trouble for using the kind of blurbs that are standard in movie and book advertising (Spellbounding! says the Daily Planet), before you head down this road, you need to familiarize yourself with what the actual laws and regulations say regarding the use of actual endorsements.

Start with downloading the FTC’s guidelines (PDF) for endorsements in advertising, including regulations covering bloggers.

Here are some of the basic guidelines you’ll find in the guidelines:

Endorsements must be truthful

Plain and simple: All endorsements must reflect the endorser’s actual experience and opinions. They must also include empirical evidence—or clear proof that supports the endorser’s claims—otherwise the FTC can hold both you and them liable for deceptive marketing practices.

Endorsements must reflect typical experiences

On top of being truthful and not misleading, all endorsements must represent the typical experience of consumers who use the product—not the Marvelous! Amazing! HOLY COW! experiences of a few. It’s also not simple enough to remedy the variance with the statement, “Individual results may vary.” The ad must clearly disclose either what consumers can expect their results to be, or the limited applicability of the endorser’s experience. That’s why diet ads have paragraphs of tiny type explaining how just because one person lost weight, it’s not a typical outcome.

Disclose any affiliations with your endorser

If you have any affiliation with your endorser whatsoever, you must disclose it. If you pay bloggers or to review your product, or even if you send them free samples and they review it, you must disclose it, according to FTC. This is as simple as having them say, “ABC Company gave me this product and here’s what I think…,” or, “We provided John Doe with a trial product for review, here’s what he had to say…”

What about online reviews?

This is perhaps the trickiest ground when using endorsements. If reviews of your products or services are made on independent online review sites like Yelp, Google + Local, Angie’s List, etc., then you’ll have to first read their Terms of Service, as they may treat user-generated content property of the contributor. This means you’ll need to get their permission first before using it.

Consult an attorney

As we like to make clear on SmallBusiness.com from time to time (and always on our terms of usage), when it comes to legal matters that could end up with you and the FTC tangling, don’t depend on anything you read on the internet to make a decision; even especially us. Get advice from your attorney.

(Featured photo: Thinkstock)