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While your feeds on your favorite social media platforms can seem like a highlight reel, being an influencer does not come without rules. In the influencer marketing space, influencers and their sponsors must follow guidelines by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in order to protect their viewers and consumers. One of the biggest income streams for influencers comes from brand deals, as influencers commonly work with brands to promote their products and services on social media. With every social media campaign, influencers, influencer marketing agencies, and brands must ensure they are following influencer posting guidelines to make appropriate and legal disclosures. If you want to learn more about influencer posting guidelines, we’ll break down everything you need to know from the FTC’s key publications and videos.
Influencer Posting Guidelines From the FTC
If you plan to be an influencer or work with influencers, having an in-depth understanding of the FTC’s influencer posting guidelines is crucial. The FTC is a commission working to stop deceptive ads and often posts publications to explain the disclosure guidelines for influencers participating in online campaigns. Their explanations cover everything there is to know about participating in an endorsement and creating unique content for promotion. For instance, influencers who are activated to endorse a product or service through social media platforms, must make it blatantly obvious in their caption and content that they have a connection with the brand.
This relationship is known as a “material connection” to the FTC, which refers to an employment or financial relationship, like the way influencers are paid or given free/discounted products. It’s extremely important for influencers to let their followers know about their material connections so they can remain credible and build an honest and open relationship with their audience. Plus, it allows their followers to weigh the value of their endorsements.
Speaking of relationships, read all about forming long lasting influencer relationships for your campaigns here.
Social media influencers have a responsibility to make disclosures, make themselves familiar with the FTC’S Endorsement Guides, and to comply with the laws against deceptive ads. To make sure influencers are comfortable with these guidelines and responsibilities, the FTC publications also focus on specific frequently asked questions by influencers while keeping it light on legal terms. This way, the rules are clearer for influencers to understand, and according to the FTC, it should only take 10 minutes for influencers to fully grasp the information.
Other than telling influencers how to disclose partnerships and when to disclose partnerships, the FTC publications often also discuss vital topics such as:
- How does the disclosure requirement apply in pictures, videos, and live streams?
- What about tags, likes, and pins?
- What kind of wording effectively discloses a material connection?
- What about influencers who post from outside the United States?
- What if a person doesn’t have a relationship with a brand, but is just telling others about a product they bought and happen to like?
- Is it okay to assume a platform’s disclosure tool is good enough?
When to Disclose Partnerships
Influencer posting guidelines from the FTC are very clear on when an influencer should disclose a partnership. More specifically, they let influencers know they should always issue a disclosure on a post when they have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand.
While this seems simple enough, it’s important to note that financial relationships are not only limited to money. Influencers should disclose a relationship with a brand if they got anything of value to mention a product. For example, if a brand gives them free or discounted products, they must disclose the partnership. Even if an influencer mentions another product from a brand that they weren’t specifically asked to, a disclosure should still be made.
Influencers can’t assume their followers already know about their brand deals, so it’s up to them to make disclosures even when they think their opinions are unbiased. Some other key things for influencers to remember are:
- Tags, likes, and pins are all ways to show that you like a brand or product – so they count as endorsements.
- If posting from abroad, U.S. law applies if it’s reasonably believed that the post will affect U.S. consumers. It’s also important to keep foreign laws in mind.
- If you have no brand relationship and are just telling people about a product you bought and happen to like, you don’t need to declare that you don’t have a brand relationship.
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How to Disclose Sponsorships
If you’re going to disclose a sponsorship on social media, there are some specific steps and influencer posting guidelines you need to follow. First off, your audience should understand exactly when they’re seeing a disclosure. In other words, make sure to place your disclosure somewhere in the content that is hard to miss. For example, put “#ad” at the beginning of your caption instead of at the end of your caption. Here are some other influencer posting guidelines to keep in mind:
- The disclosure should be placed with the endorsement message itself.
- Disclosures should not be placed only on an “About Me” page, at the end of a post or video, or anywhere that requires a user to click “More.”
- A disclosure should also not be mixed into a group of hashtags or links.
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If an ad is in a picture or video on a platform like Snapchat or Instagram Stories, the disclosure should be superimposed over the picture/video to make sure your viewers have enough time to see it and read it. If an ad is in a video, like a YouTube or TikTok video, the disclosure should also be in the video, not just in the caption or the video description. Some brands will also require both text and verbal disclosures in the videos themselves, as some viewers may watch the video without sound, or others may not notice superimposed words if they are just listening. Also, if an ad is read during a live stream, the disclosure should be repeated throughout the stream so viewers who only see part of the stream will be aware of it.
Some other tips are:
- Use simple and clear language.
- Terms like “advertisement”, “ad”, and “sponsored” are enough as long as they are placed in a way that is hard to miss.
- Disclosures should not be buried in documents and should not require the consumer to click on, scroll down, or mouse over a link to view the disclosure.
- Including the brand name with “partner” or “ambassador” are good options for platforms with limited characters like Twitter.
- It’s fine, but not necessary, to include a hashtag with the disclosure, such as #ad.
- Do not use vague or confusing terms like “sp”, “spon”, or “collab”.
- The endorsement should be in the same language as the endorsement itself.
- Your statements should always reflect your honest opinions. If a statement is not your opinion but rather something the brand has asked you to say, you must disclose this to your audience.
- Only make factual statements about the brand or the product/services that the brand offers.
Looking to get sponsored on Instagram? Check out this blog for tips for influencers.
Penalties and Latest News
As of February 12, 2020, the FTC issued a statement stating that undisclosed influencer marketing posts on social media should trigger financial penalties. Plus, the FTC has voted to approve a Federal Register notice calling for public comments on questions related to whether The Endorsement Guides for advertising need to be updated. It’s seeking public comment on whether free or discounted products influence reviews and should require disclosure, how to handle affiliate links and whether warnings should be posted by advertisers or review sites about incentivized reviews. Some experts also call the FTC to consider making endorsement guides into formal rules so that violators can be liable for civil penalties and damages.