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As influencers and advertisers, both must follow guidelines by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in order to protect consumers. When influencers work with brands to recommend or endorse their products or services on social, staying on the right side of the law is a key factor. To make the process simpler, the FTC has not only issued a new publication (Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers), but they have also created a video to streamline influencers’ and advertisers’ work.
Disclosures for Influencers
The FTC is a commission working to stop deceptive ads. While the publication is new, it breaks down the compliance message to basics that have already been well-established in the industry. For example, if influencers endorse a product or service through social media platforms, their message must make it blatantly obvious that the influencer has 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. For influencers, telling their followers about their material connections is important because it allows them to remain honest and truthful. It also lets their followers weigh the value of their endorsements.
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. The new publication is heavy on the 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.
In the new publication, various aspects of disclosure are discussed. It answers different questions that are relevant for influencers, such as when to disclose and how to disclose. It also covers:
- 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
Unsure of when to disclose something? Influencers should always do so when they have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand. To clear things up, 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. If a brand gives them free or discounted products– or any other perks– they must disclose the material connection. Even if you mention another product from a brand that you weren’t specifically asked to, a disclosure should still be made.
Influencers cannot assume their followers already know about their brand relationships, it’s up to them to make disclosures even when they think their evaluations 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.
How to Disclose
Making sure your followers see and understand a disclosure is important – so make sure you place the disclosure somewhere that is hard to miss. As a rule of thumb, the disclosure should be placed with the endorsement message itself. Disclosures are likely to be missed if they appear 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.
If an endorsement is in a picture on a platform like Snapchat or Instagram Stories, the disclosure should be superimposed over the picture to make sure viewers have enough time to see it and read it. If an endorsement is in a video, the disclosure should also be in the video, not just in the description uploaded with the video. Viewers are more likely to notice disclosures made in both audio and video mediums. Some viewers may watch the video without sound, or others may not notice superimposed words if they are just listening. Similarly, if an endorsement is made in 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.
- 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.