I’m pretty sure my mouth fell open in shock when I read an article about a recent e-Marketer study that claims most marketers are unaware of the FTC social media guidelines regulating influencer campaigns. I’m not sure how you can work in marketing and not understand the FTC influencer rules, but according to the study, only one in ten marketers know that sponsored posts need to be tagged as ads. Not only that, but three in ten influencers surveyed said “they’ve been asked by clients or marketers to not disclose their compensation for a post.” Meaning they were explicitly asked to violate FTC guidelines. Whoa! That’s scary.
As someone who works both in marketing and on the other side as a blogger working with brands, I’ve spent a lot of time diving into the dos and don’ts of influencer marketing and have worked hard to make sure we’re always protecting ourselves and our brands as much as possible. And guess what? According to the FTC, if their guidelines are violated, it’s most likely not going to be the blogger or influencer who gets penalized… It’s going to be the brand or their agency who faces the blame (and fees!). That means that marketers need to keep a close eye on what their influencer partners are doing and actively enforce the FTC rules instead of discouraging them.
Are there a million reasons why a brand or marketer wouldn’t want to follow the FTC guidelines? Sure. They want their influencers to come off as natural cheerleaders for their brand and not like they’re posting paid ads that don’t express their true feelings. That’s part of the beauty of utilizing influencers instead of simply publishing ads! The guidelines can also be very frustrating as a blogger since I only post about products I actually do like and wouldn’t pretend to love a brand in exchange for money. But I also understand that people’s opinions can be easily swayed when money or free product is involved and it’s important for consumers to know if someone is being paid to promote a product online.
Yes, some of the FTC guidelines are super annoying and there are definitely times when I wish they’d go away all together… But I still have them mostly memorized (you know, not word for word, but the gist) and follow them every single time I work with an influencer or when I’m working on a campaign as a blogger. If you don’t feel like reading the guidelines word for word (but really, you should! Full advertising guidelines here; more influencer-specific FAQs here), here’s a crash course in what you likely need to know, bulleted list style:
- The main goal of the FTC’s guidelines is to make sure consumers aren’t being deceived. And readers/viewers need to know when someone is being paid to give their opinion or is posting about a product they received for free on their blog or any form of social media.
- The disclosure needs to come early. So, in a blog post, it needs to be at the top of the post. You don’t want the reader to go through the whole post thinking, “wow, she really loves this product!” only to find out at the end she was being paid to post about it.
- Even though you’re often short on space in social media postings, influencers have to include disclosure here, too. That means including words or hashtags like “ad” or “sponsored.” That also means those words have to show up before anyone has to click to “read more” and if they’re being posted as a hashtag, should be the first hashtag and not buried amongst several others.
- Oftentimes, hashtags like #spon or #collab aren’t enough since the general audience may not know what these abbreviations mean.
- Even though the guidelines may not mention platforms like Snapchat, that doesn’t mean you have an out. No matter where influencers are posting, if they’re working with a brand, they must disclose it.
- Notice celebrities don’t always disclose? Guess what? They don’t always have to! As unfair as it is, the FTC notes that celebrities don’t have to disclose if “a significant portion of her followers” know her posts are paid endorsements. How can that be measured? Good question
In many ways, the FTC guidelines are super vague and I’m pretty sure that’s for a reason. The main thing to consider when reviewing the content of influencers you work with is “does this post make it clear, early on, that this person is being paid or accepting product for free”? If so, then you’re good to go! Oh, and if you’re a brand or marketer, don’t let influencers tell you they don’t want to disclose or that that’s not how they do things. Ultimately, the blame will fall on you and you need to take responsibility for making sure things are done correctly. The chances of the FTC coming after you are probably pretty low, but it’s always best to be as safe as possible!