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AUGUST 14, 2018 //     

Following the FTC’s Influencer Marketing Guidelines

By: Lucy Arnold and Nycole Hampton

Your client asks for an influencer marketing campaign, but wants to be “subtle” about how the influencer discloses the engagement.

Which of the following does the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consider a proper social media hashtag disclosure?

  1. #spon
  2. #[BRAND]partner
  3. #collab
  4. #sponsored
  5. #ad

If you answered 4 or 5, you are correct. The FTC has made it clear it monitors brand and influencer activity to ensure compliance with federal endorsement guidelines. In a nutshell, if a brand and an influencer have a “material connection” to promote a service or product, they must clearly and conspicuously disclose that connection. There’s very little subtlety.

As part of our influencer relations work at Allison+Partners, we’ve been in touch with the FTC to help build out some of its endorsement guidelines. As influencer marketing evolves, we break down some of the finer details for you. Call it the FTC FAQ.

Do influencers have to use #sponsored or #ad in every post?

Sort of. Again, the best rule of thumb is to answer this question: is it clear and conspicuous the brand (my client) and the influencer have a connection? The language you use to disclose that relationship can be tweaked slightly. The #sponsored and #ad hashtags on social media posts are space-savers, and they are safe. On a blog post, the disclosure must be at the top of the post, in the same font, font size and font color as the rest of the post (i.e. “This post is sponsored by [BRAND]”). In a video, the disclosure must be at the beginning of the video and in the video description.

What if we just gave the influencer something for free, like a hotel stay or a loaner car?

The influencer must disclose that material connection. They could say something such as “Thanks [BRAND] for the free stay/free car!” or “[BRAND] gave me this product/meal/hotel room as a gift.”

What if we send out an influencer mailer for our clients and one of the influencers posts her unboxing on Instagram?

In this case, the influencer is not required to review or post about the product we send them. If they do, the onus is on them to say the product was sent to them as a gift. But without any agreement or other value exchange, the brand does not have to require the disclosure.  

Shouldn’t influencers use the “paid” tools on Facebook and Instagram to disclose their brand partnerships?

Yes! But actually, this is for a different reason. Those branded content tools allow brands access to insights and metrics on the influencer’s post, including reach, engagement and more. On Facebook, it also allows the brand to boost the post to drive additional value (This is not yet the case on Instagram. So, if you plan to boost influencer content on this channel, you should avoid this tool.) Although these tools also label the post as “paid,” indicating a material connection between brand and influencer, the FTC doesn’t find the disclosure from these tools alone conspicuous enough because the text is small, in a lighter color font and consumers may not see it. Therefore, we recommend using the branded content tools for insights and including an approved disclosure in the social media copy, such as #ad.

If we contracted an influencer to post about [BRAND] on Instagram but they took it upon themselves to also post content to their Facebook and Twitter channels, do all these posts need disclosure?

Yes. If an influencer has a material connection in one context, it has to be disclosed no matter the platform.

Do these disclosures have an effect on engagement?

No. Including the disclosure is the most authentic thing to do – otherwise the influencer is being misleading, and that affects their credibility. What’s important is to do proper research and identification for influencer partners to build a sound influencer strategy for a successful program. If the influencer partner is appropriately vetted and selected for their affinity to the brand and relevance to the same demographic/target audience, these disclosures should not alter engagement because the nature of the content is genuine.

If #collab or #partner aren’t compliant disclosures, why do influencers still use them?

We’re not sure! It could be they don’t care, but we venture to guess most people simply don’t know about the proper guidelines and agencies or brands aren’t directing them appropriately. It’s our job as client representatives to ensure all our influencer partners are aware of the proper disclosures and execute appropriately.

Does all of this seem kind of nuanced? We’re here to help. The principle is rather basic – if you met someone whose opinion you trust and they raved about [BRAND], would you be influenced to go out and try it? Probably. Now suppose you found out that person got paid to tell you about [BRAND]. Wouldn’t that affect how you evaluated their recommendation? You bet. Therefore, any material connection that would affect the endorsement’s weight or credibility must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed.

Lucy Arnold and Nycole Hampton are both directors in the digital practice where they lead many influencer relations programs for Allison+Partners.

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