Are you a social media influencer that promotes products on your social pages or online blog? Do you own an e-commerce business that hires social media influencers to advertise for your brand? If so, you need to be aware of the new rules put in place by the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers from undisclosed online advertising conflicts. Because the practice of using online influencer is a more recent trend, the FTC decided to release a new publication for online influencers that outlines some of the FTC’s basic rules and guidelines for using social media influencers when advertising online.
In the FTC’s “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers” they provide tips for how to make good disclosures – and when to make them.
FTC Influencer Advertising Tip #1: Make Material Connections Obvious
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to influencer marketing. When you are posting about a product in exchange for anything of value, it’s very important to make it obvious. Of course, it would seem more authentic to your followers if you post without disclosing your material connections with the company, but it would also be deceptive. Deceptive Marketing is exactly the kind of thing the FTC will hand out fines for and you don’t want that.
Nowadays, the average social media user probably already recognizes that any user with more than 10,000 followers posting with a brand is most likely being paid for it in some way, shape or form. Therefore, it’s better to let your followers know that you are posting a paid ad rather than having them feel as if you may be deceiving them.
It’s also important to note that a brand paying you to post is not the only material connection an influencer can have with an ecommerce retailer. According to the FTC, a “material connection” also includes a personal, family, or employment relationship. Meaning, if you make a post describing how much you love the wine from “S Vineyards” (the company your sister works for) - it may be considered deceptive marketing if you did not also disclose that your sister works at the company in your post.
FTC Influencer Advertising Tip #2: Get Familiar With Endorsement Guides
If you are an influencer agreeing to post about a product in exchange for compensation, it’s important for you to take responsibility for your business by making sure that you are complying with FTC rules rather than just expecting the company who is paying you to tell you what you should do. In the end, the company may not end up being the one who the FTC fines, it might be you.
FTC Influencer Advertising Tip #3: Always Disclose And Never Assume
- You should disclose when you have employment, personal, financial, or family relationship with the brand.
- You should disclose when a brand gives you free products, discounts, samples or other perks. If you then post about their product, even if they don’t ask you to, you need to disclose how you obtained the product.
- You should disclose all the time, even if you think your followers are already aware of your paid partnerships. Everyday someone new could see your page so it’s important to ALWAYS disclose and NEVER assume.
- You should disclose even when you are posting outside the United States, because U.S. law will still apply, and foreign laws may apply too!
- The only time you don’t have to disclose about a brand relationship or lack thereof is if you post about a brand that you like but don’t have a relationship with. Meaning, you don’t have to tell your followers you have no brand relationship if you really do not. That being said, you also shouldn’t tell your followers you have a brand relationship if you actually do not.
FTC Influencer Advertising Tip #4: You Don’t Have to Get into Detail, but You Can’t Hide Your Disclosure
When you are disclosing your brand partnership, it’s not necessary for you to lay out all the details of your contract with the company. Instead, just be sure to make your disclosure easy to find and understand.
- Use language that is simple and clear.
- Don’t try and hide your disclosure in a group of hashtags within your post.
- Use terms like “advertisement”, “ad” and “sponsored”
- Don’t use abbreviated language that is confusing or vague like “collab” or “spon”
- Don’t use a different language for your disclosure than the language of your post
- Use available disclosure tools when available on certain platforms in addition to your own disclosure.
FTC Influencer Advertising Tip #5: Don’t Lie or Fabricate Claims About A Product
It’s important that the opinions you are telling your followers about sponsored products are true. It’s not ok to tell people a terrible product was great just because you were paid by the company. In fact, that’s referred to as deceptive marketing and you could be fined for it. It’s also not ok to talk about an experience with a product that you’ve never even tried. Remember, it’s important to the FTC and your followers for you to be honest about the products you’re promoting, especially if you want to build and keep trust with your fans.
One Last Thing: Fake Followers
This last tip has less to do with paid posts and more to do with how some influencers become sponsored. Buying fake followers to make your account seem like it has a large following in order to gain sponsorship deals is also not ok in the eyes of the FTC. In fact, buying or selling fake indicators of social media influence violates the FTC Act because it considered a deceptive practice. The FTC has recently prosecuted businesses engaging in the sales of fake followers. The same goes for fake reviews. In other words, if you lie in any way as a social media influencer and the FTC finds out – you will be fined.
Here’s what RM Warner partner, Raees Mohamed, has to say about using influencers: “It’s not enough that you know the FTC guidelines. Ecommerce retailers on and online businesses need to make sure that they enforce the FTC influencer guidelines within their business and with their partners. Best practices dictate having a written agreement between the company and the influencer to make sure compliance is spelled out clearly.”
If you are a social influencer or an online marketer dealing with FTC investigations or compliance issues, contact the social media law attorneys at RM Warner Law. We know how to help.