You may have read that the Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on social media influencers who don't properly disclose sponsored posts, recently sending out a round of letters alerting offenders that they could be fined up to $40,000.
Yikes! That's a lot of dollars potentially lost for failing to mention that piece of free swag on Instagram.
It's critical to identify your relationship with a brand to stay on the right side of the FTC and the law, but it's also important to do so because it's the right thing to do. Online reviews impact readers' purchasing decisions— after all, that's why influencers do them. It follows that those creating sponsored content have a responsibility to be forthcoming about their motivation to showcase and endorse a brand or product, both for ethical reasons and to maintain their readers' trust and their own credibility.
The good news is that consumers don't really mind sponsored content, as long as it is high quality. Don't shy away from partnering with brands! Just make sure that those partnerships are fully and clearly disclosed.
Here's a breakdown of FTC guidelines and how to properly disclose your sponsored posts.
FTC Endorsement Guidelines
… if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.
The core of the FTC guidelines operates on a few assumptions: that a consumer can be swayed by a recommendation, that the degree to which they are swayed can be affected by the knowledge of a material connection between the brand and the influencer, and that not every reader is aware of blogging conventions like the use of #spon to mean sponsored or “thank you Brand X” to imply that you received products for free or were paid to post.
If you, as an influencer, are posting on behalf of an advertiser, that is considered commercial speech; deceptive commercial speech is a violation of the FTC Act. To ensure your commercial speech can not be interpreted as deceptive, the FTC requires that you disclose in a way that is clear and conspicuous.
- Disclosures should appear as close to commercial speech as possible.
- Disclosures should be prominent and unavoidable.
- Other parts of the ad should not distract from the disclosure.
- Disclosures should be understandable to the intended audience.
- Disclosures should be appropriate for the medium in which the ad is presented.
- Space-constrained ads are still subject to appropriate disclosure.
Using natural language to convey your disclosure is acceptable as space allows, as long as you are using terms that the average consumer— including your not-tech-savvy Aunt Bunny— would understand. “I received X product to try as a part of a sponsored campaign for [Company Name].”
Got all that? Let's drill down to specifics for sponsored blog posts, social media posts and shares, and other instances that require FTC disclosures.
Sponsored Blog Posts
On a blog post, whether you were paid in cash money or in free product (keeping in mind that you are exchanging your services for that product, so it's not really “free”), you need to disclose fully within that post— a link to a disclosure policy is not acceptable. The disclosure needs to come before a link out to the endorsed product or brand, as some readers may then click through and never reach a disclosure that comes after that point.
Using an image is acceptable as long as the proper language is used on that image and it appears before the sponsored content.
Social Media Posts
Every piece of sponsored content requires its own disclosure, including shares directing back to a blog post with its own disclosure. If you are spending a weekend on behalf of a brand at a hotel, it's not sufficient to identify your first post as sponsored and not the subsequent ones.
The disclosure needs to obvious to everyone: using hashtags such as #partner and #sp doesn't clearly convey to those outside the blogging space that a post was sponsored.
- You can use natural language as space allows.
- Since you are very limited on space on Twitter, proper disclosure will usually require the use of Ad, Sponsored or Promotion at the beginning of your tweet.
- On Instagram, remember that only the first three lines of your post are visible to those scrolling through their feed, so disclosures will need to appear before that point— and not buried within a clump of other hashtags.
Other Instances Requiring Disclosure
If you are running a contest or sweepstakes and entrants have chances to win when they post to social media, each entry should include some form of disclosure (for example, #contest or #sweepstakes; #sweeps is not sufficient). This requirement should be made clear in your official rules.
The FTC stipulates that medium of the disclosure should match the medium that you are using. Therefore, a disclosure within the caption for the video on its YouTube page is not sufficient; if a video is shared the viewer may not necessarily ever see it. The disclosure should be within the video, before the sponsored content, and also displayed in writing on your video at the same time.
Claims and Atypical Results
Sponsored posts that involve health or weight loss claims need special consideration. If you are sharing results, like losing x number of pounds in a short period of time, and these results would not be not typical for the average consumer, this must be disclosed: Ad. I tried these supplements and lost 15 lbs. in a week. Thank you, X! *Results not typical and your results may vary.
To put it bluntly: when in doubt, disclose.
If you have additional questions about how to properly disclose, or just want the peace of mind of knowing your disclosure is sufficient, reach out to Danielle at her firm, Liss Legal.