—THE—SOAPBOX—

FTC social influencer marketing

Todd Cameron - August 4, 2016

FTC Rules of Engagement for Influencer Marketing

As digital marketing continues to evolve to include social media influencer marketing tactics, quick changes create need for regulation and oversight that is hard to keep up with.

TapInfluence has written the book on influencer marketing and cracked the code on how to create programs with real influence. We have built a true opt-in influencer marketplace that enables us to nurture relationships with creators who choose to work with us, as opposed to having their information scraped from the internet without their knowledge, as is the case with most platforms. We rigorously track and follow FTC guidelines and work closely with influencers to make sure everyone knows where the line is drawn when promoting brands.

According to his 2016 guide to successful influencer marketing, Shane Barker explained that 65% of brands currently engage in influencer marketing, and that adblocking has grown by 41% over the last year. The pattern is clear: as consumers reject one channel, marketers adapt by shifting their focus to another. It’s an exciting step forward for the digital marketing industry. However, greater adoption of influencer marketing brings greater responsibility for those using it.

It is reported that just over half of brands require influencers to properly disclose sponsored content, with another third asking for them to be included sometimes, but not consistently.

To add to this, an article in AdWeek yesterday discussed how some marketers have either been confused about disclosure rules on Snapchat, or chosen to use the ephemeral platform as a means of skirting FTC requirements:

Unlike other platforms like Instagram and Twitter where social celebs typically have to clearly label their content as paid endorsements, sponsored content on Snapchat has been murky for marketers until recently. Snapchat doesn’t have any strict rules for content creators to abide by, and it can be difficult to find misleading content since posts automatically disappear within 24 hours.

Recent fumbles by Lord & Taylor and Warner Bros have brought broad industry awareness to legal requirements surrounding influencer marketing. It is now—and has always been—our job as marketers to understand our legal responsibility.

To be clear, all sponsored content is governed by the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines for native advertising, which require that all paid social endorsements—regardless of platform—be labeled so as to be “honest and not misleading.” New and emerging platforms and channels are no exception. Despite this, TapInfluence-sponsored research by Altimeter revealed that 48% of marketers “sometimes” or “never” require influencers to mark their sponsored posts with  FTC-compliant disclaimers. This creates enormous legal exposure, but perhaps even more important—it hurts the integrity of the industry as a whole. Legal considerations aside, transparency is the key to maintaining trust between brands, consumers and influencers

Everything You Need to Be Authentic and FTC-Compliant

Before you roll out any type of influencer-powered advertising on any platform (seriously, any), hold your brand (or yourself) accountable for doing it right. Remember: your goal with influencer marketing should always be to improve the user experience for consumers and to establish an authentic connection—which marketers and influencers agree is the #1 most powerful aspect of influencer marketing (Altimeter July 2016). Never attempt to use influencers to conceal the promotional nature of your messages.

If you even find yourself thinking that concealing might be an added benefit, don’t do it. Your consumers are more savvy and observant than you might think, and they deserve to know when they are being marketed to.

In December of 2015, the FTC issued a statement calling out deceptive ads. These include:

  • Advertisements that appear in “news format” or otherwise misrepresent their source or nature (e.g., an advertisement formatted to appear as a regular search result without disclosing the paid nature of the advertisement).
  • Advertisements with misleading “open doors” (e.g., an email that misleads the recipient as to the source or content of the email).
  • Deceptive endorsements that do not disclose a sponsoring advertiser (e.g., reviews in an app store that are posted by employees of a public relations firm hired by the app developer).

Always be sure to clearly disclose native advertisements of any kind, so that consumers will understand the motive behind the messages. Officially, disclosures must be made:

  • In clear and unambiguous language
  • As close as possible to the native ads to which they relate
  • In a font and color that’s easy to read
  • In a shade that stands out against the background
  • For video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood
  • For audio disclosures, read at a cadence that’s easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand

Here are some examples of proper disclosure:

FTC social influencer marketing
No BS—”Brought to you by Sargento”
FTC social influencer marketing
#Ad + the sponsoring brand tagged and called out by name

The bottom line: brand motivations and consumers’ needs don’t have to be at odds with one another. Influencer marketing is an opportunity for brands to promote their products and add value for customers beyond what could ever have been accomplished in traditional ads. Take that opportunity and commit to doing it right, every time.

For more resources on FTC guidelines, check out these links: