Social Media Compliance Basics
By: Trisha Fawver
While Social Media marketing is sometimes still referred to as the wild west of marketing channels, the reality is that it’s now established as the primary source of news, entertainment, and shopping for an entire generation of consumers. With that widespread adoption comes the responsibility to those consumers to treat them as people and not numbers. That responsibility also extends to marketing professionals – it’s our duty to ensure that the influencer partners we work with are following the laws of the land. In our case, that’s the FTC and their long-established guidelines for influencer partnership disclosures.
Simply put, it’s the law. With the rise in society of the Social Media Influencer in the 21st Century, the Federal Trade Commission has developed simple guidelines to disclosing paid partnerships so consumers can easily differentiate authentic endorsements from paid advertisements. The FTC is increasingly enforcing these guidelines, and it’s the brands that are on the hook for the fines, which can be upwards of $45,000 per violation! While many influencers do not accept paid partnerships from brands they wouldn’t also honestly endorse, not all are as noble. It is important to be vigilant and ensure that your influencer partners are compliant with these guidelines because it’s your brands that will have to pay the fines. Besides being the law, it’s the ethical thing to do in advertising.
How to Disclose
The short answer is to not be deceptive. There are ways to be upfront with a paid sponsorship without sharing a Super Bowl quality commercial. We recommend to our influencers that they use a simple [AD] placed just before their content or just after the offer text to make it clear when users are reading their caption that there’s a paid relationship. The FTC has published a very simple guide available on its website, Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers. They include multiple examples of very simple and clear language for influencers to disclose paid partnerships in a genuine and authentic way that won’t feel like they’ve “sold out”.
How NOT to Disclose
Many influencers are more concerned with their engagement rates, likes, and comments, so they may not want to bring a lot of attention to their post or video being sponsored as they think it suppresses the engagement. While increasingly not true as users are more accustomed to seeing their favorite influencers sharing sponsored content, it’s still a misconception in the industry. We’ve seen many attempts to satisfy our requests to disclose that don’t quite cut the mustard. Things like very tiny text hidden amongst a busy background on the image itself with no mention in a post caption will not satisfy the FTC. Vague hashtags like #sp or #spon are also expressly discouraged by the FTC. While using a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored is encouraged, burying it a block of hashtags at the bottom of a post or, even worse, in a comment on the post and not the post itself will also not satisfy the FTC and, eventually, their Penalty Offense Authority will start sending out notices to your brand for these disclosure shortcuts.
Conclusion: Do Compliance Checks
At the end of the day, it’s your brand or client’s brand that’s on the hook for those fines. So, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the influencers you work with are being compliant. We include clear language in our contracts with influencers that make it very clear how they can disclose the paid ad, and that they are absolutely required to disclose. We remind them several times along the process of getting their ads scheduled that they need to disclose. When we have our agents check to ensure posts happen on the days they’re scheduled for, we also remind folks to disclose. In the moment, yes it can be nitpicky and a bit of a hassle to chase down a small influencer to do it. But in the long run, it’ll save our clients from a legal battle that will cost them thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines. In the end, besides being the ethical way to conduct advertising, it’s just smart business.