Does you brand regularly work with influencers? If so, you might prefer it if audiences didn’t pay attention to the “man behind the curtain,” as it were. The best influencer/brand partnerships seem natural and authentic, right? But things are a bit trickier than that. Influencer marketing is a type of advertising, as far as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is concerned. Thus, it needs to contain some sort of disclosure. Ads must let people know that an influencer receives compensation for anything they post about a brand. That’s why brands need to know FTC Influencer Disclosure Best Practices.
What Is FTC Influencer Disclosure
For awhile, influencer marketing was a bit like the Wild West when it came to disclosures. The 2017 State of the Creator Economy study found that nearly 30 percent of brands asked influencers not to disclose their relationships. That’s a direct violation of the FTC’s rules.
You have to wonder if actor Margot Robbie and Hunter boots is such an example. Did the brand ask the influencer not to disclose? Robbie initially tagged her Glastonbury post (in which she was wearing a pair of wellies) with #ad. Mysteriously, somewhat later, the #ad disappeared.
Robbie didn’t get into any trouble for her disclosure screw-up (as far as we know). But the FTC did start to crack down on influencers last spring. It sent out 90 warning/educational letters to influencers. Those letters were followed a few months later with additional letters. The FTC asked influencers to let them know how they planned to disclose any material relationships with brands and advertisers.
To avoid running afoul of the FTC, it’s a good idea to follow a few FTC Influencer Disclosure Best Practices. Although there’s a lot of groaning and complaining about disclosure, it’s actually very, very easy to do.
FTC Influencer Disclosure Best Practices
Know when to disclose.
When does an influencer need to disclose that they have a relationship with a brand? The answer is super simple: anytime there is a material relationship. FTC Influencer Disclosure Best Practices state if an influencer is writing about a product they discovered and paid for on their own, and are writing about it out of sheer love of the item, there’s no need to disclose that the post is an ad, because it’s not. The influencer is just sharing something they love with their followers.
But if a brand discovers that an influencer loves their products and starts sending that influencer free things or money in exchange for a blog post or Instagram photo, then there’s a relationship. In that case, the influencer needs to disclose the connection to their audience.
It’s worth noting FTC Influencer Disclosure Best Practices require the disclosure of a relationship and the nature of the relationship even if money doesn’t change hands. That’s because getting something for free can change a person’s perspective on the item, and can also change how an audience or follower perceives the influencer’s opinion.
For example, the book review program Blogging for Books used to send bloggers free copies of books to review. Even though those bloggers didn’t get money for their reviews, they were still expected to reveal the relationship in their reviews. One example is in this review of the book “L’Appart,” where the blogger simply writes “this book was provided by Blogging for Books” at the end.
Make the disclosure prominent.
FTC Influencer Disclosure Best Practices state people shouldn’t have to hunt and peck around to figure out whether an ad is really an ad. The disclosure shouldn’t be buried in a sea of hashtags. If the content is a video, the FTC prefers for the disclosure to be in the video itself, rather than in the description of the video. In the case of Instagram posts, the disclosure needs to appear within the first three lines, so that it’s visible without a person having to click “More.”
Compare and contrast these influencer posts for the gummy vitamins Sugar Bear Hair. In the case of notsobasik, the “#ad” is a bit buried, occurring in the very last line of the caption. This post from Dani Brickman doesn’t even include any disclosure. This one from Lauren Calaway has #ad near the end, but the caption is less than three lines. The post also has a “Paid partnership with…” notifier at the top, making it very clear that there’s a relationship between the influencer and the manufacturer of the vitamins.
“Keep it simple, stupid” is a worthwhile FTC Influencer Disclosure Best Practice to remember when you’re trying to figure out how to disclose, or how to have an influencer disclose a relationship with your brand. Including “#ad” might not be sexy or interesting, but it gets the job done. Plus, it only takes up three characters, so it won’t interfere with character limits or keep your influencers from fully expressing themselves.
Obviously, #ad is only going to work on platforms where hashtags are a thing. In other cases, an influencer might need to provide a bit more detail. For example, if an influencer is writing a blog post or making a video about a trip your brand paid for, they should say “Brand X paid for the trip” somewhere in the blog post or video. If your brand gave the influencer money, they can say, “I received compensation for sharing my views.”
Again, with FTC Influencer Disclosure Best Practices, simplest is best. Have your influencers be clear and direct. Otherwise, you risk losing the trust of your audience.
One example of a disclosure that doesn’t really disclose comes from Joy the Baker. In a recent blog post, she announced a giveaway and a new recipe in honor of the Kentucky Derby. She states that she has “partnered with The Kentucky Derby to bring you an approachable, at-home Derby-inspired menu.”
But what “partner” means might not be immediately obvious to a reader. Does it mean the Derby is paying her to write the post, or is it simply sponsoring the giveaway? Clearer, simpler language would have put any questions to rest.
Keep track of influencers.
As a brand, you can’t simply assume that influencers will follow disclosure rules and best practices. The FTC might not come after you right away, but it will probably catch up with you if there’s a trail of influencers who are skipping disclosure when your products are involved.
While you shouldn’t have to babysit influencers, you do want to confirm that they’re including the proper disclosures. One option is to use influencer marketing software that automatically includes the required disclosure in posts. That way, neither brand nor influencer needs to put much thought or effort into ensuring that the posts created comply with the rules.
Influencer disclosure can seem like a major pain, but the reality is that it’s a lot easier to just do it and get it out of the way than it is to worry that the FTC is going to come knocking on your door.