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The foundation of influencer marketing is authenticity. Influencers are influencers because they’ve gained the trust of their audience by offering quality content that’s genuine and relatable. For marketing with influencers to work, that authenticity must be maintained. Beyond these ethical issues in influencer marketing, influencers and brands are required to abide by FTC guidelines and social media platform community guidelines and terms of service. By being aware of the expectations and following certain best practices, you can protect your brand from potential ethical and legal issues and thrive with influencer marketing.

Consumers Demand Authenticity

Consumers are savvy. They want to be talked to, not talked at; as in, they’re much more interested in getting the straight facts about a product or service than being sold to. That’s why the average consumer spends 13 minutes and 45 seconds reading online customer reviews before making a buying decision. It’s also why 92 percent of consumers trust the recommendation of an influencer more than a celebrity endorsement or traditional advertisement. Note the ethics consumers expect from influencers and brands when it comes to influencer marketing:

Consumers want to know up front that a post is an ad. Consumers not only appreciate transparency, but they’ve come to expect it. So much so that 86 percent of people are likely to turn away from a brand that lacks transparency on social media and shop with a competitor. To safeguard your brand, adopt the values that consumers use to define transparency, according to a survey of 1,000 Americans openness, honesty and clarity are the attributes that they most value in a brand

Consumers want quality, relevant content. People are looking for content from influencers and brands that educates, inspires, informs or entertains them. They’ll follow a content creator and form an affinity with your brand when they find content that’s relevant to their interests and needs. Accomplish this by getting to know your target audience and making sure your influencers share the same target audience. And partner with influencers who would buy your product anyway, even if you weren’t sponsoring their content. This way, your relationship feels natural and authentic to potential customers.

Consumers don’t want too much sponsored content. Ideally, your influencers should be posting several organic posts to every one sponsored post. This way, their feed doesn’t end up sounding like a continuous stream of advertisements, and their connection with the influencer remains personal and genuine.

Influencers Have a Moral Obligation to Their Audience

An important point for brands to keep in mind is the need for influencers to maintain loyalty to their audience members. By creating content that’s interesting to their audience, it’s an influencer’s followers and subscribers who’ve catapulted them to influencer status. So influencers have a moral and practical obligation to continue to be true to their audience by producing content that’s genuine and meets their needs. Once posts start feeling spammy, scripted or like a commercial, followers will start turning away.

Influencers need to make sure they’re not just in it for the money. Both brands and influencers should ensure they share the same values as well. And brands need to make sure they allow influencers to exercise their creative license. You want to be among the 90 percent of marketers that say their influencer marketing ROI is equal to or greater than their ROI from other marketing efforts. And you don’t want your influencer marketing efforts to end up on a list of top influencer marketing campaigns gone wrong.

Brands Are Legally Responsible for Disclosure

While content creators must maintain integrity, it is ultimately the brand that has the legal responsibility to make sure viewers know content is being paid for. And both brand and influencer are held liable for making false or misleading statements. The FTC sets forth clear guidelines — complete with situational examples — that must be followed when brands form a contractual agreement with content creators. Make sure you understand these guidelines and have safeguards set in place to ensure they’re followed, including adopting the following best practices:

Clearly use the word “sponsored” or “ad” in each sponsored post.

Whenever you’re paying an influencer to mention your brand, this must be immediately obvious to the reader, viewer or listener. “Paying” for content includes giving free products or services to the content creator in exchange for their endorsement, opinion or mention.

The easiest way to do this on social media is to use built-in disclosure tools on platforms that offer them, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Using the tool, the post will state upfront the post is sponsored or a paid partnership. In the absence of a tool or when writing a blog post, uploading a video or making a podcast, have your influencer create a clear statement. For example, use #sponsored, #ad at the beginning of hashtag strings or a sentence that clearly states the relationship between the influencer and brand.

In videos, the statement must be made verbally at the beginning of the video as well as written in the description. For all content, the viewer should not have to hunt for evidence of sponsorship.


Create a brand media kit that includes a legal disclosure policy.

While influencers provide media kits to showcase their stats, talents and content samples, brands should also provide media kits to influencers. A brand media kit describes the brand’s goals, voice, guidelines and requirements for the campaign, and so on. It should also include a legal disclosure policy that states how, when and where the influencer must state sponsorship. Include this policy in your contract to hold the influencer accountable.


Set up a system for checking content for compliance.

Checking each piece of content that your influencers create is cumbersome and impractical manually. Use an influencer management tool or platform to track this for you so you can ensure all content complies with your disclosure policy.


Fully vet influencers before signing a contract.

This is one of the best ways to ensure your brand remains within the ethical standards of influencer marketing. Contract with authentic influencers that you’ve fully researched for quality content and integrity. Go through their past content and look for:

  • Disclaimers clearly displayed in sponsored content
  • Content that mentions a brand and might be sponsored, but a disclaimer is not displayed, which you should ask the influencer about
  • The influencer’s ability to prompt a product without sounding promotional or biased
  • Signs that the influencer gives an honest review, which could include giving negatives about the product or service as well as positives


Nurture your relationship with your influencers.

When you find a trusted influencer who’s helping your brand reach its goals, hang onto them. Forming a long-term relationship with an influencer is time- and cost-effective and improves trust with your audience. It also allows for a stronger, more authentic relationship to form between your brand and the influencer. A loyal influencer who knows your brand well will naturally be motivated to promote your brand in the most authentic way.