Welcome back to my series on, how not to get in trouble working as a social media influencer. Ok, I am still working on the best way to describe these articles. This week we are going to focus on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for advertising, marketing, and endorsements as it applies to social media. The FTC is concerned with consumer protection and ensuring that people’s buying decisions aren’t inappropriately influenced, and their buying experiences aren’t negative or fraudulent in any way. They are a (just another) government agency that does, in fact, monitor your social media.
Since social media advertising is nearly a 20-billion-dollar industry, the FTC has started to disrupt influencer marketing just a little bit more than before. Previously if you weren’t a Kardashian you might have been able to get away with less than perfect posts. But, those days are gone so here is what you need to know.
There appears to be a bit of a misconception as it relates to social media, brands, and promoting products or services you like. Here is the thing, if you’re approached by a brand that either gives you free product, or gives you product and pays you, and then asks for you to post about your experience with that product then you must follow the FTC guidelines. You can check out the endorsement and advertising rules here if you’re interested. But, I’ll summarize things for you a bit.
The FTC Endorsement Guides require that any material connection between an influencer and the product or service they are posting about must be clearly disclosed i.e. tell the world that you were given the product for free, paid to post, or somehow inorganically came in contact with the product or service in exchange for a social media post. How these disclosures are made can happen in a variety of ways. For example, on Instagram, the use of hashtags that say sponsored or paid advertisement is often seen as appropriate especially if paired with a statement within the caption from the influencer regarding the connection. The FTC clearly indicates in its Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements, that messages (posts, videos etc.) that are not readily
“identifiable as advertising to consumers are deceptive if they mislead consumers into believing they are independent, impartial or not from the sponsoring advertiser itself.”
In other words, don’t make it look too organic or the FTC is going to come after you. Also, as the influencer, you aren’t allowed to say something about the product that the brand wouldn’t be able to say in their own marketing. This means your post, your comments, your video whatever it is, has to also follow the advertising guidelines. A brand can’t employ an influencer to make some crazy false statement about their product to get past the guidelines. Brands aren’t allowed to mislead consumers in their marketing so neither are you. Unfair or deceptive advertising is a no go for you the social media user/influencer as well as for the brand you are working with.
So What Should You Do?
For starters, you need to do your research. Get familiar with the FTC and the rules and guidelines. They have a great, pretty user-friendly website I highly recommend you become familiar with. If you’re using social media to make money through brand partnerships you and the FTC website should get close.
Secondly, before you post about any product or service run through some questions. Are you being asked to post about this? Have you been given free product or been paid in any other way? Did you get a discount to try something in order to post about it? Is this post anything more than you bought and you liked it? If you answer YES to any of those questions, make the proper disclosures!! I am going to reiterate this in case it hasn’t been made clear yet, this is not an option this is a legal requirement. Some people in the social media influencer world still aren’t quite getting that…
Finally, if you are working with a brand or a brand representative do yourself a favor, and ask for a contract (or at the very least get an email confirmation) that details the relationship, your responsibility to disclose the material connection, how that can be done, and what claims about the product or service are off limits.
You might be thinking that there is no way the FTC is every going to find you and your posts, you’re most likely wrong. There is a new trend in which 3rd parties are filing complaints against brands and influencers for failures to comply with the guidelines. What better way for a 3rd party to bring down a big brand or influencer than by having a huge fine slapped on them by the FTC for failure to comply? Do the right thing, and don’t break the law.
If you have more questions about this feel free to shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy posting!!
Please note that this is not meant to be legal advice for you or your situation, this is merely some legal research and knowledge on the given topic.