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Attention, influencers: the Federal Trade Commission wants you to know that throwing “#ad” at the end of a long string of hashtags is not enough disclosure.
The FTC released a new brochure, Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers, aimed at helping influencers understand when and how to disclose partnerships in posts. Among the most important takeaways: you might be required to disclose a partnership even if you’re not getting paid. “Disclose when you have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand,” the guide instructs. “Financial relationships aren’t limited to money. Disclose the relationship if you got anything of value to mention a product.”
And, yes, it’s an endorsement even if you don’t explicitly tell people to buy a product. “Keep in mind that tags, likes, pins, and similar ways of showing you like a brand or product are endorsements,” the brochure says.
Okay, so you need to disclose your partnerships. Now what? The brochure cautions against disclosing in your profile alone. “Disclosures are likely to be missed if they appear only on an ABOUT ME or profile page, at the end of posts or videos, or anywhere that requires a person to click MORE.” The guide goes on to specifically caution influencers against mixing their disclosure into a group of hashtags or links, where it’s more likely to be missed.
The FTC guidelines also outline the rules in relation to different media. In video content, the guide says, influencers should disclose the partnership in the clip as well as the description. “Viewers are more likely to notice disclosures made in both audio and video,” the guide explains. “Some viewers may watch without sound and others may not notice superimposed words.” And live streamers would be wise to disclose their partnerships early and often. “If making an endorsement in a live stream, the disclosure should be repeated periodically so viewers who only see part of the stream will get the disclosure,” the guide says.
While the brochure itself is new, the guidance on proper social media disclosure isn’t. The FTC has been cracking down on ambiguous influencer marketing for years now. The agency settled its first complaint against a pair of influencers, two Youtubers the FTC said deceptively endorsed an online gambling service they owned, in September 2017, according to the FTC. Around the same time, the agency sent warning letters to stars like Lindsay Lohan, Scott Disick, Naomi Campbell and Snooki, requesting information about their Instagram endorsements, according to Consumer Reports.
For more information, or to access the full guide, visit FTC.gov.