Not long ago, when brands thought about FTC guidelines they considered commercials they were producing, magazine ads, and other traditional advertising methods. As more and more brands adopt social media strategies and enlist influencers to create sponsored content, we need to be increasingly mindful of disclosure.
Having a solid plan to avoid the steep FTC penalties is an absolute must, not to mention that failing to disclose can cause consumers to lose faith in your brand – decreasing their likelihood to shop or engage. Here are three things you should do to make sure you are in compliance while using social media influencers to promote your product or service.
1. Facebook: Tread Carefully!
Facebook recently expanded access to their branded content tool, allowing influencers to opt in to directly link their posts to brands, as opposed to an old-fashioned tag. This gives the brand access to the post analytics such as reach and engagement. Brands also have the option to share and boost the content. Once an influencer opts in, their branded content will now be labeled “Paid” right next to the time stamp, as well as clearly mentioning the brand name.
Brands beware! This does NOT mean your influencers are in the clear for FTC disclosure. This feature assists with transparency and could very possibly be approved by the FTC as a means to disclose at some point, but let’s not jump the gun here. Facebook says specifically, “Publishers will still be responsible for complying with any relevant advertising regulations in their markets, including providing necessary disclosures indicating the commercial nature of the content they post.” So yes, #ad is still a must… for now.
2. Video Content: Disclosure in Motion
In a world where content is king, video is the ultimate boss. As more platforms evolve and create new ways to share video content, that means it’s time to update your disclosure policy. Think about it: Instagram Stories, Facebook Live, and Snapchat allow users to create content that is essentially temporary.
In general, when creating content on Instagram Stories or Snapchat, you should at least disclose at the beginning and end. Why both? Because after 24 hours, that initial disclosure is lost into the abyss, and if someone tunes in after the introduction has expired, it may be lost on them that the content was sponsored.
The FTC specifically states that disclosure on video ads, must be “On the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood.” And no, #sp does not cut it! Unlike YouTube video content, where the entire video lives forever, disappearing content requires that you cover your disclosure bases a bit more carefully.
3. Plan Ahead: Set Rules for Those Guidelines
Because the FTC requirements vary depending on the platform and content, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and the FTC guidelines do provide some room for interpretation. However, that excuse won’t keep you from getting fined if you inadvertently fail to comply!
Working with an agency like Everywhere that specializes in social media and influencer marketing can make all the difference. We work with our clients to determine how to most clearly disclose for the type of content they are sharing. Whether this is a simple #ad or a unique disclosure statement that we develop with the brand’s marketing team, we always keep FTC guidelines top of mind.
Once you’ve determined which type of disclosure is best for the content you’re sharing, be sure to clearly communicate that to the influencers. Disclosure can’t be an afterthought, and being upfront with influencers about expectations is just one of many ways to ensure you stay in the FTC’s good graces.
In addition to understanding the importance of these standards, we’re extra motivated to keep up with best practices because our very own CEO, Danica Kombol, is on the board of WOMMA. Also known as the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, this group of thought leaders is one of the primary industry organizations advocating for ethical marketing practices. In fact, they offer an on-line course on “The Ethical Use of Social Media for Marketers,” which takes all of 45 minutes and helps demystify the FTC guidelines.
Still, there are those who wonder what’s the worst that can happen? In addition, to losing customer loyalty and purchasing power, brands can be slapped with rigorous penalties and hefty fines. Warner Bros. was recently in hot water for paying influencers to promote a new game, “Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.” Influencers raved about the product to their viewers but failed to properly disclose that they were being compensated for the content. Warner Bros. got off easy with a warning and strict guidelines for any future activations. However, other huge brands have received more than $100 million in fines from the FTC.
The moral of the story? When in doubt, over-disclose. It’s not spammy – it’s trustworthy and will serve your brand better in the long run.