Jeremy is the CEO/Founder of Sideqik. He has a passion for helping the world’s top brands build authentic relationships.
The government is cracking down on influencer relationships. Over the past couple of years, the conversations around brands and partnership transparency in influencer marketing have come under fire. A lack of disclosure in influencer content, faulty agreements, unmarked sponsorships and misleading advertisements have become a problem that's saturating the industry.
As Gen Z and millennials rally for more authentic and transparent communications between brands, influencers and their audiences, regulations must change to reflect the growing requirements for partnerships on social media. In November 2019, the FTC released a statement on its website containing a new guide for online influencers. The eight-page guide, titled "Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers," provides tips for when and how influencers should tell their followers about a relationship with a brand or advertiser. The document consists of outlined regulations for influencer partnerships.
Instead of combing through the document, we’ve analyzed the guide and found some interesting points. Here are a few key takeaways:
Interactions are endorsements.
In the past, engagements between social media users required no further insight into the relationship between parties — if one user enjoyed the content that another user had posted, they would "like" that content. However, as the line between personal and professional continues to blur, the distinction between personal and professional endorsements has become more prominent.
The FTC guide states that "tags, likes, pins and similar ways of showing you like a brand or product are endorsements." For influencers, these endorsements extend outside of brand partnerships. As a person who cites influence from others, any sort of interaction or engagement with another brand, account or user can translate into an endorsement. For influencers, this means monitoring the personal use of social media apps even further. Geotagging a coffee place you got brunch at last week can be seen as an endorsement of that brand, whether it was intentional or not. Liking the post of a similar influencer can be seen as an endorsement of their content, ethos and personality, even if the two users have never met.
In this case, influencers accept the trade-off for their fame with the acknowledgment that anything they interact with can reflect on their character and, therefore, their future brand partnerships.
To avoid problems with unintentional endorsements, influencers can post more meaningful content. Transparency and authenticity are important on social media, and this FTC guideline gives influencers the chance to create content directly related to their interests — and skip the fluff.
Disclosure language is important (but subjective).
This is a very important observation. On page 4 of the disclosure guide, the FTC describes appropriate ways of disclosing an influencer partnership. On this page, there are two phrases bolded: "Make sure people will see and understand the disclosure" and "Place it so it’s hard to miss."
There is no exact science of how to confirm someone sees (and absorbs) your messaging — regardless of intent — making this section a possible source of controversy in the future. The page goes on to share guidelines for disclosures on different formats, including pictures, videos and live streams, but the actual confirmation that a viewer sees the disclosure message is still uncertain or unclear.
The best way for influencers to follow this guideline is to make their partnerships as obvious and transparent as possible. For a static image, label the partnership large and clear in a place that draws the viewer's eye. For videos or streams, speak loudly, clearly and slowly so that viewers can get the full grasp of your message and the full extent of your partnership. Audiences aren't tricked by old sponsored post methods anymore. They value transparency and prefer influencers to be honest and blatant about their partnerships.
Disclosures must be superimposed.
An interesting addition to the disclosure document was the statement that partnerships must be superimposed across picture and video content. The FTC states that for platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, a superimposed disclosure (like #sponsored or similar endorsement) must be included over the picture to make sure viewers have enough time to notice and read it. There is a similar requirement for video content.
Hashtag disclosures are not necessary.
In the early days of influencer marketing, hashtags were the main indication of a sponsored post or advertisement partnership. In 2017, the FTC released a new set of requirements for influencers, with #sponsored and #ad as the only compliant hashtags for proper disclosure. Despite the clarification for acceptable practices, the hashtag requirements did not sit well with influencers at the time.
However, as recently released in this disclosure document, this is no longer the case. With the requirements of other disclosures for influencer partnerships, the FTC has declared that the use of the hashtag is no longer necessary. The influencer must still include mention of a sponsorship or paid promotion within the text of the content’s caption.
Even though an eight-page document can seem daunting, the FTC is pushing for more transparent relationships between brands, influencers and consumers. Instead of hindering the efforts of influencers, these new guidelines ensure that influencers will clearly and properly communicate with their audiences, pushing the influencer industry into an age of honesty.