If you’ve worked with online influencers in the past, you understand how tricky it is to ensure the relationship between a brand and an influencer is transparent and clearly defined for your intended audience, disclosure is also difficult to enforce. Until now, influencers leveraging Facebook and Instagram have used captions and hashtags to disclose their relationship with a brand, which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) felt wasn’t quite clear enough. In response, the social platforms launched new tools in recent months to help facilitate proper partnership disclosure.
Federal Trade Commission?
The Federal Trade Commission is an independent government agency in the United States. It was founded to promote consumer protection and help prevent and eliminate anticompetitive business practices. There are certainly overlaps in requirements when it comes to consumer protections around the world. For the best advice in your region, we recommend checking with your local competition and consumer protection authority.
Why and When Disclosure is Needed
People are influenced by other people’s recommendations to purchase, particularly if they respect and trust their opinion. I know that if a friend or family member of mine recommends a product that their opinion can be trusted. But what happens if a person I typically trust has received money or goods in exchange for a positive review? It’s not fair if I’m unaware of this arrangement, is it? As a consumer, it prevents me from making a fair and factually informed decision. I should know about the relationship between endorser and brand so I’m empowered to weigh the facts and decide for myself.
Influencers use a variety of platforms to endorse brands online. You’ll see influencers recommending products leveraging different methods like blogging, vlogging, social media and even affiliate marketing. And, although sometimes brands believe that disclosing pay-to-play arrangements may negatively impact influencer marketing campaigns, research has found that bloggers who disclose their relationships with brands are viewed as more trustworthy by their audience (Carr and Hayes, 2014).
Elements of a Good Endorsement
The FTC clearly defines how influencers can disclose their relationship with a brand. They advise that it’s pertinent to give the audience a heads-up that they received something of value in exchange for exposure, so influencers must clearly and conspicuously communicate the relationship in the blog or social post (click for the latest guidelines).
Facebook and Instagram commenced the rollout of creator and business partnership tags in reaction to a letter sent to over 90 influencers by the FTC earlier this year. The FTC was concerned that relationship disclosures were either not happening, or in the case of mobile, the disclosures were hidden behind “read more” in longer posts and not immediately visible. There were also concerns about the use of multiple hashtags and tags as users may skip past those, plus the fact that certain hashtags may not be understood by the audience. In addition to making disclosure easier, these new tools allow both brands and influencers to review post insights more easily.
Instagram’s Paid Partnership
The new ‘Paid partnership with’ tag can be used on both Instagram posts and Stories with the new branded content tool. When an influencer shares branded content, they can tag a brand partner to indicate that they were compensated with something of value to promote the brand. This lets their audience understand that there’s a commercial relationship between the tagged brand and the influencer and it is displayed more prominently where the location tag typically lives for both posts and Stories.
Highlighting the relationship is easy for influencers. Once they have staged their post, the ability to tag a business partner is under the ‘Advanced Settings’ option. Influencers simply search for the business profile of the brand and it will appear in the search results for their selection. It’s a little different for Stories as the influencer will need to link to the business partner while creating the Story. Brands can also approve influencers in advance by going to ‘Branded Content Approvals’ under ‘Business Settings’ from their business profile. The new branded content tool on Instagram also allows brands and influencers to track sponsored content performance more easily.
Facebook’s Paid Posts
Facebook defines branded content as any post that includes text, photos, videos, Instant Articles, links, 360 videos, Live Videos from media companies, celebrities or other influencers that feature a third party product, brand or sponsor.
Brands now have the ability to boost a creator’s post directly when tagged, rather than sharing it first. The brand authorizes which creators can tag them in their ‘Page Settings’ under the ‘Branded Content’ section. When an influencer is composing a post they simply give the brand permission to boost it. And, although the post is boosted by the brand, the audience will see the post originated from the influencer. The brand will be able to target custom audiences with the original creator’s post. Paid posts, or branded content, also show brands data so they can judge effectiveness like reach, total spend, engagement, and CPM.
Facebook warns Branded Content tool users not to accept anything of value for post content they “did not create or were not involved in the creation of, or that does not feature you.”
The FTC’s Latest & Greatest
Ultimately the influencer and the brand are both responsible for complying with advertising regulations in their markets and should work together to ensure endorsements backed by payments or items of value are clearly identifiable by audiences. Instagram and Facebook’s updates make it easier for brands and influencers to work together and bring clarity to audiences. Brands should remind influencers to properly disclose the relationship, and influencers should always remember that proper disclosure can only help protect and improve their reputation and future endeavors.
The FTC created a special guide answering the questions people ask about their endorsement guidelines, so be sure to visit it before and during your next influencer campaign for their most current information. For the latest news from the FTC they can be followed on Facebook and Twitter. They also have several subscription options for email updates and RSS feeds.
About the Author: Jasmine Van Schaick is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Musictoday. She manages projects across affiliate marketing, display remarketing, organic SEO, corporate content development and more.