Laura Petrolino

FTC Disclosure: The Latest Guidelines for Social Media Influencers

By: Laura Petrolino | September 25, 2017 | 
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FTC Disclosure: The Latest Guidelines for Social Media InfluencersEarlier this month the FTC settled its first complaint case against two social media influencers who did not use proper disclosure on their promotional posts.

Additionally, it sent 21 warning letters to social media influencers whom it contacted earlier in the year about poor disclosure practices.

A few weeks ago they came out with an updated Q&A based article on endorsement guidelines and last Wednesday they hosted #influencer101 chat on Twitter.

All of this is part of a concentrated educational effort to show marketers and influencers the FTC is serious about enforcement and “not knowing” is not an acceptable excuse.

FTC Disclosure #Influencer101

The chat on Wednesday was full of a ton of great info, confirmations, and clarifications.

I’ve pulled together the most notable discussions for communicators, to review here.

How Do I Disclose?

The biggest question about FTC endorsement guidelines for social media is how to disclose and what the FTC disclosure and social media guidelines are for each platform.

For text-based ads, the use of #ad, #paid, or #BRANDNAMEpartner are all ok to use.

It is extremely important that whatever you use is easily noticeable and preferably at the beginning of the update.

You can’t do a laundry list of hashtags and slip your disclosure one somewhere in the mix. If the disclosure hashtag is easily missed or skipped over, it’s not acceptable.

Instead of a text-based disclosure, you can also use an image-based disclosure. The disclosure must be superimposed on the image, extremely clear, stand out in a way that followers can’t avoid it, and be easy to understand.

Additionally, image-based disclosures must be positioned so they can be seen before the ad.

FTC disclosure for Instagram Stories and Snapchat are a tad bit trickier.

You must superimpose the disclosure over the image.

It also must be easily noticed and read in the amount of time someone has to view it.

Disclosure only needs to be on the first post, if you have a series of posts on a product.

This is only true if the posts will all be seen together.

I’ve maybe seen one percent of influencer properly disclose on Instagram stories.

A lot of improvement is needed here.

What Do I Need to Disclose When?

When is FTC disclosure necessary?

The short, unofficial answer is ALL THE TIMESSSSSSS

The more detailed answers are as follows:

I work for a brand, but they didn’t pay me for this post

If you post about a brand you must disclose your relationship with them.

You are their influencer so what you say about them will affect your followers, whether they pay you specifically for that mention or not.

I’m a spokesperson for a brand, do I need to disclose?

If you are a well-known spokesperson for a brand you still need to disclose.

The official FTC disclosure rule is if the majority of your followers know of your relationship, then you don’t need to.

Unfortunately, that is VERY difficult to prove.

If you feel ready to get all of your followers up on the stand and ask them one by one if they know of your affiliations then go ahead… don’t disclose.

If you’d rather not deal with that, just disclose and be safe.

Plus, the likelihood you overestimate the number of people who are aware of your affiliation with a brand is high.

I’m a U.S. influencer traveling abroad for a brand. What FTC disclosure laws do I need to follow?

In international situations, always think about what audience your posts influence.

If you influence a U.S. audience, you need to follow U.S. laws.

You most likely will also need to comply with foreign laws.

Likewise, if a non-U..S influencer has influence over U.S. consumers or posts about a product available to U.S. consumers, they also must follow FTC disclosure rules.

You can run, you can hide, but you can’t kick the FTC, no matter where you are in the world.

A brand gave me a ticket to an event. I want to post about it from my personal point-of-view, do I need to disclose?

If what you want to post has anything to do with the brand or might influence someone about the brand in any way, disclose.

If it’s just about how much your cat might like the music, how offensive the plaid pants of the usher are, or something else totally non-brand related, you don’t have to.

Use your critical thinking skills here.

If I host giveaways, funded by third parties, do I need to disclose?

Yes.

You need to tell your followers the giveaway is hosted by a third party.

If they think the giveaway is funded by the influencer or the influencer isn’t getting anything for him/herself then you haven’t properly disclosed.

Don’t assume it’s clear the giveaway is brand sponsored just because the giveaway includes products from the brand.

Basic rule: don’t assume anything when it comes to FTC disclosure.

What About Built-in Disclosures?

Built-in disclosures (such as “this includes paid promotion” on YouTube or “paid” tag on Facebook) are NOT SUFFICIENT.

For a built-in disclosure to be acceptable, it has to be clear and conspicuous for the audience.

The FTC staff DOES NOT think the built-in YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook tools do this.

What Can I Do to Ease My Anxiety?

  • Review the graphic below.
  • Follow the FTC on Twitter.
  • Attend future chats
  • Read the FTC blog and posted guidelines
  • Join the PR Dream Team for an outside team to help troubleshoot your influencer marketing campaigns and disclosure guidelines.

Additionally, during the chat, the FTC emphasized the willingness of their staff to give informal guidance.

They asked that influencers and marketers emailed them at ENDORSEMENTS@ftc.gov.

What questions do you have?

I’ll compile them and send a collective email to the FTC for any we can’t find answers to for a follow-up article.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • paulakiger

    All the yes to this (not that I do it perfectly — it’s a constant process of learning what to do, etc.). Would love to see an example of an Instagram/superimposed disclosure! I would also love a more detailed discussion of FTC regulations around follow/unfollow links. Thanks.

    • I’d love to show you an example, but they are a rarity. Let me do some IG stories for Spin Sucks Instagram and can give examples

      • paulakiger

        That would be great — definitely something that applies to me directly so I appreciate the additional help!

        • Well, it is all about you Paula, so your wish is my command!

          • paulakiger

            I learned that the IG thing is only for stories (not for static images) — that was my main confusion. But yes please throw down some ninja-riffic examples in an IG story, Laura!

          • The only time it’s for static images is if you DON’T want to include disclosure in the caption.

  • Great info, Laura. Thanks for the summary.

  • Dawn Buford

    This is very good information to have all in one place. And come on, there is no excuse for an influencer not to be aware of the rules.

  • Content stealer! THIEF! You’d better thank me for adding the image that makes this entire article! You, thief.

  • This sums it up, “don’t assume anything when it comes to FTC disclosure.”

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