Marketers are on the hook for influencer content

The FTC’s influencer marketing policies are back in the news.

Recently, the FTC issued warnings to approximately 90 influencers about their (lack of) disclosures on branded posts. This marks a change of enforcement for the FTC as they were previously more keen to come down on the brand responsible for an improperly disclosed post. But now they’re taking the same warnings to the influencers who are guilty of “regular and repeated misrepresentations of sponsored posts”.

This most recent round of warnings came after public interest group, Public Citizen, issued a complaint letter to the FTC. The letter cited multiple examples of brands and influencers abusing policies by not clearly disclosing influencer posts as paid ads. Public Citizen asserted that “Instagram has become a breeding ground of deceptive ads targeted to young children”. In this letter, Public Citizen asks the FTC to step up their enforcement because they don’t feel that the commission is keeping pace with the ever-growing influencer industry.

With the influencer marketing industry expected to reach over $2 Billion by 2019, the FTC sees the need to step up its enforcement game. Their most recent move is coming down on not only the brands issuing these posts but also the influencers creating them.

On both sides of influencer marketing, the FTC wants to ensure that every campaign is following the rules and that each post is clearly disclosed. We’ve all seen suspicious posts without proper disclosure. As marketers, we can usually spot a paid promo even without disclosure… but to the average consumer that line between paid endorsement and unsolicited rave review isn’t so clear.

As the FTC continues to push the enforcement of these policies beyond brands, we’re likely to see harsher penalties in the future. Because influencer marketing is still in its infancy, it is likely that the FTC is giving brands an educational grace period to learn about the policies. But that won’t last long. That’s why we’ve created resources like our comprehensive ebook covering the FTC’s guidelines on influencer marketing. But the longer these policies are in place, the greater the expectation to follow them will be. It won’t be long before the FTC is regularly issuing punishments to both brands and influencers. Don’t be one of them!

On our sister site, Snapfluence, we’re informing influencers of the guidelines too to help them on your campaigns. In the past, creators could get away with using vague phrasing like #sp, #spon, or “thanks @brand for X product,” but that will no longer meet disclosure requirements. In letters to the 90 individual influencers, the FTC outlined the new, more clearly defined, terms:

  • Consumers should be able to easily notice the disclosure without having to search for it.
  • Disclosures should be included in the first 3 lines of an Instagram post caption, before the “more” button.
  • Disclosures should not be hidden amongst a large cluster of hashtags, especially where they appear at the end of a long post.

More details can be found in this guide on the FTC website. A few notable guidelines include:

  • If you get free product and monetary payment, you need to indicate this clearly. It’s not enough to say that the brand gave you free product to try. You don’t have to disclose how much they paid you, but you need to be clear that you were paid.
  • If your company is a network or agency that recruits and manages influencers for brand collaborations, you are responsible for your influencers’ failures to disclose properly.

At the end of the day, keeping influencer content compliant and clearly disclosed is the marketer’s responsibility. We all have to be aware of the expectations and consistently apply this knowledge to every post in every campaign. But it’s not all bad news. Properly disclosed posts improve influencer marketing by helping creators be more authentic and therefore more effective for your brand.