Regulators are cracking down on misleading influencer marketing campaigns. Here’s how to keep your collaborations above board.

Influencer marketing has emerged in the last year as a leading strategy for businesses of all sizes and industries — overtaking paid search, e-mail marketing, and even organic search to become the industry’s fastest growing channel for acquisition, according to a recent report.

With this growth has come a need for brands to clearly understand — and implement — relevant advertising laws. Although every country has its own set of rules, the common thread is simple transparency. A litmus test used by the USA’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that viewers should be able to recognize at a glance that a post is sponsored.

Here are 4 easy ways to make sure your posts are legal no matter where you are in the world:

    1. Ask influencers to tag posts with #ad or #client. It’s a simple step that fits any medium, including space-restricted platforms like Twitter.
    2. Require disclose in every post. It’s not enough to announce a brand-blogger relationship at the beginning of a campaign. Make sure you specify to bloggers that they must mark every post. For bloggers, a simple declaration on an about page is not sufficient.
    3. Add clear language to blog posts. Ask bloggers to include specific language letting their readers know that a post is sponsored.
    4. Request that bloggers use the “nofollow” code. If you ask a blogger to include a link in a sponsored post, it’s a good idea to specify that the link uses “nofollow” code to avoid unethical link building.

With any influencer marketing campaign, remember that while disclosure is largely in bloggers’ hands to implement, the responsibility ultimately rests with brands.

Prominent retailer Lord & Taylor offers a high-profile example of the consequences that brands can face for failing to disclose. The brand settled an FTC complaint earlier this year that the brand deceived customers when it failed to require disclosure in an influencer marketing campaign for its new Design Lab collection.

According to the FTC complaint, Lord & Taylor gifted 50 influencers a Paisley Asymmetrical Design Lab dress and paid each between $1,000 and $4,000 to post a picture of themselves in the dress on social media. Bloggers were contractually obligated to mention @lordandtaylor and the #DesignLab hashtag in their posts. Lord & Taylor even pre-approved each post, but none were required to disclose that the post was sponsored — a failure that the FTC says deceived consumers.

As part of its settlement with the FTC, Lord & Taylor is now required to ensure that its influencers clearly disclose when they have been compensated in exchange for their endorsements. (Notably, all brands should do this.) The company must now also allow the FTC to monitor its influencer marketing campaigns. (Something all brands should want to avoid.)

The complaint has put a spotlight on the need for transparency in a marketing realm that until recently has been very lightly regulated. With so many brands and influencers failing to disclose their relationships, an industry-wide feeling has persisted that the behavior must be OK. This thinking is damaging on many levels.

Having worked with hundreds of brands and influencers on all types of collaborations, I cannot place a higher value on trust between bloggers and consumers. Consumer trust is the very reason that influencer marketing works. If viewers have to question whether an influencer’s opinion is ‘paid’ or genuine, the value of a campaign becomes immediately diminished.

To protect yourself, your influencers, and your consumers, always require disclosure when you launch an influencer marketing campaign.