When & How to Disclose – Influencer Edition

If you work in marketing in the year 2018, chances are you’re also working with influencers on behalf of your client brands.

If you’re not, you may want to take a moment to review the stats below on the impact of influencer marketing:

  • 70% of millennial consumers are influenced by the recommendations of their peers in buying decisions.
  • 30% consumers are more likely to buy a product recommended by a non-celebrity blogger. Consumers can relate more to these influencers and value their opinions more than that of celebrity influencers. (Just 3% of consumers are influenced by celebrity endorsements on social media.)
  • Facebook is the most influential social channel, influencing 19% of purchases. Youtube is right behind at 18%. Twitter has less than 2% influence on consumer buying decisions.

Any way you look at it, influencer marketing is here – and it’s likely here to stay. This is the new(ish) face of word of mouth marketing.

With the rise of social media and increase in brand-influencer partnerships, the FTC has started cracking down on compliance with the disclosure rules it has set for these engagements. In recent years, the FTC has started specifically targeting the influencers themselves for failing to comply with the rules and regulations.

In order to protect influencer relationships, it is essential that brands support and educate influencers on properly disclosing any partnerships with their organization at the onset of an engagement. Below is a brief overview of FTC guidelines as of 2017. In order to understand the full scope of disclosure requirements, we suggest checking out The FTC’s Endorsement Guide. (And this is a good time to note we’re not lawyers or legal experts. But we’ve done a lot of digging on this topic and pulled some of the best pieces of advice we’ve come across courtesy of some very savvy bloggers and the FTC. Having said that, we recommend working with a legal expert when building out — and updating — your brand’s influencer disclosure plan.)

 

WHEN TO DISCLOSE

We all know that it’s important for influencers to disclosure when they’re getting paid, but what about those instances where they just receive free product or an invitation to an event? What if there is no monetary exchange? What if a brand ships some product with no direct ask for a post or endorsement?

While it may seem like murky waters, it’s best to always disclose a relationship where a brand is providing an influencer with product or payment. To put it another way, an influencer should disclose:

  • Any time they share an opinion, thought, reviews, photo or endorsement of a product or service for which they have received compensation.
  • Any time they share an opinion, thought, reviews, photo or endorsement of a product or service that they have received for free, regardless of whether it was given to them with the expectation of an endorsement.

 

I’m a blogger. I heard that every time I mention a product on my blog, I have to say whether I got it for free or paid for it myself. Is that true?

No. If you mention a product you paid for yourself, there isn’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to its customers.
The FTC is only concerned about endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the FTC Act if an advertiser – or someone working for an advertiser – pays you or gives you something of value to mention a product. If you receive free products or other perks with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss the advertiser’s products in your blog, you’re covered.

I’m a blogger and a company wants me to attend the launch of its new product. They will fly me to the launch and put me up in a hotel for a couple of nights. They aren’t paying me or giving me anything else. If I write a blog sharing my thoughts about the product, should I disclose anything?

Yes. Knowing that you received free travel and accommodations could affect how much weight your readers give to your thoughts about the product, so you should disclose that you have a financial relationship with the company.

Sometimes I’ll do a product review. [Product] manufacturers send me [their product] as free gifts, hoping that I will review them. I’m under no obligation to talk about it and getting the gifts really doesn’t affect my judgment. Do I need to disclose when I’m talking about a [product] I got for free?

Yes. It doesn’t matter if you were asked to review the product or not — your opinions may have been shaped by the fact that the product was free.

“Even if you don’t think receiving a free product affects your evaluation, what matters is whether knowing that you [received a product for free] might affect how your audience views what you say about it. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t required to review.”

Several months ago a manufacturer sent me a free product and asked me to write about it in my blog. I tried the product, liked it, and wrote a favorable review. When I posted the review, I disclosed that I got the product for free from the manufacturer. I still use the product. Do I have to disclose that I got the product for free every time I mention it in my blog?

It might depend on what you say about it, but each new endorsement made without a disclosure could be deceptive because readers might not see the original blog post where you said you got the product free from the manufacturer.

 

HOW TO DISCLOSE
Collectively shares some smart, simple tips for properly disclosing:

Acceptable: AD, #ad, #sponsored, #XXPartner – whereby XX is the brand name, or something along the lines of “XX gifted me this product so I could review.” If placed in a sequential line of hashtags, disclosure hashtags should be used at the end of the sequence to ensure they are not lost or hidden amongst other hashtags. Example.

Unacceptable: Pretty much anything else where it is not explicitly laid out that you have some type of relationship with a company, including the use of the too-ambiguous hashtag #ambassador.

Blogs

When crafting a blog post, disclosure is expected before any mention of the product or brand. Two call outs are recommended for maximum clarity: one as an introduction at the beginning, and a second reminder at the conclusion of the post. Example.

Snapchat + Instagram Stories

For real-time video on Snapchat and Instagram Stories, a disclosure and/or prominent, superimposed text annotation is required on the video or image.

YouTube

The word “sponsored”, “ad” or “paid” needs to be included in the video description and verbally disclosed within the first 30 seconds. Example.

Built-In Disclosure Tools

While Instagram and Facebook now require the use of their branded content disclosures, the FTC has made it clear that built-in platform disclosures aren’t enough, and don’t always meet the requirements for clear and conspicuous disclosure. Always disclose your partnerships yourself.

 

HOW TO SUPPORT THE INFLUENCERS YOU ENGAGE WITH

Whew! Feeling overwhelmed yet? Not to fear. A great number of digital influencers are already well-versed on disclosure rules and integrating those practices into their brand engagements. Nonetheless, we feel having a conversation at the onset of a brand-influencer engagement is important, if as nothing more than a courtesy. (We include disclosure requirements in our contracts.)

 

BUT I DON’T WANNA…

For as long as the influencer disclosure conversation has been going on, there has been pushback and resistance from the brand side. When influencer engagements feel natural, organic and mutually beneficial, plopping the hashtag #ad on a post can make things feel a little…well, icky. We get it. But the reality is that while you may not wanna…you gotta. Protect your brand. Protect the influencers you partner with. Be honest and transparent at every opportunity. Public perception depends on it.

 

 

Sources: 

[1] Collectively, The Evolving Rules of Disclosure: How to Properly Disclose Branded Content

[2] Oh, She Blogs!, FTC Disclosures: What Bloggers & Influencers Need to Know

[3] FTC, The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking

 



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