FTC Influencer Guidelines: What You Need to Know

by Influencers, Social Media Marketing

Vyrl is not responsible for use of this information to construct an FTC-compliant disclosure. Influencers and brands should reference FTC influencer guidelines directly at FTC.gov for more information and can contact endorsements@ftc.gov to ask any questions about FTC disclosures.

Update: The FTC updated their FTC influencer guidelines about disclosures in November 2019.

Over 90% of brand-sponsored content on Instagram does not follow FTC Guidelines (Credit: Mediakix). These posts could have legal repercussions for the influencer and the brand. Influencers and brands could be on the hook for massive penalties from the FTC in the future for these types of violations.

The FTC, or Federal Trade Commission, is the government agency that protects consumers against unfair or deceptive business practices. It is also the government agency that regulates influencer marketing and provides guidelines for how brands and influencers can work together.  

The information provided in this article should help get you started with FTC compliance, but it is up to the influencer and brand to be FTC compliant. You can confirm your disclosure approach direct with the FTC. Here are a few helpful links:

Instagram Influencers | Federal Trade Commission

FTC Staff Reminds Influencers and Brands to Clearly Disclose Relationship

FTC Endorsement Guides

Disclosures 101

Primarily, the FTC is concerned about disclosures for brand and influencer partnerships….

A Disclosure is basically a statement that lets consumers and audience members know the true relationship between the brand and the influencer. 

The FTC’s Endorsement Guides provide that if there is a “material connection” between an endorser and an advertiser – in other words, a connection that might affect the weight or credibility that consumers give the endorsement – that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, unless it is already clear from the context of the communication. A material connection could be a business or family relationship, monetary payment, or the gift of a free product. Importantly, the Endorsement Guides apply to both marketers and endorsers.”

From Federal Trade Commission

In each disclosure, brand requirements and influencer responsibilities should be clear. Did the brand pay the influencer to post? Were the products free? Does the influencer have to say certain phrases? All of this should be clear in a disclosure. 

How much to disclose: 

Many influencers and bloggers worry that disclosures will hurt their future business by exposing the “behind the scenes” of influencer marketing. This does not have to be the case. In disclosures, it is important to determine the level of information you need to disclose.

The FTC recommends letting consumers know whatever information would have an effect on the weight readers would give your review. However, you are not required to release information beyond that. The amount you were paid does not have to be disclosed.

Do Free Products Require a Disclosure?

Yes!

Brands often send free products as incentives to influencers. Free products can be the start of a relationship between that brand and the influencer. Better to start off on the right foot.

Disclosures are required any time a company has made a “material connection” in exchange for social media exposure. A “material connection” is anytime a brand pays, trades, or gives a gift to the influencer to start a relationship. Products given to the influencer definitely count as gifts and hold the expectation of social media exposure or reviews.

General Guidelines for Disclosure on Instagram

  1. Include #Ad at the beginning of the sponsored content, not below the “See More” tag.
  2. You can use Instagram’s options for marking the post as “sponsored,” but this is not enough of a disclosure on its own.
  3. #Ad or sponsored must be located near the actual sponsored content. If mentions of the brand don’t occur until halfway through the caption, then the disclosure should be placed as close to that content as possible. 
  4. To disclose in a video, the FTC recommends both a visual and an audio disclosure. Visual disclosures are superimposed on the image. They should be legible to the consumer, and timed so that the consumer can read it. The audio disclosure can be spoken clearly to the consumer as part of the video’s audio track. 
Influencers & the FTC

#Ad on Instagram

Adding #Ad is an acceptable disclosure for sponsored content on Instagram. #Ad should be placed at the beginning of the post, not below the “See More” tag, per FTC guidelines. In addition to the hashtag, it should also be clear what the relationship is between the brand and the influencer. The consumer should understand the relationship when the influencer mentions that it is a paid post.

Guidelines for Disclosure on YouTube

  • YouTube requires audio disclosures. Visual disclosures are also recommended. These include: 
    1. Superimposing the disclosure on the image in a clear, easy to read font, and making it visible long enough for the consumer to read (this can be done through YouTube’s own software).
    2. Including #ad or #sponsored in the description. Make sure this is easily visible and above the fold.
  • Be sure to provide disclosure in at least two places. Just saying thank you in the video and providing disclosure below will not be sufficient. 

Benefits to Disclosures: 

  • FTC-compliant influencers will have less risk of intervention by the FTC.
  • Influencers will build trust with their audience by maintaining a higher level of transparency.

 6 Common Disclosure Mistakes

  1. Using #sp to stand for sponsored. This is not clear enough for consumers.
  2. Using #partner. This can be good to indicate the relationship you have with the company, but it is not enough to replace #sponsored because it does not include the goods or money relationship with that advertiser.
  3. Clumping in #sponsored or #ad with other hashtags. This is a bit of a gray area for influencers, but the FTC makes it clear that hashtags for disclosure should be separate and easily visible to the consumer. If you are trying to bury them in any part of the post, then the FTC would consider that not sufficient.
  4. Including disclosures after the “See More” tag on captions. The FTC requires all disclosures to be easily visible to consumers when they first start reading.
  5. Just thanking the brand. Many influencers will mention the brand name and say thank you, but this does not clearly disclose the relationship and is not enough.
  6. Giving a single disclosure on your site or profile. It is not enough to mention in your Instagram bio that you do sponsored posts. Listing your generic disclosure at the top of your blog is not enough either. Disclosures should be specific and products should be easily identified.

What Can the FTC Do?

More commonly than any of us would care to admit, we wonder what the consequences are if we simply didn’t follow all the FTC influencer guidelines or if we “fudged” the disclosures a bit. To answer this, the FTC has made several large actions against brands and influencers alike. 

In the past, the FTC has sent letters to influencers and marketers citing their past campaigns and reminding them of the disclosure requirements. In April 2017, the FTC sent 90+ warning letters to influencers that weren’t following the rules for endorsements and advertising products. Since then, the volume of warnings issued by the FTC has only increased.

The FTC has also recently escalated their efforts to crack down on influencers and marketers by bringing lawsuits against larger violators.

The FTC also has the ability to fine the offenders. At the end of the day, it’s just too big a risk to skip disclosures with the FTC ready to pounce on future offenders. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Disclosures

According to FTC influencer guidelines:

Influencers & the FTC: Do's and Don'ts

 

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