The Federal Trade Commission has begun cracking down on content from social media influencers whose posts aren’t clearly recognizable as advertising. On, Wednesday the FTC revealed that it had sent 90 letters to influencers and their brand partners which clarified the guidelines for sponsored posts. Previously, the FTC had stated that anyone having a “material connection” to an advertiser needed to make that connection clear. But because terms have not been defined well, some sponsored posts have skirted the line, adhering to the letter, but not the guidelines.
So now, using unclear hashtags like #sp or #spon to indicate sponsored content does not meet the requirements and is not enough as consumers might not understand. Neither should the disclosures be hidden within strings of ignored hashtags nor should these disclosures be such that the viewers viewer requires to click to see the whole content of the post before they appear. On Instagram, the disclosures need to be in the first three lines of a post.
The relationship between influencers and brands leaves adherence to guidelines in the hands of the influencers, not brands. Influencers write and post the sponsored content, so it falls to brands and agencies to make sure that the people they pay to promote their products also take care of guidelines while making sure that the brand has acted in good faith.
Some agencies which work with influencers agree that “the role of influencers is to support and to amplify traditional marketing. Yes, branded posts are less obvious to the common consumer but if the content is of high-quality and relevance, then the caption is not significant” said Brian Salzman, founder of relationship-marketing agency RQ.
The FTC letters don’t have any penalties for failure to comply, but the regulations have forced companies to change their business practices as did Warner Bros. in the previous year.
Even the threat of legal action can prompt influencers to shape up. Let’s take an example: In July 2016, Kylie Jenner changed her Instagram post to make it clear that an Airbnb stay she praised on social media had been a gift from the company. The original post read “thanks for the birthday home @airbnb,” while the updated post now reads “thanks for the gift of a lovely birthday home, @airbnb.”
Some influencers might think of ignoring guideline as more beneficial. The FTC’s civil fines is $40,000, but Instagram accounts which have 3 and 7 million followers can easily make $75,000 for a single post. It means that influencers who have less following and are able to make only $1,000 for a post or receive a product in exchange for a positive review are in danger of bearing the brunt of the regulations.
In the end, the ones to blame are the brands which work with influencers and not the influencers themselves while responsible companies have already been meeting the requirements of the guidelines.