How Influencers and Brands Can Steer Clear of the FTC

Opinion: While it may seem like one disclosure versus another doesn’t make a difference, in the eyes of the FTC, that’s just not true

The FTC has stepped in to define guidelines for how influencers and brands should disclose their partnerships pabradyphoto/iStock
Headshot of Kamiu Lee

As influencer marketing has seen immense growth in the past couple of years, the Federal Trade Commission has stepped in to define guidelines for how influencers and brands should disclose their partnerships.

The first move came in August 2016, when the FTC specified how sponsored posts should be disclosed—using shortcut hashtags like #spon and #sp didn’t make the cut.

This past April, the FTC sent out more than 90 letters to influencers and marketers reminding them to clearly disclose their relationships with brands on social media. This was the first time the FTC had reached out directly to educate influencers themselves on the guidelines.

Since then, there have been a variety of different methods created by social platforms and used by influencers to disclose their relationship.

For example, Instagram and Facebook introduced branded content tools where influencers can tag the brand that is sponsoring them.

By doing this, social platforms are actively trying to help guide influencers to specifically disclose the partnerships and comply with guidelines. However, the FTC still finds those measures too subtle to fully disclose the partnership, despite their popularity with influencers.

Most recently, the commission settled its first-ever complaint against social media influencers for not disclosing their relationships with brands.

So, what can influencers do to avoid problems with the FTC? Let’s explore how influencers can continue to create meaningful content on social that doesn’t ruin a personal brand, but keeps influencers’ posts within the FTC guidelines.

Use the right hashtags—this is a must

Understanding which hashtags fit into FTC guidelines and which don’t is paramount for complying with these guidelines.

Using #ad is perhaps the clearest and shortest way to disclose a partnership at only three characters. Inputting #paid is a close second with only five characters. These are also the two preferred hashtags for the FTC, while other popular choices such as #partner are frowned upon.

While many brands and influencers have found character counts to be a difficulty in disclosing collaborations, these two preferred hashtags also happen to be the shortest, so this can no longer be an excuse to disregard disclosures.

Another reason why influencers and brands sometimes shy away from these hashtag disclosures is due to the misconception that it will put off their followers. However, according to research from Activate by Bloglovin’, 69 percent of females are not bothered at all by #ad, proving that there is really little reason to avoid this disclosure.

The simple use of one hashtag is enough to help influencers and brands avoid any trouble with the FTC and be transparent with their followers.

Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s delve into how to best incorporate hashtags into social posts.

Consider hashtag placement carefully

While influencers may be used to leveraging a multitude of hashtags to ensure that their content is discovered on social platforms, it can also be construed as hiding disclosure if the hashtag is buried among dozens of other hashtags, and the FTC has made it clear that it wants the disclosure to be very transparent to readers.

In order to ensure that the placement of the disclosure aligns with said guidelines, consider different placements on different platforms.

While a quick #ad at the end of a tweet might be enough to show the disclosure, placing the hashtag after the “more” section on Facebook or Instagram doesn’t have the same effect. The same goes for blog posts, where disclosure in the form of a sentence (rather than a hashtag) makes more sense.

Quick guide to disclosure by platform

To best explain how to incorporate disclosures into different social platforms, I’ve outlined suggestions below:

  • Instagram: Make sure to put your disclosure prior to the “more” section. Instagram slideshows and Stories are both popular ways to showcase your content. Make sure to use the swipe-up capability to help your followers find products—just make sure you use a disclosure on the story.
  • Blog: Make sure to disclose with a “this post is sponsored by” X brand at the top of the post.
  • Twitter: Input #ad anywhere in the tweet—it only takes up three characters.
  • Facebook: You can now tag brands that are sponsoring your post. Otherwise be sure to use #paid or #ad in a visible part of the post. Facebook Live is a great way to show your personality, while still emphasizing the partnership.

While it may seem like one disclosure versus another doesn’t make a difference, in the eyes of the FTC, that’s just not true. The most important thing to remember when thinking about disclosing a collaboration or partnership is that these guidelines are all for the benefit of the followers and consumers, to stay honest and authentic.

Kamiu Lee is vice president of business development and strategy at influencer marketing platform Activate by Bloglovin’.

Kamiu Lee is CEO at Activate.