The Federal Trade Commission has released a new publication for online influencers that lays out the agency’s rules of the road for when and how influencers must disclose sponsorships to their followers.
The new guide, “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers,” provides influencers with tips from FTC staff about what triggers the need for a disclosure and offers examples of both effective and ineffective disclosures.
The guide and accompanying videos underscore that the responsibility to make disclosures about endorsements lies with the influencer. The guide outlines the various ways that an influencer’s relationship with a brand would make disclosures necessary, and it reminds influencers that they cannot assume that followers are aware of their connections to brands.
The guide includes tips for when and how influencers should tell their followers about a relationship. For example, it suggests the words influencers might use, as well as where in their social posts a disclosure should appear.
The new publication summarizes the FTC’s existing guidance in this area, including the FTC’s Endorsement Guides and a 2017 question-and-answer document produced by staff.
Key points include:
When to Disclose
- Disclose when you have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand.
- Financial relationships aren’t limited to money. Disclose the relationship if you received anything of value to mention a product.
- If a brand gives you free or discounted products or other perks and then you mention one of its products, make a disclosure even if you weren’t asked to mention that product.
- Don’t assume your followers already know about your brand relationships.
- Make disclosures even if you think your evaluations are unbiased.
- Keep in mind that tags, likes, pins, and similar ways of showing you like a brand or product are endorsements.
- If posting from abroad, U.S. law applies if it’s reasonably foreseeable that the post will affect U.S. consumers. Foreign laws might also apply.
- If you have no brand relationship and are just telling people about a product you bought and happen to like, you don’t need to declare that you don’t have a brand relationship.
How to Disclose
Make sure people will see and understand the disclosure.
- Place it so it’s hard to miss.
- The disclosure should be placed with the endorsement message itself.
- Disclosures are likely to be missed if they appear only on an ABOUT ME or profile page, at the end of posts or videos, or anywhere that requires a person to click MORE.
- Don’t mix your disclosure into a group of hashtags or links.
- If your endorsement is in a picture on a platform like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, superimpose the disclosure over the picture and make sure viewers have enough time to notice and read it.
- If making an endorsement in a video, the disclosure should be in the video and not just in the description uploaded with the video. Viewers are more likely to notice disclosures made in both audio and video. Some viewers may watch without sound and others may not notice superimposed words.
- If making an endorsement in a live stream, the disclosure should be repeated periodically so viewers who only see part of the stream will get the disclosure.
- Use simple and clear language.
- Simple explanations like “Thanks to XYZ brand for the free product” are often enough if placed in a way that is hard to miss.
- So are terms like “advertisement,” “ad,” and “sponsored.”
- On a space-limited platform like Twitter, the terms “XYZ Partner” or “XYZ Ambassador” (where Acme is the brand name) are also options.
- It’s fine (but not necessary) to include a hashtag with the disclosure, such as #ad or #sponsored.
- Don’t use vague or confusing terms like “sp,” “spon,” or “collab,” or stand-alone terms like “thanks” or “ambassador,” and stay away from other abbreviations and shorthand when possible.
- The disclosure should be in the same language as the endorsement itself.
- Don’t assume that a platform’s disclosure tool is good enough, but consider using it in addition to your own, good disclosure.