A Word to Influencers: How to Disclose

A Word to Influencers: How to Disclose

If you have been following the “A Word to Influencers” blog series, then you already know that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on brands that don’t require their influencers to disclose paid ads, and that the consumer watchdog group TruthInAvertising.org is keeping a close eye on influencers that habitually don’t disclose.

If you haven’t been following the “A Word to Influencers” blog series, you can go here to get all caught up.

The FTC has strong guidelines on how disclosure should occur in sponsored social media posts.

Consider the “four P’s”

  •  Prominence.  Is the disclosure big enough for consumers to read easily?  Consumers shouldn’t have to scan an ad with a magnifying glass to pick up on material details of the deal. Consider contrast, too. White text on a light or variegated background isn’t likely to be noticed. Nor will a fine-print statement that has to compete with a dynamic and distracting image.
  • Presentation.  Is the disclosure worded in a way that consumers can easily understand?  Using legalese or technical terminology reduces the likelihood that consumers will get the message. Burying important information in a dense block of text is another common tactic that signals “don’t read me.”  In one FTC settlement, for example, material information about the terms of the transaction appeared after an advertiser’s long litany of trademark information.
  • Placement.  Geography matters.  Is the disclosure where consumers are likely to look?  No one expects footnotes in a paid post, the bottom of the page or screen isn’t a place most consumers will look.
  • Proximity.  Is the disclosure close to the claim it modifies?  Tiny type aside, another problem with footnotes is their distance from the prominent headline or splashy text designed to draw the consumer in. If you need to include key qualifications or conditions, remember this maxim: What the headline giveth, the footnote cannot taketh away.  And don’t think an asterisk will always solve the problem.  There’s a reason it’s called an aste-risk.

There will be penalties

For those that don’t comply, the penalties can be costly.

Upon first violation, the offending party will receive an order, that they must sign, stating they will not engage in similar deceptive conduct in the future.

The second violation could put a dent in your ROI. An FTC spokesperson told me that those that violate the order “can be subject to significant civil penalties – up to $40,000 per day per violation.”

When asked if influencers could suffer the same consequences for non-disclosure, the spokesperson added, “While this also would apply to any individual under an FTC order, I must again state that the Commission has, to date, never brought an action related to social media endorsements or testimonials against an individual – celebrity or otherwise.”

Don’t be bullied into non-disclosure

In blog one of this series, “A Word to Influencers: Always Disclose Paid Ads”, I surmised that the FTC’s reluctance to hold influencers accountable in the same way they do brands could be because of a perceived power relationship.

And, there is indeed evidence that brands have been flexing their muscle in this area. An article by Lindsey Stein of AdAge cites a survey by social media marketing site She Speaks as stating that 25% of influencers report being asked not to disclose.

Asking influencers not disclose is not only asking them to violate FTC guidelines, but also asking them to potentially put their careers and their reputations at risk. Any influencers faced with this dilemma should seriously consider if this a company you want to do business with.

Influencers have options

Gnack is an influencer marketing platform where influencers get paid to post about the brands they love. Gnack understands that without influencers there would be no…well…influencer marketing.

An influencer’s pull with their followers is directly related to their reputation. If a post is perceived by an audience to be deceptive, because it is obviously an ad, but there is no disclosure, an influencer could credibility lose with their following.

Gnack values the credibility of the influencer, so much so the user guidelines on our website include not only disclaimers and disclosure details, but also recommendations for disclosing adequately.

Disclosure strategies

So, to help keep you out of the FTC doghouse, here are some sure fire ways to disclose your relationship with the brands you love:

  • Paid posts– if you’re getting paid to post about brands you love, good on ya’. But you are going to want to keep it amicable between you and your followers by overtly disclosing that relationship. Gnack suggests using “#Ad”. Make sure that the disclosure is big enough to be easily read, that it is located at the top of your post, and if you are making a claim about the product, go ahead and add a second disclosure that follows the claim. Ads with multiple disclosures have been shown to outperform those with one or none. There is no rule that says the disclosure has to be hashtagged, it just has to be clear. So go ahead and shout, “I love getting paid to post about the brands I love.”
  • Video posts- video posts come with their own set of guidelines. If you are speaking in your post, go ahead and say you’re getting paid. Ex. “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to talk about these awesome tacos.” If there is text in your video, such as disclaimers or product description, make sure that the disclosure appears separate and well before any text blocks. The key is to eliminate any ambiguity.
  • Sponsored (but not paid) Posts- If you have received free merchandise from a company in exchange for posting about their product, that is something that needs to be disclosed. The easiest, and most common, way to do that is by adding “#gotifree” to your post. Again, there is no rule that says it has to be hashtagged. You could simply say, “I got this sweet phone case free from (company name).”

Being part of the influencer marketing revolution is fun and exciting. Getting paid to post about the brands you love can be lucrative. Just don’t get caught thinking that authenticity and clarity around disclosure don’t matter.

Remember what we say at Gnack, “Say it loud, say it proud, and say it twice. I got paid!”

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