The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released an eight-page report for social media influencers. The report talks about all the things an influencer can and cannot do. It’s a pretty well-written report that breaks things down in a very straight forward way. You can read the entire thing here, or you can catch the highlights by reading further in this blog post.
This is a battle the FTC has been fighting for years now. In 2017, the agency sent out letters to dozens of high-paid influencers, celebrities, and athletes, reminding them that they must disclose a paid relationship with any product that they promote through their social media channels. When those letters went out, the FTC also created a massive document covering everything that social media influencers need to know about disclosing paid for advertising.
Now the FTC is simplifying things.
What’s a “material connection”?
The first thing that you need to understand about the rules is the definition of “material connection”. The “material connection” is what the FTC looks at to determine if there needs to be a disclosure or not.
The FTC says that if a social media influencer is promoting a product, they must disclose any “material connection”. In this instance, a “material connection” isn’t just about money changing hands. For the FTC, a “material connection” includes any “…personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship — such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.”
If you hire a social media influencer or even ask your cousin who happens to have 100,000 followers on Instagram, to promote your product, that person has to disclose the relationship when he or she posts a promotion.
The rule of “material connection” extends to everything in a social media post including tags, links, etc.
Rules about disclosures
If there needs to be a disclosure the FTC wants to make sure that it’s very apparent. That means the disclosure needs to be within the endorsement message itself and not on a separate page. The influencer must work the disclosure into the actual text of a post and not into a group of hashtags or links.
If the endorsement is worked into a Snapchat or Instagram story or any other video, then a disclosure needs to be superimposed over the picture or video and it needs to be up long enough for someone to read it. It’s also good if the speaker mentions the endorsement at least once in the video.
Honesty is key
And it probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, an influencer is not allowed to lie. If the influencer has not tried the product, the influencer cannot talk about his or her experience with the product. If it’s a terrible product, the influencer can’t say it’s great. The influencer also can’t make outrageous claims, especially about things that require scientific proof such as treating health conditions.
The FTC says it’s the social media influencer’s responsibility to disclose all these relationships, but I think it’s important that if you’re hiring someone, you’re aware of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. You should know if that person is breaking the law. It’s one of the keys I talk about in a blog post I wrote back in April. The post looks at everything you need to think about before hiring a social media influencer and it offers some good food for thought before you spend your money.
And since we’re on the topic of social media, make sure your company has a social media policy. It’s good to outline what you expect of your employees both on their personal social media platforms and the company platform. If you’re looking for more details on what to create in a social media policy for your company, look no further than this post I wrote in October.
Written by Erika Towne