The digital media ecosystem is murky – at best – when it comes to advertising regulations, so the FTC has made a handy-dandy guide to help!
As social media channels grow in number, so too grows the number of influencers in the marketplace. By definition, an influencer is a person who has grown a following and has the ability or power to actually influence the decisions of those who read their posts. And, in some cases, hang on every word they say. Gen Z, Millennials and heck, even Baby Boomers follow influencers. According to a report published by Morning Consult, 72% of Gen Z and Millennials surveyed said they at least follow some influencers. It’s not surprising that brands, advertisers and even candidates are turning to these social media mavens to get their message across.
Celebrity vs. Influencers vs. Kid With Good Camera
Now, not every influencer is created equal. An influencer can be a legitimate and talented celebrity (and multi-hyphenate) – the Jonas Brothers (musical group), Ellen DeGeneres (television host, philanthropist, LGBTQ+ icon) and Reese Witherspoon (actor, producer, designer) come to mind under this category. An influencer can also be a personality – the entire Kardashian and Jenner clan come to mind here. Under momager Kris Jenner’s watchful eye and incredible business acumen, it seems like they are famous just for being famous. There are YouTube celebrities, like JoJo Siwa, who have amassed millions of adoring fans outside of the realm of the traditional Hollywood and media machines. And finally we reach: the rest of them. People who are actively trying to amass followers on Instagram or YouTube by taking pictures of their food until it gets cold, begging hotels to give them free nights in exchange for “exposure or coverage” and sometimes the people we read about who fall off of cliffs in pursuit of the most amazing selfie.
Enter: The FTC
But, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t care if you have one follower or one hundred million followers. Rules and regulations for traditional media (things like false advertising and claims) have been pretty clear and well-policed, with a formal mechanism for complaints and actions. To help influencers understand the rules they must adhere to, the FTC recently released a document called Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers.
“The FTC works to stop deceptive ads, and its Endorsement Guides go into detail about how advertisers and endorsers can stay on the right side of the law.”
Most homegrown content producers probably weren’t thinking about advertising regulations when they went out and asked for products to review or crafted creative giveaways to gain followers. But, as the monetizing revolution started, it was clear that posting pictures, notes and videos on social media was beyond just communicating with your inner circle. It was a way to gain a following and make money. The largest talent agencies now have divisions that are dedicated to influencers and brokering relationships between “the talent” and brands and products.
So, if you want to engage an influencer to promote your brand, product, cause, candidate or issue – what do you need to know?
When To Disclose
On page 3 of the guide, the FTC says to “disclose when you have any financial, employment, personal or family relationship with a brand.” And the FTC makes the distinction that a financial relationship doesn’t have to be just money. Hello: free products have real value.
How To Disclose
On page 4 of the guide, the FTC says “Make sure people will see and understand the disclosure.” They recommend placing it front and center so that it’s hard to miss. They also go into recommendations on how to accomplish disclosures in picture posts, video posts and live streams. The FTC also calls out using simple language – while Gen Z and Millennials are all about the abbrevs. LOL, JK, lmao, brb – just using the hashtag #spon isn’t good enough. Stay away from abbreviations or anything that could be construed as confusing or having a second meaning.
What Else To Know About Influencers
The FTC calls out that you can’t “talk about your experience with a product you haven’t tried.” If you want to be the authentic spokesman for the Hair Club for Men, and tell people how well the product worked for you – you actually do need to be a club member. They also call out on page 6 of the guide that “you can’t make up claims about a product that would require proof the advertiser doesn’t have…” Claims like this have been particularly challenging in the herbal supplement space, the fitness and weight loss space and the skin care space. (The Kardashians have been flagged a few times.)
If you want any more information about staying above board with influencers, endorsements and ads on social media and beyond, checkout the FTC’s microsite here at: FTC.gov/influencers.
Maria Pendolino is the founder and voiceover coordinator for talent at BlueWaveVoiceover.com. In addition to her freelance political voiceover work for democrats and progressives, Maria founded MillennialVoiceover.com, a website that focuses on helping brands and companies “Speak Millennial.” Maria is repped by talent agencies internationally and her voice can be heard on TV, terrestrial & satellite radio and in pre-roll campaigns on social media platforms. Maria’s portfolio of work and demos can be found at: www.voicebymaria.com. She is a two-time Voice Arts Award winner and was also named to Buffalo’s 40 Under 40 for 2019. She lives in Buffalo, New York with her husband Eric, The Map Nerd, and their three rescue cats Two Scoops, Nellie and Mozzie. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org with comments/questions and follow her on Instagram, @mariapendo.