Are you really across all of the industry regulations? Here's a recap of the latest.

Image credit: Pixa Bay

Image credit: Pixa Bay

Influencer marketing has been around for decades – think tv endorsements from celebrities for Pepsi or Dior. It’s just now, with the growth of social media there are more channels available to audiences, and it’s no longer necessary to have fame or fortune to garner a following.

While it seems as easy as reaching out via a private message and being invited for a business tour, product sample, or a few freebies, influencer marketing can actually be a little more complicated than that on the legal side.

Before embarking on any further brand partnership campaigns or starting outreach programs, are you – as an influencer or marketer - across the latest guidelines that need to be known?

The importance of understanding influencer guidelines is clear, but both brands and even some influencers are often unsure of what they have to disclose when and how to do so.

Internationally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has clear rules about influencer marketing, as do many social media platforms. Until earlier this year, NZ hadn’t really seen any regulations before the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) established influencer marketing guidelines – an exciting time for the industry, validating the explosive growth seen in the last 18 months locally.

ASA chief Executive Hilary Souter said on the announcement to NZ Herald, “As advertising dollars shift into social media platforms, so too does the need for responsible advertising.”

There’s also the classic code of ethics that you need to watch out for; if you’re caught potentially duping consumers, you risk losing impact of your campaign and your audiences’ trust forever.

If you enrol in my Introduction Membership, you will be provided with up-to-date resources, templates and guidance on best practise and legalities around influencer marketing and brand partnerships.

But who counts as an influencer?

While any man and his dog can bestow this title upon themselves, the term is actually a pretty loose definition and as we know, influencers don’t actually have to be famous with millions of followers.

Bloggers or social media users who have at least 10 – 15k followers are often referred to as ‘micro-influencers’ and are known for having an extremely engaged and loyal following. They’re often experts in their field or topics and can be just as, if not more effective for promoting your business.

Rule of thumb - anyone who can impact and influence others’ decisions in an area – due to expertise or number of followers – counts as an influencer.

As a brand, if you’ve commissioned someone to promote your product by personally endorsing it, provided them a product or service for free in exchange for a review, or are offering them affiliate sales, you need to follow different influencer marketing guidelines.

Does the FTC / ASA actually monitor influencer marketing?

The nature of social media and influencer marketing is evolving so quickly, it is hard to keep up with policing. But you’d be wrong to think that these regulatory organisations are only focusing on large-scale campaigns (think  hundred-thousand-dollar commercials and product placement on shows). They are increasingly becoming more and more rigorous with social media and monitor these platforms just as carefully.

Some people do get away with shady dealings due to the sheer volume of content on social platforms, but never attempt this. Best case - you risk being called out by consumers who are becoming more digitally savvy. Worst case – you could be slapped with a fraud-related charge. And we know what people can be like on social media if you put a foot wrong. Regulations are in place for ethical purposes.

An example from last year: the FTC ran campaigns designed to inform big influencers and marketers about the guidelines they have set in place for influencer marketing, sending out letters to a large number of individuals in both categories. Follow-up warning letters were sent to at least 21 influencers (Victoria Beckham, Emily Ratajkowski to name a couple) who disregarded the initial warnings reminding them that, yep, they are watching and waiting to crack down on negligence.

Influencer marketing rules from the FTC / ASA

Influencer marketing guidelines need to be followed on all platforms. This includes email marketing campaigns, blog posts, and, of course, social media.

Below are the top guidelines you should always remain vigilant of. I will soon have a social media guidelines available to purchase; or if you sign up to one of our membership options, you will receive for free.

  • Endorsers shouldn’t talk about their experience with a product or service if they haven’t actually tried it, or used it as they say.

  • Endorsers must disclose relationships between themselves and the marketer or brand if its sponsored content. You’ll often see “This was a sponsored post from Fenty Beauty, but the opinions are entirely my own,” or #sponsoredpost #spon # ad appearing on content.

  • If an influencer is paid to review a product but had a horrible experience, they can’t say that it was wonderful.

  • Brands shouldn’t intentionally utilize influencer campaigns that don’t allow for disclosure, such as paying influencers to publicly “like” a post.

  • YouTube influencers must put the relationship/endorsement disclosure in the actual video. According to the FTC’s official influencer guidelines, it’s not enough to just put it in the description because it’s too easily missed. The same is true for other video content on social media.

  • Disclosures on social media campaigns should appear before the fold, or the “click to read more” button would appear. On Instagram, if you aren’t using the Sponsored Post feature, you need to make sure that the disclosure appears prominently in the first few words.

  • Disclosures need to be easily noticed and understood, so using a “#sponsored” on Twitter will work as long as it’s at the front of your hashtags instead of being buried in deep, and it’s not combined with other words to make it more difficult to notice like “#McDonaldslovessponsored” or here in NZ - #opticwhitepartner (a current Colgate influencer campaign).

Facebook and Instagram influencer marketing

Facebook and Instagram both have available branded content tools on Facebook.

This serves two purposes. It makes it easier for brands to track the success of the influencer campaign while easily alerting viewers that the content is a sponsored post.

Note: you cannot use the branded content tool to tag brands without their prior consent (doing so can get your account banned).

You can request access to the branded content tool here.

For Instagram, it can be a little more difficult for influencers to follow guidelines on, despite the fact that it’s one of the most popular platforms for influencer marketing. 

As a visual platform, captions are less focused on. Even if they do pay attention, there’s only so much room in the description before the “read more” call to action cuts things off.

Instagram’s branded content tool allows influencers to clearly disclose the sponsorship without it affecting the aesthetics of their photo or description. It works on both Stories and newsfeed posts.

What are the responsibilities of a brand?

For example, if a brand runs a marketing campaign featuring an influencer (as opposed to sharing the influencer’s content and acting like they had nothing to do with it), it’s assumed that most customers will know that this is a sponsored post. It is, after all, coming from the brand and through this endorsement, it’s trying to sell something.

PRs, brands and marketers have a responsibility to ensure that influencers are following the guidelines and rules of both the FTC, ASA and the platforms that they’re appearing on. In NZ, ASA’s Guidance Note confirms it is the advertiser of the brand who should maintain all responsibility to complying with ASA Codes of Transparency. If the influencer happens to go rogue, it’s you and your business’ head on the line.

To keep the goodwill of consumers, audiences, social media platforms and the FTC / ASA, you can maintain transparency, authenticity and your reputation by following all influencer marketing guidelines. Your influencer marketing campaigns will be much more successful and you won’t risk losing the trust of you customers. Once the trust is lost, it can be almost impossible to gain it back again.