The Federal Trade Commission’s endorsement guidelines remain one of the most confusing aspects of influencer marketing. This is in spite of influencer marketing’s maturation over the last few years.

It’s necessary for brand marketers to understand and comply with Google and the FTC. Why? Brands can’t expect an influencer to know advertising regulations. Brands bear the responsibility to educate. The FTC notes that, if law enforcement is needed to investigate possible violations, most often the investigation will focus on advertisers and/ or their agencies, not the influencer.

And if you think the FTC doesn’t monitor branded content, take note of the actions it took in 2017.

Equally important, consumers want you to be honest. Research suggests that consumers don’t mind ads or paid endorsements from influencers they already follow. Proper disclosure is an added trust signal that consumers appreciate.

That’s why we recommend maintaining transparency, as detailed within the FTC guidelines, with those consumers reached through your influencer marketing campaigns.

Original content from May 14, 2019 has been updated to reflect industry changes.

So, What Does the FTC Say?

The FTC’s Endorsement Guides provide that if there is a ‘material connection’ between an endorser and an advertiser – in other words, a connection that might affect the weight or credibility that consumers give the endorsement – that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, unless it is already clear from the context of the communication.”

What exactly does this mean? If you gift an influencer a product, provide monetary compensation, etc., the brand and the influencer must disclose that relationship. It doesn’t matter if the influencer has 500 followers or 5 million.

How do I Indicate a Paid Relationship to Google?

In addition to FTC guidelines, you’ll want to be familiar with Google’s policy on paid endorsements as well. For paid links, Google says that they should be nofollow links. This tells crawlers not to follow the link and prevents search engine ranking manipulation.

Here’s an example of a nofollow tag:

<a href=”brand.com” rel=“nofollow”>Brand Name</a>

To check if a link is nofollow, view the Page Source code and search for links to your website or search “nofollow” to find the attribute.

In 2019, Google announced additional link attributes to better identify sponsored links. For influencer content, you can use rel=”sponsored” to indicate to search engines that the content was reacted as part of a paid partnership agreement. You could also use “ugc sponsored” to indicate that content is user-generated and sponsored.

<a href=”brand.com” rel=“sponsored”>Brand Name</a>

<a href=”brand.com” rel=“ugc sponsored”>Brand Name</a>

To check if a link is nofollow, view the Page Source code and search for links to your website or search “nofollow” to find the attribute.

Our recommendation is to include the sponsored tag in any links you’re providing to influencers, rather than asking them to add the tag. Even for products you gift, we recommend adding the directive per the FTC’s guidelines; a gift is a material connection.

Overall, assume that, if you have a relationship with the content creator, you should include disclosure and nofollow links.

What Counts as Proper Disclosure in Digital Advertising?

Proper disclosure has two elements: placement and verbiage. We’ll dive into both, but when in doubt, put yourself in the shoes of the consumer; if the disclosure isn’t clear to you, it won’t be clear to the consumer.

Placement

Disclosure should come at the very beginning of the post (blog post, Instagram caption, etc.). Disclosure should be prominent and easy to find. It shouldn’t be hidden at the bottom of the post or in font that is smaller than the rest of the content.

For Instagram it’s recommended that the disclosure come at the beginning of the caption. A user shouldn’t have to click “more” in order to see the disclosure.

Note that for YouTube or other video content, the FTC requires that disclosure be in the video. It is not clear or obvious if only needs to be in the video description, but we recommend including it in both places.

Verbiage

This is often where our team sees a lot of variation and where it’s easy for disclosure to get murky– especially when disclosing with hashtags. Cover your bases by providing written examples of proper disclosure to your content creators. When you’re vetting influencers, you can also look for or ask for examples of previous campaigns they’ve done. This could provide a good indication as to whether or not the influencer is familiar with advertising disclosures and best practices.

Examples of Vague Disclosures:

  • #sp – This is often used on social media to indicate “sponsored,” but it’s unclear.
  • #collab – Doesn’t indicate the nature of a paid partnership.
  • c/o Influencers often use this on blogs or Instagram to indicate “courtesy of” or that the product was a gift from the brand.
  • Branded hashtags – While it’s fine to use hashtags specific to your brand or campaign, using these alone isn’t enough to indicate a paid relationship.
  • Thank you to [brand name] for partnering on this post!This one is used a lot, but “thank you” and “partnering” are vague. We wouldn’t recommend using this disclosure statement on its own.

Acceptable Forms:

  • #sponsored or #ad – Used at the beginning of the social post, this clearly states the content is a paid placement.
  • gifted or courtesy of – Ask content creators to use this as an alternative to c/o for products that you send. This is typically sufficient if you’re sending product without asking for content in return.
  • Branded content on Facebook and Instagram – Both platforms have a feature where publishers can tag brands in their paid content. Influencers can use this feature to indicate your relationship.
  • This post was sponsored by [brand].The use of the word “sponsored” is clearer than “collaborating” or “partnering.”
  • This product was gifted to me by [brand].
  • I received compensation from [brand] in exchange for this post. As always, all opinions are my own.

In addition, ask to review influencer content prior to publishing. While you shouldn’t change the content, especially their opinions, you can check that disclosure is clear and obvious.

As the advertiser, consider developing a training program or providing materials to your content creators. Again, it’s your responsibility as the brand to ensure that they are in compliance.

There’s no doubt that the FTC’s guidelines on endorsements can be confusing. The purpose of the guidelines is to be transparent and honest in advertising. If you want to maintain credibility with consumers, you must work with media influencers to create content that is useful, valuable, and compliant.

See how Web Talent Marketing can help to ensure your influencer marketing campaigns follow best practices.