FTC Warns Influencers about Disclosure Violations

TechnologyApr 21, 2017

FTC Warns Influencers about Disclosure Violations

The commission sent out more than 90 letters, marking the first time it has reached out to social media influencers directly to “educate” them.

Washington, D.C.--The Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to take a harder look at sponsored internet posts is continuing in earnest.

In the fall, reports emerged that the commission was starting to crack down on companies and marketers to ensure that the proper guidelines for disclosure were being followed on social media.

Now, it seems the conversation is being carried over to influencers as well.

After reviewing Instagram posts by a number of celebrities, athletes and other influencers, the FTC said it sent out more than 90 letters reminding them to disclose any relationships they might have with brands when they’re promoting them on social media.

The FTC said this is the first time it has reached out directly to social media influencers to “educate” them. (It isn’t publicly releasing the names of the recipients of said letters.)

The letters came in response to petitions filed by Public Citizen and other consumer advocacy groups.

One of the first things the commission did in its letters was remind the influencers of the FTC Endorsement Guides.

According to the guides, if there’s a “material connection” between endorser and advertiser--a connection that might affect a consumer’s view of the endorsement--that connection should be “clearly and conspicuously disclosed” by both endorsers and marketers if it’s not already clear from the post.

A material connection could include a business or family relationship, monetary payment or free product.

when your lyrics are on the bottle ⯑ #ad

A post shared by Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) on Jun 25, 2016 at 2:03pm PDT

The letters also addressed one issue that is specific to Instagram: When consumers look at a post on mobile devices, they typically can only see the first three lines of a longer post unless they click “more.”

The FTC told recipients that when they make endorsements on Instagram, they should disclose any connections with the brand or marketer above the “more” button.

Additionally, the letters stated that when hashtags or links are used, readers might skip over them, especially if they’re at the end of a long post, which means that disclosure included in such a way is “not likely to be conspicuous.”

Some letters even addressed specific hashtags that consumers might not understand to be a disclosure, like “#sp,” “Thanks [brand],” or “#partner” in an Instagram post.

An example of the letters the FTC sent to influencers can be found on the FTC website.
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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