The rapid growth of social media networks/platforms and the prevalence of sponsored social media posts has attracted a lot of attention lately—and not necessarily the good, ROI-driving kind of attention. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. government agency responsible for overseeing ads and advertising practices, has started to closely scrutinize influencer marketing campaigns for indications of deceptive marketing practices.
Knowing the latest FTC Social Media Guidelines 2016 can help both sponsoring brands and influencers from violating government policies while still providing valuable recommendations to social media audiences.
The number Instagram posts using hashtags like #sp, #spon, or #sponsored nearly tripled from July 2015 to July 2016 (from 120K posts to over 300K), a statistic indicative of influencer marketing’s rapid rise and effectiveness (Bloomberg). The prevalence of sponsored posts coupled with the trust consumers place in the recommendations of today’s top social media influencers have led the FTC to develop stricter guidelines regarding sponsorship disclosures.
Under the new FTC social media guidelines, proper disclosure of sponsored posts:
1. Must communicate sponsorship in clear, unambiguous language, and appear at the beginning of posts (or “above the fold”) if possible. Simply including hashtags like #sp and #spon and/or using phrases like “thanks to…” is not always sufficient, though the FTC has said that including #ad within Twitter tweets is acceptable.
2. Should be easy to read and in a shade that stands out from the background.
3. Needs to remain on the screen for long enough to be noticed and read, if sponsored content is a video.
4. Must be included even if the influencer is negatively reviewing a product or service.
5. Should be visible on all devices.
To avoid repeating sponsorship mistakes made by Warner Bros., Machinima, and Lord & Taylor—which have all come under fire in the last year for violating FTC social media guidelines—sponsored posts should adhere to the following suggestions:
The FTC’s new social media guidelines state that hashtags like #sp and #spon do not necessarily constitute proper disclosure, nor does a branded hashtag or a link to the brand’s website. Sponsored Instagram posts should clearly indicate the relationship between brand and influencer by including the hashtag #ad and/or #sponsored and tagging the brand within the post description and above the “more” button.
To ensure that his sponsorship with Nissan met the FTC’s newest guidelines, Instagram influencer Jordan Herschel included a variety of disclosures in the post description, including #sponsored, #Nissan, and the campaign’s branded hashtag (#FindYourNewPath). Per the FTC’s recommendations, Herschel also tagged the brand in his Instagram sponsored post, as well.
For sponsored content on YouTube, the FTC now requires disclosure to appear clearly (i.e. by using the phrase “this video was sponsored by…”) in the video description and before the “Read More” drop-down section of the description. Because YouTube descriptions do not appear when a user shares the video, the FTC also requires sponsorship disclosures be included in the video itself and appear as easy-to-read text or in simple, unambiguous spoken language. An excellent example of the FTC’s new requirements for sponsored videos, this episode of Good Mythical Morning explicitly mentioned the sponsoring brand within the first 30 seconds of the video and even featured the channel’s stars, Rhett and Link, drinking from branded coffee mugs. The sponsorship was also clearly stated in the video’s description (see above) and, per FTC recommendations, appears “above the fold” (i.e. without having to click the “show more” button) and in unambiguous language.
Sponsored posts on Twitter often go undisclosed for lack of space, but the FTC’s most recent guidelines say even Tweets must properly disclose paid promotions. Including the hashtag #ad and tagging the brand is generally sufficient enough to fulfill disclosure requirements. In keeping with the FTC’s social media guidelines regarding Twitter posts, top social media influencer Naomi Davis (also known as Love Taza) included the hashtag #ad within her 144 character description and tagged the sponsoring brand as well.