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It certainly isn’t news to most consumers that many social influencers and top lifestyle bloggers are paid to “advertise” or promote products on their social media networks and personal lifestyle blogs. But what the general public may not know is that specific rules, formed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), precisely govern how this advertising is supposed to happen in blog influencer marketing sphere, and how disclosure should happen in order for compensation to be accounted for by the lifestyle blogger or digital influencer.
Online social media has become the new giant sector for advertising and marketing. With so many people making use of social media platforms, it’s no wonder that companies are now leveraging blog influencer marketing to tap into online audiences. But how exactly does this work? If a company has chosen someone to be a “digital influencer” for their product, compensation for promoting the product can come in different forms, such as free products or cash payments. If this occurs, a disclosure should be included in the post or photo labeling it as an advertisement or promotion. The problem comes when either the lifestyle blogger, or the company whose product is being mentioned, either doesn’t know about the rules surrounding disclosure or chooses not to abide by said rules. Many lifestyle bloggers may simply not be aware of consumer protection laws. But some companies believe that having any promotional material labeled as such will actually hurt their campaigns.
Executed properly, influencer marketing campaigns perform well because branded content is created in a genuine, organic manner that is native to the lifestyle bloggers’ own content, voice, and style. The brand sponsored messaging comes across as a very natural endorsement that resonates well with audience members. Having branded content labeled with a disclosure as a paid blog sponsorship, typically improves audience-reception of the brand and blogger for being transparent and providing useful information, services, or access to cool products. Rarely do bloggers receive negative feedback for simply endorsing a brand. For more information about successfully branded blog sponsorships, check out our article on what makes a great branded blog sponsorship.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission compiled a comprehensive 21-page document titled “.com Disclosures – How To Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising.” The document describes in great detail both the proper and effective methods for any online marketing entity to disclose information about the products they promote toward the public online. Throughout the document, it’s clear that the FTC wishes to enforce the consumer protection laws in order to protect consumers against “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” The FTC offers advice on how to ensure photos or social media posts are carefully noted as sponsored. Their suggestions include:
In other words, any product for which a blogger received compensation, needs to be disclosed on or near the photo or blog post in a “clear and conspicuous” manner.
While the FTC has raised a few cases against major violations of these laws, it seems that they are primarily focused on getting companies and bloggers alike to voluntarily disclose information, rather than relying on punishment as reinforcement, as discussed in Refinery29’s article. This may be due to the fact that locating the perpetrators online would be a long, tedious process, or due to expensive legal costs incurred in taking violators to court. Whatever the case, the FTC laws are geared more towards the advertisers and asking them to monitor their digital influencers and blog marketing sponsorships. Some companies do agree that disclosure is best, and the easiest way to achieve voluntary disclosure and effective blog sponsorships is simply by choosing the right online voice for their products.
While there currently may not be any strict punishment for the nondisclosure of online promotional post compensation yet, it should still be viewed as a requirement for anyone wishing to gain respect and trust from their followers. As a lifestyle blogger or as a company, up front disclosures within social media advertising and blog sponsorships can be a touchy issue and if not dealt with meticulously, it may have substantially negative repercussions in the future.