In a word: everything

Last week, the newest FTC regulations for influencers were published. The guide, called Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers, is the latest in just a handful of publications the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has put out to provide a list of basic best practices for brands partnering with creators to get endorsements and influencer-created content. 

We published our first article on FTC regulations back in 2015 and put out another FTC update in 2017 to go over some of the newer recommendations from the FTC surrounding endorsements. Well, gang, it’s that time again. And these changes are big enough for you to be totally out of the loop (and possibly on the wrong side of the law) if you don’t know them.

Disclosures 101 details a couple of really important shifts in the way brands, and especially influencers, are to share disclosures online. So, let’s just get to the meat of it.

The big takeaway the FTC wanted us to get with this one is an influencer doesn’t have to disclose that she doesn’t have a relationship with a brand. Everything else, though, she pretty much needs to announce as people are coming through the doors. 

Here’s What Changed… And These ARE Notable Changes

Going forward (and just ahead of the holiday season, no doubt), new FTC regulations will require influencers to make obvious any paid endorsement or pre-existing relationship with a brand. AND disclosures need to be pretty easy for others to find. 

LIKES, TAGS, PINS ARE ALL OFFICIAL ENDORSEMENTS NOW

A paid endorsement is any favorable interaction you take on a brand’s behalf (or in support of a brand) for which you receive something of value, whether it’s money, free products, a free service, discounts on swag, access to an event, other perks… whatever it is.

The term “favorable interaction” is my term, not the FTC’s term. But it pretty much describes what the FTC may be talking about when it says: 

Keep in mind that tags, likes, pins, and similar ways of showing you like a brand or product are endorsements.

👀 

It very well may be that if I simply Like ❤️ a post from a friend who’s crushing it selling her line of hair care products (totally a real scenario – take a look at Pydana Collection, here’s a link to my favorite set for moisturizing my hair), I may need to disclose to the world that we’ve spent a few holidays together in order to provide her with that Like AND make sure I’m still on the FTC’s good side. 

YOUR MATERIAL CONNECTIONS JUST BECAME MORE IMPORTANT

Let’s talk about the pre-existing relationship part.

The FTC calls it a “material connection” and it comes into play anytime you start talking up a product that will benefit someone you know. That could be a friend, family member, co-worker, a guy you dormed with during freshman year but couldn’t really stand, your ex’s new bae (because you’re trying to be the best version of yourself)… any one of those relationships can qualify as a material connection according to Disclosures 101

Paid or unpaid, if you have a material connection with a brand, you may need to reveal that when you endorse that brand, i.e. by engaging positively with a branded post. 

So, that MAY mean every product I Like that happens to be affiliated with someone I know could look something like this…

[❤️ ] Obsessed with the vitamin E hair oil Eva let me try… and I’m not just saying this because she’s my kids’ stepmom. The oil really is that good. #sponsored

👀

This is an extreme example, I know. The FTC isn’t trying to make me admit my relationship with everybody I know… I mean, probably not… 

The thing is there’s lots of room for interpretation. While the FTC regulations around influencer marketing do leave some questions unanswered (and therefore open to interpretation by the FTC), I wanted to point out these potential (reddish-colored) flags before detailing the specific changes influencers must make with regard to how they disclose partnerships and relationships during endorsements. 

Read the rest of the FTC Disclosure changes on The Shelf Blog I’m the editor of that blog.

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