Are you dreaming of that 10K swipe up life? Do you love the idea of being paid to showcase a product you already use and love? Sounds like the ideal Influencer Instagram life, right? Well if you do decide you want to start “influencing” on social media you HAVE to make sure you’re covered legally, which includes doing sponsored blogs or social media posts.
When you’re in a social media niche (a fashion blogger, mamapreneur, reality star, etc.) you’ll often get approached by other small businesses owners about trades/collaborations/paid posts, etc. This could be a shop sending you a product they want you to promote, a gym providing you with a discount code for your followers, or you writing a full post about a product geared towards kids.
Sponsored posts are proving to be a highly effective source of market traction and purchasing for companies.
According to the Harvard Business Review, around 19% of all consumers have purchased a product in the past year because it was promoted by a social media influencer that they follow.1
That percentage doubles for consumers under the age of 25. Companies are finding these statistics very attractive and are funneling substantial funds into this form of advertising; Forbes estimates that at least $6 billion is to be spent on social media marketing in this year alone. It can be a great source of traffic for brands, and a great opportunity for influencers to generate revenue. In order to be successful though, you want to make sure that as an influencer, you are operating in a way that is legally legit.
Here are the top things you need to consider when working with sponsors to make sure your posts are completely legal and your followers can trust you!
01 | Properly Disclose That You’re Being Compensated to Share
Make sure your followers know you’re either receiving a free product or you’re being paid in exchange for your post. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s a must do legally! The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that you disclose when you have any sort of financial, employment, personal, or familial relationship with a brand. Even if the item is being given to you for free, the FTC states that you should still disclose it if there is an expectation that you will post about, review, or feature the free item on your platforms.
The language that you use in a sponsored post should clearly articulate that you are receiving some sort of compensation or benefit from the brand or product you are promoting.
Using words like “sponsored” or “ad” also makes it clear that you are being compensated in some way for your posting. An accompanying hashtag such as #ad or #sponsored is also recommended but not required. This language should be clearly disclosed within the first lines of your description or caption, not buried in the hashtags. If you’re doing an Instagram story or IGTV, then you should clearly have your disclosure superimposed over the image or video so that your followers have ample time to read it. Include the disclosure language in the video as well as the video description -- some viewers may watch without sound or need captioning. If you’re doing a sponsored livestream, be sure to mention your compensation periodically so that viewers tuning in at different times can be aware of your brand relationship.
Something really important to keep in mind is that your endorsement language should be in the same language as the post itself. For example, if your caption about a brand partner is written in Spanish, then your disclosure should be written in Spanish as well.
Many social media platforms have instituted brand partnership labels for partnership content. However, some of these tools may not be sufficient to cover all of your bases, and you should include disclosure language as much as possible in multiple formats.
“Mail day” or “unboxing” posts and videos are popular content on social media and is a win-win for both influencers and brands: influencers can showcase products and give brands shout outs, and brands can grow their following and increase brand awareness. However, it is really important to know that FTC rules apply to this as well. According to the FTC, a prominent, superimposed disclosure has to be included in all Instagram stories where a brand relationship exists. The disclosure should be easy to read and on the story long enough for viewers to have ample time to read and understand. We here at TLP highly recommend you put in words like “sponsored”, “ad”, or “sponsoredpost” with or without hashtags to clearly convey to your audience that what you are posting about has some type of financial gain to you.
02 | Don’t Make the FTC Angry!
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) conducts investigations and brings cases involving endorsements made on behalf of an advertiser under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits deceptive advertising. They are mainly concerned with endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser, not a product or service that you paid for yourself. They provide a great set of Endorsement Guides that address frequently asked questions on how to navigate sponsored posts or content in accordance with their standards. (https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking#about)
If you don’t follow the standards set by the FTC, there are consequences. In a recent case, Lord & Taylor paid 50 social media influencers to post about a particular dress on their respective Instagram accounts, but did not require them to disclose that the posts were sponsored. The FTC charged Lord & Taylor with deceiving the public and prohibited them from “misrepresenting that paid ads are from an independent source”, but did not assess a monetary fine in this case. Monetary fines are typically not assigned, but they are not unheard of either.
03 |Share Honest Endorsements Only
Even when a partnership is being fully disclosed to your followers, you need to be fair and honest in your endorsement. Never share a medical product you haven’t used, food you haven’t actually eaten, etc. Not only is that not best practice for you as an individual brand, but it could open up to follower distrust or even penalties if it is discovered that you actually have no idea what it is you’re promoting.
There has been an interesting trend among the under-25 demographic of influencers actually pretending to be paid to promote brands; market numbers used by Forbes and The Atlantic estimate that up to half of all material connection disclosures are actually faked in hopes of generating brand interest and leading to an eventual legitimate sponsorship or brand deal.
In conclusion, a good rule of thumb is to only do sponsored posts with clear, thorough disclosures, for products you actually love. If you do that and take into consideration the things that I’ve mentioned here, your influencer career will not only flourish, but keep you out of trouble!
In sum, be honest with your followers about what brands you’re working with and what products you’re promoting. Not only is this better business practices for your brand, it will also protect you from any FTC violations that could arise. Being open about when you’re being paid (even if it’s just in free products!) will help your business flourish, and will help you gain more loyal followers for years to come.