ftc disclosure social media

FTC Guidelines for Social Media and Influencers

As an influencer, it is likely you will find yourself working and collaborating with brands and sponsors to endorse their products or services. Now that you’re at the next level of your social media and influencer career, it’s important to disclose your relationships with brands and inform your audience that you were paid or offered the product in exchange for your endorsements.  

The  Federal Trade Commission  (FTC) calls the relationship between you and the brands you work with a “material connection”. While we immediately think of a transactional relationship as a brand paying you (either with product or money) to endorse something, the FTC also sees personal, family and employment relationships as a “material connection” that must be disclosed.

What does this mean for you as someone who posts social media or even has an influence on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, Mixer, Instagram, Facebook and the plethora of other social media services? It means if there is a relationship between you and what you’re talking about, you must disclose it.  Say, for example, you work at McDonald’s and start telling everyone on your Instagram stories to buy Big Macs because you think they are awesome. You have to tell your audience that you work there as you have a material connection via employment.

YIKES.  

Seems confusing right? Not to fear!

Earlier this month the Federal Trade Commission  (FTC) released a guide for influencers and others with brand connections, explaining how to properly disclose posts that are a result of a partnership, collaboration or relationship with a brand. 

While the FTC is an American government body, many brands are multinational and with the wide reach of social media, your posts are likely to be seen by Americans.

So, while you may be thinking “Oh I’m from Europe, Asia or Australia – these new rules don’t affect me”, it’s simply not true. While it’s a grey area, it’s always good practice to abide by a formal set of guidelines to not only protect yourself but to prevent your audience from feeling deceived. No one likes feeling deceived and if you deceive your audience or community, they may not come back. As an influencer, trust from your audience is paramount! 

So what do the FTC guidelines now say? Luckily for us, the FTC was kind enough to create a simple to read guide which you can download here. 

Let’s go over each section in detail.

When to disclose

A disclosure must be made whenever there is a material connection between you and the brand.

Again, this connection can be financial (they paid you with product or money), via employment (you are an employee of the brand), or personal (your family runs the company).

Another way to look at it is that disclosures must be made when you are given a product or a service with the expectation you will give your opinion or talk about it publically.

If you don’t live in the USA but it is likely consumers in the US will see your post, you still need to disclose. Remember to check your own countries requirements when it comes to disclosures on social media. There will be links to find the governing body in your country at the end of this article. 

While this can be confusing,

The general rule of thumb is “If the majority of your followers do not know there is a relationship between you and the brand, you must disclose it”

Let’s go through some examples: 

Example 1

Going back to our McDonalds example above – I said that if you work at McDonald’s and you tell your audience to go and buy Big Macs because they are awesome, that you need to disclose that relationship? It’s true. 

However, if you can safely say that most of your audience understands you have a material connection with the brand eg. – all 100 followers on your Instagram know you work at McDonald’s, then you don’t need to disclose that when telling them to buy Big Macs.

Side note: Companies sometimes have rules about what you can and cannot post on social media as an employee and sometimes often state that you must disclose your employment when talking about them on social media regardless. Check with your employer if you are unsure about their expectations. 

Example 2

You make an Instagram post of your gaming setup and tag the companies whose products you use. If you have a relationship with any of the brands, you must disclose it. If you just like the products and are tagging them to save yourself answering 1000s of comments such as “What brand is that keyboard?”, then you don’t need to disclose it. 

Example 3

You’ve just returned from TwitchCon and while there, you received free samples and other gifts from exhibitors. You go on to use these products on your stream and talk about them on your socials. As you were not given these products with an expectation of promotion, nor were you paid to talk about them.  Therefore you do not need to disclose anything.

Example 4 

In your Twitch information panels, there is a section linking all your gear to the Amazon store page where viewers can also buy the gear. Sometimes these links can be affiliate links depending on whether or not the streamer is part of the amazon affiliate program. If you are simply linking a product and you have no relationship with the brand, nor is the link an affiliate link, there is no need for disclosure.  If the links are affiliate links, you must disclose them. Amazon, in particular, is VERY strict on this. Make sure to educate yourself on the disclosure requirements of each affiliate program you are part of. 

Example 5

Your Dad just made a cool mobile game and you post about it on Twitter. You must disclose that it’s your Dad that made the app. A family relationship is a material connection according to the FTC and it must be disclosed. 

Remember – if there is a material connection, YOU MUST DISCLOSE.

How to disclose

Now that we have a general understanding of the process of disclosure in relation to a material connection, now we need to know how to disclose. Can we just put #ad at the end of the post and be done with it?

Unfortunately not. The FTC has strict requirements when it comes to how disclosures are made. 

When disclosing, it’s vital that the audience will SEE and UNDERSTAND the disclosure. 

Ensure that your disclosure is hard to miss. – Ideally, the disclosure is made at the beginning of the post. 

Simple and clear language must be used eg. #ad #sponsored are sufficient. 

The disclosure must be made in the same language as the post

If your platform has a built-in disclosure tool, it is still good practice to disclose in the endorsement message so it is not missed. Remember, we want the audience to see and understand that there is a material connection.

Eg. Your disclosure is not placed behind an expansion link. Your audience needs to see the disclosure without any additional clicks. 

Below are some examples of how to disclose your material connection on each type of platform or media type.

Instagram photo – #sponsored in the first sentence of the description.

Pre-recorded Video – In the first sentence of the description as well as mentioned by voice and on-screen text during the video. 

Blog post – disclaimer at the beginning of the post. 

Snapchat/Instagram story/TikTok – #sponsored superimposed over the video.

Live Stream – Video title and mentioned throughout the stream.

Tweet – A thank you x brand name or a #sponsored hashtag as long as it’s not mixed in a group with other hashtags. 

Example 1

Tweet: Thanks Logitech for gifting me this amazing keyboard which we’ll be testing on tonight’s stream! 

Example 2

Instagram photo description:  This post is sponsored by Koala or I had a great sleep thanks to Koala who gave me this amazing mattress to try. 

Example 3

Blog Post: Disclaimer – Razer sent me this keyboard for free but all opinions are my own.

Side note:

My Twitter/Instagram bio says I am partnered with Asus – do I still need to disclose the partnership in each post?
Yes. When scrolling their Twitter/Instagram feed, users cannot see your bio by default without clicking an extra link. Each post you make that includes Asus must have a disclosure. 

What not to do!

Endorse a product you haven’t tried. 

People look up to you and want honest opinions. They are likely to ask you questions about the product and it would be plain embarrassing not knowing the answer because you haven’t tried it. Also, lying is bad! 

Say something was great when it wasn’t.

Letting people down is a horrible feeling. Telling your audience something is great when it wasn’t is going to lead to let downs. Be honest and if the product is horrible, tell them that. Remember, being trustworthy and having integrity are two of the biggest traits that will help keep your audience loyal.

Make up unprovable claims.

I’m going to tell you a personal story here. I suffer from chronic eczema. It hurts, it destroys my self-confidence and it’s just a horrible condition I deal with. The reason I am saying this is because of the countless times I’ve been given a false sense of hope when I’ve seen things advertised that claim to cure my eczema. These glimmers of hope have led to many heartbreaks. Don’t cause heartbreaks.

Also, it’s illegal. So like, just don’t do it. 

Bury your disclosure in hard to find places

As mentioned above – make sure your disclosure is easy to see and understand. Not hidden under read more links or muddled in with 40 other hashtags. 

While this can be overwhelming, it’s always best practice to be open and honest.

WHY ARE ALL THESE DISCLOSURES NEEDED?! 

Because it’s law in the United States. It’s against the law in Australia for advertising to be misleading and deceptive. Your content is likely to be seen worldwide, so it’s best to cover your bases. 

Disclosures are also important to ensure that your audience understands your relationship with brands; it gives you credibility and gives the audience context when making their decision to take action on a product or service you’ve endorsed. 

You are responsible for disclosing! 

Remember, while your contract with the brand might outline what you can and cannot say, the brand is not responsible for ensuring you disclose your relationship with them.  This is YOUR responsibility. While referring to this article may be helpful, at the end of the day, you need to ensure you understand your obligations. After all, Player 2 HQ doesn’t understand your specific circumstances. 

If you are confused or unsure about anything, you can refer to the FTC website as well as the governing body in your country.  

Competition and Consumer Protection Authorities Worldwide

For more information check out the following resources from the FTC:

How to make effective disclosures in digital marketing

The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What people are asking

Questions? Comments or opinions about the FTC guidelines for influencers? Let us know in the comments below. 

ftc influencer guidelines


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