Transparency and Influencer Marketing

July 19th, 2017

We all love a good recommendation. If one of my friends mentions a really tasty restaurant, you can bet I’ll be darkening itsdoorstep within a day or two. Or if a co-worker quips that her super cute ensemble can be scored online for peanuts, I’ll be pulling out my phone quicker than you can finish the end of this sentence. That’s influencer marketing at its most basic.

As far as those recommendations being trustworthy and authentic, I can be fairly certain that my friend isn’t getting a kickback from the pizza joint on the corner. But if you take these IRL conversations and put them online, well then… it could be a different ballgame. Here, your friend could be a blogger that happens to get free pizza for a year for her recommendation. Or you co-worker could be an Instagram influencer who happens to get paid for her gushing praise.

So, as a savvy consumer, how do you know if the hearty online product endorsements are paid or not? Fortunately, there are some transparency and disclosure guidelines/best practices out there that will give you a heads up. The Federal Trade Commission says, “bloggers that are paid to endorse products must disclose those payments to readers…and could be fined up to US$11,000,” for not doing so.  So, the next time you’re perusing your favorite blogger, look for one of these indications to see if they have been compensated by the brand, either monetarily or with merchandise or services.

  • Bylines: A simple byline that states “this blog sponsored by (brand goes here)” can designate the content as paid, as seen here.
  • In the Content: Additionally, you may see others working the fact that their blog is part of a paid assignment into the copy somewhere above the fold, as seen here.
  • Closers: Here, this blogger wraps up her post by showing that she has partnered with the brand to bring you the information. While FTC generally recommends calling out your partnership before the first mention of the brand, this practice is still common.

The takeaway here is that for the most part bloggers generally do a great job telling you when they are being compensated.

Now when it comes to Instagram, things get a little trickier. Instagram has been described as the Wild Wild West of sponsored social media, because there haven’t been any hard and fast disclosure rules.  Until recently. In April, the FTC provided endorsement guidelines, that say “if there is a “material connection” between an endorser and an advertiser – in other words, a connection that might affect the weight or credibility that consumers give the endorsement – that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, unless it is already clear from the context of the communication.”

Instagram influencers typically mark the bottom of their posts with one of the following hashtags:

  • #sp (sponsored)
  • #partner
  • #Thanks (BrandNameGoesHere)

The FTC said burying those hashtags at the bottom of their post (often among a flurry of other hashtags), simply isn’t sufficient to indicate that the influencer is being compensated. At the very least, the FTC recommends, “when making endorsements on Instagram, they should disclose any material connection above the “more” button. Additionally, Instagram is trying out a new feature that would add much clarity – the “New Paid Partnership” tag function. This tag appears directly under the user’s name and eliminates any confusion whether or not the influencer is being compensated. It looks like this.

Facebook is also unrolling a similar feature for branded content that shows up on their platform. Colloquially known as the “handshake tool,” Facebook users can define their posts as sponsored by marking their post with this tool and tagging the brand that is compensating them. For reference, here’s what it looks like in action.

The bottom line is that trust and authenticity are important. But in real life and online. And safeguards like the ones detailed above help us from being misled (either intentionally or accidentally). But are they enough? Have you ever felt #hoodwinked by an influencer? Please share your influencer experiences below.