The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to make sure consumers are aware of any commercial connections between brands and social media influencers. The Commission recently sent 90 letters reminding both influencers and marketers that such relationships should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed.
The FTC even displayed technological savvy by noting that consumers using mobile devices typically only see the first three lines of an Instagram post, so these “material connection” warnings need to be placed above the “More” button. According to Business Insider, this is the first time the FTC has reached out directly to influencers themselves rather than the brands.
The RTP editors discuss whether such disclosures will diminish influencers’ value to brands or to their followers, or ultimately strengthen them.
Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief: As social communications are becoming more relevant, they are coming under more scrutiny, which makes sense. It is a shame that the FTC believes it’s necessary to spell this out, but unfortunately it is. I’m sure, as social media becomes even more influential, additional regulations also will be established. This particular messaging is targeted to the influencers themselves, who apparently need to be educated about these issues, since the brands or marketers may not be clearly explaining them. It’s amazing but true that the average consumer may believe something just because they see it in “print” on Twitter, in the form of a product review, or as an influencer message. The “buyer beware” cliché is taking on new meaning as consumers are bombarded with recommendations and endorsements from people they admire or look up to; and the reach of this messaging via social media is both impressive and frightening, as we’ve seen with the onslaught of Twitter activity from political leaders/influencers.
Adam Blair, Executive Editor: The FTC’s actions in this case make a lot of sense. Influencer marketing is a relatively new phenomenon and it’s highly likely that individual influencers are unclear, or even totally unaware, that distinctions should be drawn between sponsored and non-sponsored content. It also shows a degree of technological savvy by the FTC, to recognize that when such content is viewed on a mobile device, disclaimers placed at the end of a post may not be readily apparent to the average viewer. As to whether this will diminish influencers’ influence, my belief is that it will only strengthen it. Providing context and more complete information will allow viewers to make up their own minds about how sincere an endorsement really is.
Alicia Esposito, Content Strategist: I think the FTC is wise to put actions into place to help stabilize the influencer marketing landscape. Because it’s such a new and hot trend, brands of all shapes and sizes are eager to embrace it: food, fitness, apparel, cosmetics, the list goes on and on. Frankly, there will always be consumers who eat up everything their favorite celebrities, bloggers and YouTube stars peddle. That’s just the way it is. However, there’s no harm in putting the proper precautions in place to ensure that all influencer campaigns and relationships have integrity and are fully transparent. The foundation of a successful influencer campaign is finding someone with social clout who aligns with your brand and products. To some extent, influencers who are successful will only work with brands that make sense. So in a way, there is authenticity there, but adding that extra layer of transparency into the fact that it is a paid partnership makes sense.
Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: This topic brings me back to the concept of paid reviews, which can be incredibly deceptive to the average consumer if they aren’t careful when searching for a product. People tend to get too comfortable if they are so used to a certain brand (or brand supporter), and are likely to just take their word for it if there’s enough momentum behind the message. We see this on the other side of the spectrum as well, where people pile on a brand or product even if it does something right, simply because of the reputation it has built in the past. With that in mind, it makes sense for the FTC to call out what they see, if they notice that many influencers have more than just a word-of-mouth-driven incentive — simply because of how easy it is to create a disingenuous message. In the end, if influencers are paid…then that’s just advertising, not marketing. There’s nothing wrong with advertising, as we’ve all seen celebrities shill out products they probably don’t even use, but at the very least there should be a line drawn. Consumers don’t like being swindled, and I don’t think they’d be as eager to jump on a brand offering if they knew there was a blatantly insincere campaign behind it.
Klaudia Tirico, Features Editor: I feel like the FTC has been cracking down on influencers for some time now, and I don’t think having to disclose brand connections will diminish the value they provide. I actually believe it will do the opposite. Being trustworthy and upfront with consumers can be very beneficial. And, let’s face it, consumers today are savvy enough to know that when Kim Kardashian promotes something, she’s getting paid to do it. There have been many funny situations where a celebrity (or their PR rep) posts a sponsored image on Instagram and then accidentally copies and pastes the brand’s requirements in the caption. Since these snafus have happened, I think consumers have learned to think twice before believing a celebrity endorsement. I also believe it’s much more important for lesser-known influencers like bloggers to disclose their sponsored posts. Consumers are less likely to think those are paid for, and could easily be fooled into thinking the influencer is genuinely sharing her favorite lipstick brand (when in reality, she’s getting paid big bucks for a single Instagram photo). But as long as brands and influencers partner together with a genuine, agreed-upon value proposition, influencer marketing efforts will be worth it. It’s important for brands to find influencers who have shown interest in their products before they were getting paid to promote them. This will make the partnership much more genuine and valuable to the brand, the influencer and the consumer.