FTC employees remind influencers and brands to clearly disclose relationship.

Commission aims to enhance disclosures in social media endorsements.

After reviewing various Instagram posts by celebrities, athletes, and alternative influencers, Federal Trade Commission employees recently sent out over 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that influencers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing merchandise through social media.

The letters were informed by petitions filed by Public citizen and attached organizations regarding influencer advertising on Instagram, and Instagram posts reviewed by FTC employees. They mark the first time that Federal Trade Commission workers has reached out directly to educate social media influencers themselves.

The FTC’s Endorsement Guides give that if there’s a “material connection” between an endorser and an advertiser – in other words, a connection which may have an effect on the weight or credibility that customers give the endorsement – that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, unless it’s already clear from the context of the communication. A material connection might be a business or family relationship, financial payment, or the gift of a free product. Significantly, the Endorsement Guides apply to both marketers and endorsers.

In addition to providing background data on when and how marketers and influencers should disclose a material connection in a commercial, the letters each addressed one point specific to Instagram posts — consumers viewing Instagram posts on mobile devices usually see only the first 3 lines of an extended post unless they click “more,” which many might not do. The staff’s letters informed recipients that when creating endorsements on Instagram, they should disclose any material connection above the “more” button.

The letters additionally noted that when multiple tags, hashtags, or links are used, readers may just skip over them, particularly when they seem at the end of a long post – which means that a disclosure placed in such a string isn’t probably to be conspicuous.

Some of the letters addressed particular disclosures that aren’t sufficiently clear, remarking that many customers won’t understand a disclosure like “#sp,” “Thanks [Brand],” or “#partner” in an Instagram post to mean that the post is sponsored.

The staff’s letters were sent in response to a sample of Instagram posts creating endorsements or referencing brands. In sending the letters, the staff didn’t predetermine in every instance whether the brand mention was in truth sponsored, as opposed to an organic mention.
In addition to the Endorsement Guides, the FTC has previously addressed the requirement for endorsers to adequately disclose connections to brands through law enforcement actions and the staff’s business education efforts.

The workers additionally issued FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What people are Asking, an informal business guidance document that answers commonly asked questions. The staff’s letters to endorsers and brands enclosed copies of both guidance documents.

The FTC isn’t publicly releasing the letters or the names of the recipients at this time.

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