federal trade commission, us law, marketing law, affiliate marketing, influencers, social media marketing,

A refresher on FTC Guidelines for social media marketers

Have you heard of Oops? What it actually is can be hard to sum up in one sentence, but what it aims to be is ultimately a budgeting app. However, the buzz around the app, though well manufactured, isn’t of praise for helping rich college kids save money, but about the fact that their marketing campaign has been called out by many to be against FTC guidelines and regulations.

FTC, or Federal Trade Commission, guidelines are an important factor to keep in mind when running an online marketing campaign. They are essentially the rules that permit an ethical and compliant marketing strategy, and they will fine you and remove your content if it is found to be against FTC guidelines. So, we’re using Oops? as a jumping-off point for a refresher course on the legal issues around social media marketing campaigns. There is a lot to cover on the FTC website itself, but we’re focussing on affiliate marketing. What do you need to know to make sure you and your affiliates are legally posting marketing content and avoiding a fine?

The basics

The Federal Trade Commission website sums up their regulations as such: “Under the law, claims in advertisements must be truthful, cannot be deceptive or unfair, and must be evidence-based. For some specialized products or services, additional rules may apply.”

So, most of that is a given, right? No false advertising. Marketers know that. And yet it still happens, which is why the FTC exists.

Endorsements, Influencers and Reviews

The FTC says of, ultimately, affiliate marketing: “If you use endorsements in your marketing, do they meet the standards of the FTC Act and the FTC’s Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (Endorsement Guides)? And what about social media influencers? If your business works with influencers or if you’re an influencer yourself, are you both taking the necessary steps to clearly disclose material connections? Find out more by consulting FTC compliance materials. You’ll also find resources about consumer reviews, including information about complying with the Consumer Review Fairness Act.”

Under “Soliciting and Paying for Online Reviews: A Guide for Marketers”, the FTC stresses that marketers should:

  • Read websites and platforms’ terms of service to understand if they prohibit paid sponsorships or not.
  • Do not ask for reviews from people who haven’t used the product, are staff of yours (another suspected problem with Oops?), are family or friends, or are incentivised with the condition that the review is positive.

Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers

So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of why you’re here: What are the rules for social media influencers and by extension, affiliate partners?

Influencers have a long history of trying to suggest products to their fans without them realising it, almost as long as brand deals were a concept. And it caused the FTC and the EU to finally lay down the law to make it as transparent as possible when an influencer is being paid to talk about a product.

“If you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship (“material connection”) with the brand. A “material connection” to the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship – such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.

“As an influencer, it’s your responsibility to make these disclosures, to be familiar with the Endorsement Guides, and to comply with laws against deceptive ads. Don’t rely on others to do it for you.”

Practically, when it comes to your endorsement, you can outright say that it is sponsored, with “simple and clear” language. You can add hashtags like “#ad”, “#advertisement” or “#sponsored” as long as it is placed somewhere that’s hard to miss (i.e. no adding it in tiny white font against a white background). Don’t be vague or confusing like saying “spon” instead of “sponsored” or “collab”, which can imply paid or not.

And some extra pointers:

  • Don’t talk about your experience with a product you haven’t tried.
  • If thought the product was terrible, you can’t say it’s terrific.
  • You can’t make up claims about a product that would require proof the advertiser doesn’t have – such as scientific proof that a product can treat a health condition.

Take a look at the Federal Trade Commission website. They have plenty of guides to help you out, whether you are an influencer, an affiliate partner, or a brand or business.

If you are interested in more affiliate and social media marketing insights, take a look at our blog for all the latest news and advice. Or for a more personalised approach, book a free call with a member of our team.

Or, for the very best advice from industry peers, get your free tickets to gain access to our Amplify Virtual Summit. Coming in January of this year, Amplify aims to bring you the latest affiliate, performance, and partner marketing insights from across the globe. Don’t miss it.

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