It is no secret that influencer marketing—in which social media influencers have the ability to engage with their followers and create “organic” content about a particular product or service—is a huge asset for companies. It is also no secret that advertisers, agencies and influencers alike are often confused about how to comply with the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials. While the FTC has attempted to clarify its position in subsequent FAQs and enforcement actions—and, most recently, in a “sweep” of “educational” letters we blogged about in April—it’s become increasingly clear that when and how to disclose might never be clear-cut. But it might be getting clearer, with some help from the social media platforms. Below are examples of how such platforms are taking new steps to address how branded content is disclosed:
On Wednesday, June 14, Instagram posted an article on its Business Blog titled “Why Transparency Matters: Enhancing Creator and Business Partnerships.” The article describes Instagram’s latest feature intended to help influencers and publishers disclose partnerships with brands directly in the influencer’s content. Influencers can now add a “Paid partnership with” tag in both posts and Instagram stories to clearly communicate that the content is part of a partnership with the particular brand. The tag will appear directly underneath the user’s Instagram handle in the post or story, where the location tag is currently placed. Instagram does not appear to require that all branded content include this tag just yet, but the articles states that Instagram will release an official policy on enforcement “in the coming months.”
The new tool comes after recent enhancements by Instagram to address content disclosures. Instagram already tags posts that companies pay to be pushed up your feed with “Sponsored,” and began testing a new “Add Partner” feature earlier this year that allows users to add a brand as a partner to branded content.
Back in March, Facebook updated its policies on branded content and expanded the features it offers to provide it. According to Facebook, the term “branded content” refers to “content where the content’s editorial voice has been influenced by and features a third party product, brand, or business partner,” which includes sponsorships—in other words, content that includes an endorsement or testimonial in the eyes of the FTC. As updated, Facebook’s Advertising Policies require that “Ads promoting branded content must tag the featured third party product, brand, or business partner using the branded content tool.” That new feature allows creators and publishers to tag a post as branded content by adding the term “Paid” underneath the “with” tag that identifies the partner or brand. Although the feature is not available for all users (you can apply for access to the Branded Content Tool here), Facebook’s Advertising Policies now require all branded content posts to include this “Paid” tag.
Facebook’s Branded Content Policies for its Pages impose further requirements and prohibitions on advertisers using the Branded Content Tool, stating that they must not: (1) include pre-, mid-, or post-roll ads in videos or audio content; (2) include banner ads in videos or images; (3) include title cards within a video’s first three seconds, or interstitial ad cards that persist longer than three consecutive seconds; or (4) use the Branded Content Tool to tag a Page without prior consent.
In late 2016, YouTube released a feature that allows content creators to include a written disclaimer directly in videos posted on that platform in the bottom left corner at the beginning of a video that reads “Includes paid promotion.” Unlike Facebook’s Branded Content Tool, YouTube’s feature is an opt-in, not required, so influencers can still utilize the video description space to include additional disclosure or include an oral disclosure as part of the video itself. This feature aligns with what consumer watchdog groups are pushing for—placing physical badges directly in the video or photo to disclose the content is an advertisement.
The new features provide advertisers with new tools for disclosure, and as always, advertisers should pay close attention to the guidelines and rules for advertising on each social media platform. These tools can help provide transparency with respect to material connections between influencers and brands and possibly eliminate the need for #that #string #of #hashtags. Moreover, on Facebook, the new features will also help provide companies with more statistics and analytics information about branded content posts, which may help marketing and public relations teams to better quantify influencer engagement and simplify monitoring influencer content for compliance.
The new disclosure tools are an important development for brands and influencers who want to ensure that their content complies with the platform’s policies and without worrying about which hashtag to use. Are brands, influencers, and consumers—and the FTC—ready to say “goodbye” to #ad?