Got that beer or wine for free and didn’t tell me in your review? Shame on you… New FTC Guidance on Social Media Disclosures for influencers.

Beer Twitter, Wine Twitter (is that a thing?) beer Instagram, wine columnists, writers, reporters, they’re notorious for not disclosing when the products they’re writing about or describing were sent to them for free to sample and review… and that’s an issue. The failure to disclose that a brewery or winery sent you free beer to feature in your feed  

The FTC’s new publication for online influencers delineates the agency’s rules for when and how influencers must disclose sponsorships to their followers.

The new guide is called “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers” and it is filled with better details regarding the requirements. Here’s a video they put together about it:

The guide summarizes the detailed guides and FAQ the FTC has already put together.

Disclosure is important because it keeps “important because it keeps [the influencers] recommendations honest and truthful, and it allows people to weigh the value to [the] endorsement.”

When to Disclose

  • Disclose when you have any financial, employment, personal,or family relationship with a brand.
    • Financial relationships aren’t limited to money. Disclose the relationship if you got anything of value to mention a product.
    • If a brand gives you free or discounted products or other perks and then you mention one of its products, make a disclosure even if you weren’t asked to mention that product.
    • Don’t assume your followers already know about your brand relationships.
    • Make disclosures even if you think your evaluations are unbiased.
  • Keep in mind that tags, likes, pins, and similar ways of showing you like a brand or product are endorsements.
  • If posting from abroad, U.S. law applies if it’s reasonably foreseeable that the post will affect U.S. consumers. Foreign laws might also apply.
  • If you have no brand relationship and are just telling people about a product you bought and happen to like, you don’t need to declare that you don’t have a brand relationship.

How to Disclose

Make sure people will see and understand the disclosure.

  • Place it so it’s hard to miss.
    • The disclosure should be placed with the endorsement message itself.
    • Disclosures are likely to be missed if they appear only on an ABOUT ME or profile page, at the end of posts or videos, or anywhere that requires a person to click MORE.
    • Don’t mix your disclosure into a group of hashtags or links.
    • If your endorsement is in a picture on a platform like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, superimpose the disclosure over the picture and make sure viewers have enough time to notice and read it. 
    • If making an endorsement in a video, the disclosure should be in the video and not just in the description uploaded with the video. Viewers are more likely to notice disclosures made in both audio and video. Some viewers may watch without sound and others may not notice superimposed words.
    • If making an endorsement in a live stream, the disclosure should be repeated periodically so viewers who only see part of the stream will get the disclosure.
  • Use simple and clear language.
    • Simple explanations like “Thanks to Acme brand for the free product” are often enough if placed in a way that is hard to miss.
    • So are terms like “advertisement,” “ad,” and “sponsored.” 
    • On a space-limited platform like Twitter, the terms “Acme Partner” or “Acme Ambassador” (where Acme is the brand name) are also options.
    • It’s fine (but not necessary) to include a hashtag with the disclosure, such as #ad or #sponsored. 
    • Don’t use vague or confusing terms like “sp,” “spon,” or “collab,” or stand-alone terms like “thanks” or “ambassador,” and stay away from other abbreviations and shorthand when possible.
  • The disclosure should be in the same language as the endorsement itself.
  • Don’t assume that a platform’s disclosure tool is good enough,but consider using it in addition to your own, good disclosure.

This “how to disclose” section is really where you’re likely to run into trouble. Most influencers don’t just miss the boat, they’re not even at the shoreline. To help with this the examples the FTC provides should underscore the “HARD TO MISS” point here – e.g., people need to see it.

There are terms the FTC wants you to use, like: advertisement” “ad” “sponsored” “[Brand]Partner” “[Brand]Ambassador” “#ad” “#sponsored

You can find the more detailed guide to the FTC’s guidelines and rules for social media here.

One last point – TELL THE TRUTH. In a final section on this brief outline, the FTC reminds people:

  1. You can’t talk about your experience with a product you haven’t tried.
  2. If you’re paid to talk about a product and thought it was terrible, you can’t say it’s terrific.
  3. 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.

Ashley Brandt

Hi there! I’m happy you’re here. My name is Ashley Brandt and I’m an attorney in Chicago representing clients in the Food and Beverage, Advertising, Media, and Real Estate industries. A while back I kept getting calls and questions from industry professionals and attorneys looking for advice and information on a fun and unique area of law that I’m lucky enough to practice in. These calls represented a serious lack of, and need for, some answers, news, and information on the legal aspects of marketing and media. I've got this deep seeded belief that information should be readily available and that the greatest benefit from the information age is open access to knowledge... so ... this blog seemed like the best way to accomplish that. I enjoy being an attorney and it’s given me some amazing opportunities, wonderful experiences, and an appreciation and love for this work. I live in Chicago and work at an exceptional law firm, Goldstein & McClintock, with some truly brilliant people. Feel free to contact me at any time with any issues, comments, concerns… frankly, after reading this far, I hope you take the time to at least let me know what you think about the blog and how I can make it a better resource.

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