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Will the FTC's social media guidelines affect you?

Social media marketing and advertising is changing, and fast. Last November, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers,” a list of guidelines designed to target deceptive advertising on social media.

From YouTube review videos to the Fyre festival, deceptive advertising has pushed its way to the top of the pile of topics important to consumers. You’ve seen stories of influencers promoting a festival they didn’t tell you they were paid by, YouTubers not sharing that they were paid to “review” an item, and more. Given this environment, the FTC aims to help consumers make informed decisions when using social media to make purchasing decisions.

The FTC guidelines affect how you post on social media – you need to follow these rules when making posts, especially ones about sponsored products.

This article gives a baseline of information for how you should structure your social media posts – it does not fully include all FTC requirements and should not be taken as legal advice.

When to Disclose: You need to disclose any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand. This means that you may need to make a disclosure even if you aren’t being paid for the advertisement. This applies to things like posts, tags, likes, and pins, anywhere you may be seen as endorsing a brand.

You also need to disclose if you’ve received free or discounted products, or other perks, from a brand. You need to make the disclosure even if you think your audience already knows about your brand relationships and even if you are being unbiased.

How to Disclose: Make the message hard to miss. Place the disclosure within the endorsement itself, not on the ABOUT ME page or at the end of posts or videos. For example, followers shouldn’t have to click “more” on Instagram to see that your content is sponsored. The guidelines provide more detailed information on where disclosures should be placed in pictures, videos, and live streams.

Use clear language. Terms like “advertisement,” “ad,” and “sponsored” are clear. So are explanations like “Thanks to Acme brand for the free product” if placed in the right spot.

Other Information: The FTC values truthful and clearly communicated information. You can’t talk about your experience with a product you haven’t tried. You also can’t praise a product you’ve been paid to talk about if you thought it wasn’t good. You also can’t make up claims that requires proof that an advertiser doesn’t have, like scientific evidence to back up a skincare claim.

The FTC doesn’t explicitly state the repercussions for not following these rules, but it’s important to remember that FTC rules are laws – you may be breaking the law if you ignore these guidelines.

You can read all of the FTC influencer guidelines here. I recommend you reach out to an attorney to learn more about how these guidelines directly affect you or your business.

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