While scrolling through your Instagram feed, you’ve probably seen the hashtags #Ad or #sponsored as part of the caption of a post. If you’re an influencer, you’ve likely heard about the need to include these disclaimers or hashtags as part of your sponsored posts. But are these hashtags necessary? Do you really have to include this information as part of your posts? The answer is Yes!
On April 19, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) sent out more than 90 letters to individual influencers and marketers stating that they must “clearly and conspicuously” disclose their relationships to brands when endorsing or promoting on social media (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, Blog posts). To make a disclosure both “clear” and “conspicuous,” influencers should use unambiguous language and make the disclosure stand out. For example, on Instagram, this means that posts should include one of the following hashtags: #Ad, #sponsored, #paidpartner, or #promotion. At a webinar that I attended recently, an official from the FTC stated that the safest hashtag to use is #Ad!
As an influencer, it can be tempting to avoid mentioning that certain posts are sponsored out of fear of appearing inauthentic or fear that your engagement rates will go down. However, the FTC has created strict guidelines for influencers and marketers when it comes to advertising for brands and companies. They will come after influencers who do not properly disclose sponsored content. The FTC’s mission is to protect consumers from deceptive and unfair business practices that mislead consumers. Even if some readers are aware of popular brands or advertising deals, many readers aren’t. That’s why proper disclosure is so important.
The hashtags cannot be hidden in the comments section or hidden at the bottom of the post so that followers would have to click on the words “more” to see the rest of the post. Consumers should be able to notice the disclosure easily, and not have to look for it. Specifically for Instagram posts, readers should be informed of sponsored content above the first three lines of the post if it is a long post. Simply put, you should disclose any material connection above the “more” button. The FTC wants to make sure that consumers are aware at the outset that a post is sponsored.
As of this writing, Instagram also has a new “Paid Partnership” feature to clearly show which posts are sponsored. Currently, this feature is only available to “major” influencers (to name a few – Aimee Song of Song of Style or Leonie Hanne of Ohhcouture are some examples). However, as it becomes more available, influencers and marketers should try to use this feature as it is one of the best ways to explicitly inform your audience that certain posts are sponsored.
Finally, it’s also important to be aware that products that are given for free must also be explicitly disclosed to the public. The FTC defines an endorsement as a “material connection” between an endorser and the marketer of a product. Therefore, a material connection could consist of a “business or family relationship, monetary payment, or the provision of free products to the endorser.” Overall, to avoid getting contacted by the FTC or worse, getting fined, be sure to clearly disclose any sponsored content.
**DISCLAIMER: The information given here is general in nature and does not create an attorney-client relationship. **