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Today, brands are investing in influencers to promote their services and products with increased frequency and bigger budgets. In response to the massive growth our industry has seen, the FTC has continued to take a strong stance against deceptive online marketing tactics and influencer posts that lack disclosure.

In the past two years, they settled their very first case against social media influencers, updated their Endorsement Guides and Frequently Asked Questions (originally published in 2015) and even hosted a Twitter Chat.

In 2019, the FTC handled two more cases. Charges against Devumi, LLC for selling fake social media influence have been settled, and the case against skincare brand Sunday Riley for posting non-disclosed product reviews by their own employees is closed.

This month, the FTC published Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers— a new brochure on how to comply with FTC standards. The latest publication stresses the importance of following the Endorsement Guides correctly and reminds influencers and brands that they’re both accountable.

As a pioneering influencer marketing agency, we’ve been following the evolution of the FTC disclosure standards closely. Whether you’re a brand or an influencer, there are 3 main principles to post by when it comes to posting sponsored content: Be honest, be transparent, be conspicuous.

Here's how to follow the rules of FTC disclosure today:

1. Always include the word (or hashtag) "sponsored", "ad" or "paid" on all sponsored blog posts and social media posts. Tip: Some creators use the actual word, or variations of the word like {AD} or [ad], rather than an actual hashtag to avoid potential post suppression that may result from the use of the hashtags #sponsored, #ad, or #paid.

2. For real-time video on Snapchat and Instagram Stories, a prominent, superimposed verbal disclosure and/or text annotation is necessary.

3. On YouTube videos, the same rules apply. The word (or hashtag) "sponsored", "ad" or "paid" needs to be included in the video description and verbally disclosed within the first 30 seconds.

4. On live-stream videos, you must disclose your relationship with the brand repeatedly so that viewers who only watch part of the live-stream see the disclosure.

5. When writing a blog post, disclosure is expected before any mention of the product or brand. We recommend including two call outs for maximum clarity: an introduction at the beginning and a reminder at the end.

6. When promoting or teasing sponsored content from another channel, the word (or hashtag) "sponsored", "ad" or "paid" must be included. Example: If you're sharing a sponsored blog post to Twitter, the tweet must be disclosed, too.

7. Always disclose your partnerships yourself; don't rely solely on built-in platform disclosures (like Instagram and Facebook’s required branded content tools). While Instagram and Facebook now require the use of their branded content disclosures, the FTC has made it clear that built-in platform disclosures aren’t enough and don't always meet their requirements for clear and conspicuous disclosure. Bottom line: adhere to platform disclosure requirements and FTC requirements.

8. When a brand provides goods or services in exchange for a review (in a gifting campaign, for example), you do not need to use the words “ad” or “sponsored,” but you do need to include language that clearly states that the brand provided them for free or as a gift. Example: “Love this new BRAND PRODUCT! #BRANDgift” or “BRAND sent me their new skincare line to try. Love it!”

9. You may not provide testimonials for, or otherwise endorse, any product or service that you have not in fact used yourself. When paid to talk about a product that you thought was bad, you cannot say you thought it was good.

10. Lastly, you cannot make up claims about a product that requires proof the advertiser does not have. Example: Claiming that a product has scientific proof that can treat a health condition.

Here are 5 real-life examples from our community:

1. Makeup artist Austen Parker shows off his makeup skills while using the hashtag 'sponsored' to disclose his partnership with Estée Lauder in his IGTV video.

2. Angelis Borges does a great job of promoting her Zappos sponsored blog post to her Twitter account by disclosing her tweet too.

3. SparksNStyle celebrated pride month with Absolut and made sure to disclose his partnership with the brand's required hashtags in his colorful Facebook post.

4. Jennifer Borget begins her blog post with a clear disclosure right at the top, before any text or images. Her readers will know immediately that they're about to read content that's been endorsed (which is exactly what the FTC means when they say 'be transparent!')

5. Lastly, the Travel Critic is another great example of compliant social disclosure, where she shares her love for outdoor activities while promoting her partnership with Athleta.

Properly disclosing personal endorsements online may be an evolving practice, but it is essential. As policy updates and regulations inevitably change over time, it’s our mission to stay up to date on the rules and help both brands and influencers disclose with authenticity and confidence.