FTC Issues Disclosures Guide for Social Media Influencers

Advertising Law

In a major outreach campaign to social media influencers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a basic disclosures guide, Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers, and released a series of short videos on YouTube to illustrate the requirements.

This new guide provides simple, user-friendly explanations of the laws regarding deceptive ads, and it provides tips on “when and how to make good disclosures.” As a major focus, the guide describes what a “material connection” means, and reiterates that the influencers have the responsibility to make the required disclosures, that they must be familiar with the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, and must comply with laws against deceptive ads.

Other key areas include:

When to disclose

  • Disclosure is required if the influencer has any financial, employment, personal or family relationship with a brand.
  • Tags, likes, pins and similar ways of showing likes are endorsements.
  • If posting outside the United States, the U.S. law applies if it is reasonably foreseeable that the post will affect U.S. customers.

How to disclose

  • Place the disclosure where it is hard to miss.
    • Disclosure on an ABOUT ME or a profile page, at the end of posts or videos, or anywhere that requires a person to click MORE is likely to be missed.
    • Do not place disclosure in a group of hashtags or links.
  • Snapchat or Instagram Stories: Superimpose the disclosure over the picture, and make sure there is enough time for viewers to read it.
  • Video: Disclosure should be in the video and not just in the description, and preferably in both video and audio forms.
  • Live stream: Disclosure should be repeated periodically.
  • Use simple and clear language.

Acceptable

Not Acceptable

“Thanks to … brand for the free product”

“sp,” “spon,” “collab” or other abbreviations and shorthand

“advertisement,” “ad” and “sponsored”

stand-alone terms such as “thanks” or “ambassador”

#ad or #sponsored (hashtags are not required but are OK to include)

 

  • Disclosure should be in the same language as the endorsement.
  • Using a platform’s disclosure may not be sufficient.

Other general guidance

  • Cannot talk about an influencer’s experience with a product that the influencer has not tried.
  • If the influencer is paid to talk about a product, the influencer cannot say the product is terrific if he or she thought it was terrible.
  • Influencer cannot make up claims about a product that would require proof that the advertiser does not have (e.g., scientific proof that a product can treat a health condition).

In a closing note, the guide directs influencers to the FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking for more information and to see helpful examples.

Why it matters: For the first time, the FTC guides directly focus on influencer disclosures. By doing so, the FTC seems to acknowledge the importance of educating influencers directly regarding its policy and position on disclosures in hopes that deceptive ads can be avoided. While this new guide is consistent with the existing FTC guides on endorsement, advertisers should take this opportunity to review their current social media influencer policy and make sure that it is consistent with the FTC’s new guide.