Advertising has always had a muddy affiliation with the words "truth" and "honesty." And though a brand's intention may not be to deceive consumers, they feel that way when companies fail to disclose when someone endorses its product in return for gifts or money.
Brands want to sell more products but consumers want more transparency. At the heart of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Endorsement Guides is the belief that the average person evaluating a glowing recommendation wants to know whether endorsers work for the company or receive compensation in return for their positive testimonial. People want to know whether the reviewer is an authentic advocate without bias or is motivated by other factors.
Learn from the most common mistakes made by brands, so you don't repeat them. Complying with the FTC's guidelines will allow you to be seen as a trusted advertiser and transparent brand, and help keep you out of trouble.
Here's a look at three big mistakes in social content.
1. Omitting Proper Hashtags
Many brands run influencer marketing contests or campaigns to gather user-generated content (UGC) to promote a product... and that's fine. However, the brand needs to provide the influencers, or endorsers, the proper guidance for what is required to include in their posts. Someone viewing a shared social image or post should understand clearly that it's part of a promotional contest to validate and disclose authenticity.
"Entry into a contest to receive a significant prize in exchange for endorsing a product through social media constitutes a material connection that would not reasonably be expected by viewers of the endorsement," said Mary Engle, the FTC's associate director for advertising practices.
Endorsements need to be properly labeled with a #Ad or #sponsored hashtag because a contest hashtag alone doesn't provide the average consumer with sufficient disclosure.
2. Failing to Obtain Earned Media
No matter how you want to spin it, UGC and influencer marketing strategies are used as a form of advertising. Influencers' posts about their experiences with brands and products effectively are influencing consumers to buy more than traditional advertising tactics do. So, brand marketers are actively curating social proof from all major social networks. However, curating content does not give brands the right to use it; they need to earn the media.
Marketers should avoid repurposing UGC without obtaining permission from the content creator. For example, when you come across an Instagram video that beautifully showcases your product, you must ask the user who posted the video whether you can publish it on your marketing channels. Without someone's explicit permission, you run the risk of subjecting your brand to not only legal repercussions but also the loss of consumer trust.
Even though UGC is shared publicly, the person who originally created and published the content has full rights to control how that content is used later on. Which could mean denying a brand the right to use it.
For the most part, people are more than willing to let brands use their content if they simply ask. Asking permissions is a very easy price to pay to earn such valuable media.
3. Having Unclear Communication and Concealed Relationships
The amount of influencers that brands are recruiting to advertise and promote their products is rapidly increasing. With this growing trend comes added responsibility for brands and marketers to clearly communicate to endorsers the requirements for posting and how to disclose their brand affiliations and relationships.
For example, most bloggers share opinions about their favorite products because they want to inspire their readership to try something that will positively affect them.
On the other hand, those bloggers may be approached by brands to blog or post about specific products and services in exchange for compensation. A reader can't easily decipher which posts are authentic and which are influenced by brand partnerships without properly disclosing how an influencer is associated with a brand.
Disclosing influencer relationships is not just something a brand should be concerned with; influencers should be equally as mindful. For influencers, working with hot brands is very exciting. However, the most successful influencers know it is more beneficial to grow relationships with a few brands that fully embody their same lifestyle and personal mission than to promote numerous brands and varying products.
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According to the FTC, under the law, an act or practice is deceptive if it misleads "a significant minority" of consumers. Some readers may understand social media advertising and influencer marketing guidelines, but many consumers don't. Do your homework and make sure your ads and campaigns are compliant with the FTC guidelines. The risk you take by not complying isn't worth the penalties and undesirable PR you'll get trying to cut corners.