Brush Up on Influencer Guidelines in the US, the UK and Spain

Influencer guidelines are an essential part of any social media collaboration. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK are two government agencies that regulate promotional material on social media.  Their guidelines state that Instagram influencers, Youtube influencers, or any social media influencers must disclose any paid collaborations.

Last week, the FTC released a statement saying it’s seen a surge in scams on social media. And the British government announced that Instagram will further crack down on hidden advertisements on its platform. 

In addition, new rules have emerged in Spain. The Association for Self-Regulation of Commercial Communications (Autocontrol), partnered with the Spanish Association of Advertising (AEA) to publish the Code of Conduct on the Use of Influencers in Advertising.

For anyone involved in influencer marketing, it’s important to stay apprised of these types of developments. And it’s never a bad idea to brush up on guidelines related to influencers and what they publish.

Instagram commits to the CMA’s influencer guidelines

Instagram, and its parents company Facebook Ireland Ltd., will take new steps to encourage influencers to disclose paid collaborations, according to the CMA. The platform will prompt users to confirm if they’ve been paid to promote a product or service. And if they answer yes, the platform will require them to disclose this clearly.

Further, Instagram will make its paid partnership tool available for all users. That means that anyone, even a nano influencer with 1K followers, can disclose when they’ve been paid – in fee or product – to promote a product.

An Instagram post showing an example of influencers using the paid partnership feature
@desert.magnolias have used Instagram’s paid partnership feature to tag their collaboration with @fabletics.

Finally, Instagram will implement algorithms designed to detect improper disclosures. If detected, the platform will notify the brands being promoted, too. This holds both parties accountable for properly disclosing collaborations.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “For too long, major platforms have shied away from taking responsibility for hidden advertising on their site. So, this commitment to tackle hidden adverts and overhaul the way people post on Instagram – making it difficult for users to ignore the law – is a welcome step forward.”

This update applies to anyone based in the UK or anyone who posts content directed at consumers in the UK. Of course, you should already be stipulating that your influencers disclose their collaborations. But if there’s any doubt about your campaign’s disclosures, now’s the time to take action.

For more comprehensive information about the CMA’s guidelines, visit Social media endorsements: being transparent with your followers.

Spain releases new influencer guidelines

The Spanish government doesn’t have a set of specific regulations with respect to influencers. And up until now, the line between lawful and unlawful advertising has not been clear. 

The new Code of Conduct strives to ensure the same thing as the CMA. Under this Code, influencers must disclose whenever social media content has been published for promotional or advertising purposes. The new Code goes into effect on January 1, 2021.

What content counts

Advertising, according to the code, is any content or mention that meets all of these three requirements:

  • Intended to promote products or services
  • Published in exchange for some payment by the advertiser (or its representatives) and within the context of a cooperative relationship or reciprocal commitment
  • Subjected to editorial influence by the advertiser or its representatives (previously establishing all or part of the content, or approving the content)

Both monetary and non-monetary incentive counts here. Payment is defined by the Code as compensation that includes, but is not limited to: direct payment (or indirect, through agencies), free products, free tickets to events, the free use of a service, gift vouchers, gift bags, and trips. 

What do influencers have to do

When social media content meets the above criteria, influencers must make sure that the advertising nature of the post or mention is visible and explicit. In addition to general rules all influencers should follow, an appendix to the Code makes suggestions for specific social networks.

Influencers should use clear terms like advertising, in collaboration with, or sponsored by to denote collaborations. Influencers can also choose to describe the relationship between their content and the brand with language like ambassador of [brand], gift from [brand], thanks to [brand] or sponsored trip.

An example of an Instagram post in which an influencer says she's "teaming up" with a brand.
Mommy influencer @peyton.baxter says that she’s “excited to team up with @wellements” in a branded post.

Influencers should also avoid unclear language or incomplete phrases like collab or sponso. In addition, the Code also advises against generic terms that require some type of action on behalf of the user (for example, opening a link), like information or legal

Whatever the disclosure, influencers should make sure that it also appears alongside the content in the event of any repost of their content to other social networks or websites.

To read the full document, check the Código de Conducta Sobre El Uso de Influencers en Publicidad (currently only available in Spanish).

Don’t forget about the FTC’s influencer guidelines

The FTC released a statement last week about an increase in scams originating on social media, with a spike during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, 94% of people who experienced spam claim they encountered it on Facebook or Instagram. 

Although the press release doesn’t specifically mention influencers as a cause, it’s clear that the FTC is on the lookout for inappropriate advertising on social media. So make sure you’re up to date with the FTC’s guidelines.

FTC guidelines urge disclosure of collaborations whenever the influencer has a financial, employment, personal or family relationship with a brand. A financial relationship includes payment in product. These laws apply even if the content is posted from outside the US, as long as it’s reasonably foreseeable that the content will reach American consumers. 

As for how to disclose, the FTC says make it hard to miss. Place the disclosure with the post, in a visible place. If your post is a video, embed the disclosure in the video’s content. If it’s a live stream, repeat the disclosure periodically so consumers get the chance to hear it. In Snapchat or Instagram Stories, make sure consumers have enough time to notice the disclosure before it disappears.

The FTC also says that disclosures must be in the same language as the post, and written so that it’s easy to understand. Avoid abbreviations or vague language. And don’t assume the platform’s disclosure tool is sufficient; when in doubt, write your own disclosure.

For more info, check out Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers.

Conclusion

This article is not exhaustive summary of the FTC, CMA or Spanish guidelines. You should always read all guidelines thoroughly for any country that your campaign may reach. Just because your brand or the influencer isn’t located in a certain country doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. If consumers from that company see your content, that may implicate their country’s guidelines.

In general, make sure that you agree upon some type of disclosure when negotiating with influencers. Make sure the disclosures are direct, easy to understand, and permanent. And when in doubt, speak to lawyers or regulatory experts to help make sure you cover all your bases.

Kate works on the Marketing team at Heepsy as a content writer. When she's not online she can be found traveling or trying out a new recipe.
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