Time for the FTC Crackdown

October 21, 2016

Holly Pavlika

SVP, Marketing & Content at Collective Bias
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This article by Collective Bias SVP of Marketing and Content, Holly Pavlika, originally appeared on Media Post.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about the complicated business of influencer marketing. The FTC just cracked down on Warner Bros. for a YouTube influencer campaign that failed to disclose sponsorships. Entire industries are at risk of getting their wrists slapped for illegal endorsements. To make matters even trickier, no one can seem to agree on a standard method of payment.

The conventions of influencer marketing are still malleable right now, and it will be crucial not to let bad habits and practices take hold. That’s why the recent crackdown on influencer content and native advertising disclosures isn’t surprising. It’s a typical response to the burgeoning changes in advertising.

Requiring clear disclosures across all social media channels is a good thing for brands and marketers. Here’s why.

Requiring clear disclosures is a good thing for brands and marketers. Click To Tweet

Disclosure puts the focus on creating quality content.

If the content is high quality, audiences won’t care if the content is sponsored. It will expose true influence versus the paid shill.

Influencers understand there needs to be a balance of sponsored content and unsponsored content to retain the audiences they worked so hard to cultivate. Influencers who have not spammed their audiences and reward their audience with quality, useful and entertaining content will be rewarded, regardless of changes in algorithms.

The celebrity abuse of these rules hurt the hard work the majority of influencers put into their craft and taint the industry as a whole. Celebrity influencers are, more often than not, in it for the money, versus the mainstream influencer who wants to be paid for the work they put in. These influencers are dedicated to building their personal brand, while providing value to their audience.

Your cheat sheet to compliant influencer marketing:

  • Clear and conspicuous disclosures must be at the top of any blog post. Not at the bottom. Influencers can get creative with their disclosures, but they must be at the top.
  • Every tweet issued by Twitter party hosts must be accompanied with #ad, #client or #sweeps.
  • Visual content that clicks through to sponsored content also needs disclosures.
  • YouTube videos need clear disclosures at the beginning of the video.

An easy rule of thumb to remember is that the consumer needs to know content is sponsored from the minute they start consuming it.

Brands should ask to see examples of influencer content during their influencer selection process and cross-check for FTC compliance. Brands should also ask for the influencer or influencer company’s guard rails for ensuring compliance, particularly when doing influencer programs at scale.

Google recently released its own crackdown.

Google is now requiring influencers to include No Follow links to any product or service they receive as a way to tell the search engine not to follow a certain article. This requirement is a good thing for the industry because it stops link building.

The most self-respecting bloggers and influencers won’t take free products in exchange for a link. These influencers choose brands they are passionate about and feel fit well into their own brand. The choice of who they work with should start with the brand and type of content first, rather than links.

Most advertisers or brands come for the influencer’s audience, content, the engagement it can generate and the scale—not the links. Besides, Google’s No Follow links still work to build awareness and users can click over to the directed site.

Affiliate link disclosures rarely mentioned…yet.

Just like the FTC disclosures, there should be disclosures for affiliate marketing on an influencer’s site. Google doesn’t like affiliate links at all, so influencers should make these No Follow tags as well—not everyone knows that.

The recent crackdown on the industry will expose the dabblers versus the companies that truly understand influencer marketing and all its complexities. There are too many companies looking to get a piece of this $2 billion to $16 billion industry with too little experience and regard for the rules.

We need to come together as an industry to be more transparent, starting with better payment models, disclosing sponsorships and working only with companies and influencers that comply with regulation.

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Holly Pavlika

SVP, Marketing & Content at Collective Bias

Holly oversees marketing and PR. Holly, also a blogger, founded MOMentumNation while serving as the Executive Creative Director and Managing Director at Big Fuel, a pure play social media agency. She is an award-winning creative marketing industry veteran who was recognized in 2012 by Klout as the “most influential agency person” and uses her voice for social good with 10X10 Educate Girls, Every Mother Counts, Global Poverty Project and the UN Foundation Shot@Life campaign.