At this point, it's pretty certain that influencer marketing is here to stay. In fact, it's steadily growing. According to Activate's 2018 State of Influencer Marketing Study, 62% of marketers have been growing their influencer budgets this year, and 61% of influencers have seen an increase in sponsorship opportunities from 2017 to 2018.
But as the influencer market grows, so does the need for transparency. Otherwise, consumers will grow increasingly skeptical of the people shilling products on their feed; and as a result, may lose trust in your brand.
Oh, and you'll avoid getting into potentially big trouble with the FTC, which has been cracking down on improper disclosure practices among influencers and marketers.
The good news? Activate has found in its research that consumers are not largely discouraged by sponsored content. If you carefully select influencers who have a strong relationship with their followers and fit organically into your brand values, chances are, clearly and properly disclosing that sponsorship won't hurt.
So then, the only question is: Do you know how to do so? According to Activate's study, only 52% of influencers and 60% of marketers have a solid understanding of FTC guidelines for sponsored posts; and only 56% of influencers and 31% of marketers were able to correctly identify how to disclose a free product gifted to an influencer.
And while the influencer may be the most publicly-facing part of the equation, the onus certainly isn't only on them to follow the rules. As the marketer, ensure they take these three key steps when creating the content that you're sponsoring:
1. Use Built-In Tools
Since the FTC began cracking down, platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube have created built-in disclosure tools. That means influencers can easily tag you and indicate that any given post (including Instagram stories) is sponsored. Bonus: On Instagram and Facebook, once you're linked, you'll be able to see insights from that post. But not just anyone can use these tools: On certain platforms, like Instagram, you'll have to make sure both you and the influencers are set up with business accounts.
2. But Don't Only Use Those
While disclosure tools certainly help with transparency and business insights, the FTC isn't quite convinced that they can stand alone. In a Twitter chat, the FTC said, "Don't assume that disclosures built into platforms are sufficient." According to the FTC website, disclosures located above photos (like on Instagram) may not attract followers' attention well enough.
To be safe, require your influencers to also use hashtags--particularly of the clear and conspicuous variety. Per FTC guidelines, influencers should avoid ambiguous disclosures, like "Thanks," "#sp," "#spon," "#ambassador," and "#collab;" and should make sure they are easily noticed (read: not mixed into the middle of a huge hashtag list, or only visible after a reader clicks "more"). Have them stick with the very clear, "#ad" and place it at the beginning of the post or somewhere obvious to be safe.
3. Think Beyond Monetary Paid Partnerships
While plenty of advertisers and influencers seem to be getting on board with more clear disclosures of partnerships where money exchanges hands; many may still be lagging with those that fall in a gray area. But, per the FTC's Endorsement Guides, whenever there's a "material connection" between the brand and the endorser that "might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement," it has to be fully disclosed. That means when you're sending influencers products in exchange for coverage--even if you're not paying them actual money--they should disclose that fact. As the FTC put it, "what matters is whether knowing that [the product was given] for free might affect how [the] audience views" what the influencer says about it.
And considering audience and consumer trust is paramount to a successful business, that's a big one. So while it may seem a bit tedious to start, I'd say it's well worth getting acquainted with these best practices and ensuring the influencers you work with are too.