FTC Disclosures: What Bloggers & Influencers Need to Know

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FTC disclosures on social media can be confusing, and that’s putting it mildly. The FTC recently had a Twitter chat where they let users submit questions, which helped clarify things quite a bit. Below you’ll find some of the highlights of the FTC’s #Influencers101 chat.

FTC Disclosures for Influencers: What You Need to Know | Oh, She Blogs!

Back in 2011, I was invited to spend a day at the Consumer Reports campus in Yonkers, New York. It was honestly one of the coolest days I have spent as a blogger. In addition to getting a tour of their testing facilities – which was awesome, by the way – we attended a discussion with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (where he was wishy-washy about whether or not Amazon would ever release their own tablet – ha!), and we had a sit-down with a representative from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which had just recently announced that bloggers needed to disclose all of their for-pay relationships.

The FTC discussion was fascinating but confusing. There were lots of questions about when and how to disclose (remember, social media wasn’t anywhere near the behemoth that it is now), and why it seemed like bloggers were being targeted more than celebrities and print media. I don’t think anyone walked away with a very clear understanding of what they wanted from us, which is a feeling that continues to this day. As blogging and social media have taken off, the FTC has so much more to police and there are so many unique situations that make it almost impossible to cover everything.

If you’re ever not certain what’s required of you in terms of disclosure, don’t worry – we’ve all been there!

Partially in response to confusion over what they want, and partially in response to their first-ever complaint against individual influencers for not following proper disclosure rules, the FTC had a Twitter chat last week and the takeaway was clear and concise:

I thought I’d go through some of the discussion points from the FTC Twitter chat, but before we get to that, here are two things you all bloggers should bookmark:

  1. The FTC’s Endorsement Guides – read this, know this, enjoy (?) this
  2. If you have endorsement and disclosure questions, you can email the FTC directly! Send your inquiries to [email protected]

This chat primarily covered how to disclose relationships on social media. (Check out our post on privacy and disclosure policies for how to address this topic in blog posts.) I thought the chat was really was educational, and I thought the FTC did a great job of clarifying many of their positions. I’m not going to go through everything, but it’s worth looking through the FTC’s twitter feed to see all of the 25 or so questions and answers.

FTC Disclosure Guidelines for Social Media Influencers | Oh, She Blogs!

The format of the chat was that users submitted questions using the #Influencers 101 hashtag, and then the FTC did a pretty good job of responding to them in the order they were submitted.

#Ad, #Spon, #Ambassador… What’s Acceptable to the FTC?

One of the most frequent questions was how and when influencers should disclose whether something is an #ad and what variations of #ad are appropriate:

This is awesome. You CAN use AD without hashtags in your social media posts, as long as its meaning is clear and your readers understand that they are reading sponsored content. To sum all of that up…

Acceptable ways to disclose on social media: AD, #ad, #sponsored, #XXPartner – whereby XX is the brand name, or something along the lines of “XX gifted me this product so I could review”

Unacceptable ways to disclose on social media: pretty much anything else where it is not explicitly laid out that you have some type of relationship with a company, including #ambassador

What the FTC Says About Built-In Disclosures

So what about built-in disclosures? Turns out that built-in disclosures on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, via branded partner tools, are NOT sufficient disclosure and you must still disclose properly in addition to using those tools.

FTC Disclosures on Snapchat & Instagram Stories

FTC Disclosures on Pinterest

This was my question and I’m still not 100 percent sure on the correct way to approach Pinterest. If you are posting affiliate links on Pinterest, it almost seems like putting “AD” at the beginning of the description might be all of the disclosure necessary, since the disclosure needs to come before the product description.

I may reach out to the FTC to clarify this, though.

FTC Disclosures for Freebies

Bloggers receive lots of freebies, so my other question was about how one goes about disclosing that they received something for free, though the brand did not ask for coverage and no money traded hands.

Image Disclosures are OK

You CAN use an image to place a disclosure on your site, which is a change from what they’ve previously said about this matter.

It’s Your Audience’s Location That Matters

FTC rules apply to international influencers with large U.S.-based audiences:

To reiterate: I do not work for the FTC, this is in no way legal advice, and nobody has all of the answers about FTC disclosures except for the FTC. If you have questions about what needs to be disclosed or anything else along those lines, please reach out to the FTC directly: [email protected]

The final words about FTC disclosures for influencers:

Lisa Koivu

Lisa Koivu is the founder of Oh, She Blogs! A ten-year blogging veteran, Lisa can also be found posting shopping deals and steals at ShopGirlDaily.com . She’s also the founder of She Soars Digital, where she consults and creates websites for small business owners. In her free time (ha!) she is also a freelance writer who has written for About.com and U.S. News.

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