To Disclose or Not to Disclose: Influencer Standards

April 3, 2018 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

It might say #ad, but how sure are we that it’s an ad?

This is the question of the day when it comes to influencer marketing. Ok yes, this is a Kardashian and, generally speaking, the entire world knows what they’re about. But does a 13-year-old?  

Though social media platforms have taken steps to make disclosing of sponsored posts as easy as posting a picture itself (like Instagram’s “paid partnership with…” option for business accounts), there is generally still some confusion over when to mention that a brand has put an influencer up for his or her post.

Not to mention, brand’s want that “authenticity” factor. An ad, that doesn’t feel, read or look like an ad.

Throw in the fact that there are entire ROBOT accounts (aka not a real person, but still have huge followings and crazy engagement) and things get quite complicated.

Just try to figure out @lilmiquela.

 

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A post shared by *~ MIQUELA ~* (@lilmiquela) on

This is what captured our minutes this week. Here’s why:

The brand-influencer-consumer relationship is evolving every day.

Take a look at this video with Church+State CEO Ron Tite (ahem, personal plug – Church+State is our parent agency):

Robots probably aren’t going to entirely replace real, human being influencers. They simply add another interesting facet. After all, on one hand they lack authenticity because robots probably won’t be shown being imperfect – and that’s something people can connect with. On the other hand, because they’re so robotic, they’re data driven – this means they don’t technicaly have a bias – right?

We’ll have to wait and see what happens here.

But more important than this, is that people want to see who’s behind the influencer.  

To a certain extent, audiences know that influencers are selling them something. But there’s also a craving now for more than just recommendations.

People want to trust and have a relationship with the influencers they follow, despite really only getting to interact with the digital version of the influencer.

And this is where disclosure and influencer standards come in.

See, it’s not just about the influencer clearly explaining when a brand has paid them to endorse a certain product. It’s also about how brands cultivate their relationships with influencers and take full responsibility for maintaining transparency.

This is a two-way road, that at times can be filled with pot holes.

Enter Ad Standards’ Disclosure Guidelines. Currently a first draft, Ad Standards created a guideline based on the input of influencer marketing companies like Paid and PR platform Cision, as well as other agencies and talent management companies.

As it stands Strategy Magazine explained that, “the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards already requires influencers to disclose any material connection they may have with a brand when posting about that brand’s product or service.”

Now, these updated guidelines are meant to explicitly lay out how proper disclosure works, platform to platform and sponsorship to sponsorship.

Whether you’ve been invited to a party that you’ll be sharing Instagram Stories from, or are doing a paid review of a product on YouTube, these new guidelines aim to help both influencers and marketers understand the importance of pointing out material connections to loyal audiences.

Currently, if a brand or influencer gets reported for improper disclosure it can lead to complaints from audiences, adjudication from the Ad Standards’ Standards Council and request to remove the content. In serious cases, The Competition Bureau can also take civil or criminal action.

Yikes. That’s a lot of scary words.

So in the name of producing good content that cuts through the clutter, wins the Battle for Time and develops lasting, meaningful relationships with audiences, understand these five major takeaways from the guidelines:

1. No, you cannot make a “blanket disclosure”

This means, you can't simply make a bio line or one single post that supposedly explains your lingo and when it pertains to sponsored content. Each. Sponsored. Post. Must. Be. Disclosed. Period.

2. Make your hashtags and brand shout outs clear.

It’s not enough to tag the brand, put #ad or #collab etc., or say something vague like “thanks @BrandNameHere for the vacay.” NO. You have to be much more explicit, citing that material compensation was given and that a brand has sponsored or partnered with you to produce this work.

3. Context matters.

In relation to point number 2, your hashtags about the sponsorship should be front and centre, along with the language that you’ve been sponsored for a post. In other words, it’s the first thing you should say. Also, if you’re using a video, consider having written prompts that let people know it’s sponsored. Don’t bury your disclosure statements!

4. If you found a product on your own accord that you want to endorse, you don’t need to disclose anything.

Pretty self explanatory. If you didn’t receive payment, weren’t gifted, or weren’t asked by a brand to endorse a product – and found this product by your own means – feel free to endorse away.

5. Even if you’re simply doing a #BTS post of work with a brand, you still need to disclose.

You can share a sneak peak of upcoming work with a brand, even if it’s not contractually obligatory, but if it’s still connected to that brand and your work for it you better be disclosing as such.

Of course, the rest of the Ad Standards guidelines go into much more detail, right down to best practices for disclosing on each of the big social media platforms.

Truthfully, it’s all not that hard. There are a lot of details, but we trust that marketers, brands and influencers alike can be responsible to their audiences. After all, no one wants to be caught being fake on social media – right?


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