It’s no secret: we love Influencer Marketing, and think it’s one of the most effective and powerful ways for brands to reach their audiences. It has all the hallmarks of a great marketing strategy: authenticity, reach, impact, and of course, value for your advertising dollar. It’s a great opportunity for both brands and Influencers, and brings customers what they really want: great content about products and services that they need.
So if you ask us if Influencer Marketing is ethical, we’ll naturally answer with a resounding “Yes! If…” And it’s what follows that if that really separates genuine Influencer Marketing from shady business practices.
So, what keeps an Influencer Marketing campaign on the right side of the ethics line? Well, Influencer Marketing is ethical:
If you tell your audience that you’re doing it
You can’t bury the lede on this one. According to the FTC’s guidelines, not only must Influencers must clearly disclose any content that they’re posting as part of a sponsored campaign, whether it’s a product review, a testimonial or an unboxing video, they must do so in close proximity to the content itself. That means Influencers can’t hide the sponsored nature of the their post in fine print after a page and a half of white space. Whether an Influencer is making claims about a product’s effectiveness, praising its value or even listing the products weaknesses, if it is being done as part of a sponsored campaign, it needs to be stated up front. The FTC’s guidelines are somewhat extensive, but fairly straightforward. Here are a few key points:
- The disclosure must be placed near the “triggering claim”
- It should match the nature of the content itself (a video review should contain a disclosure at the start of the video; a podcast should contain an audio disclosure, etc.)
- Links to disclosures should be properly formatted (in accordance with other links on your page), labeled clearly as a disclosure link, and should lead directly to the disclosure page
- Disclosures should be given before the customer makes a decision to buy
The disclosure guidelines are written in plain language and are fairly easy to follow, so we encourage you to review the FTC’s guidelines carefully and apply them as appropriate. Following the guidelines is not only a legal necessity, it’s an important part of maintaining your credibility. Brands that try to skirt disclosure requirements can look as if they have something to hide and jeopardizes the campaign’s impact.
If space is constrained, such as on Twitter, clear disclosure hashtags (such as #sponsored, #sample, #ad, etc.) can help, but you should also provide a link where followers can get the full details of the disclosure. And no, including a marketing hashtag established by the brand is generally not enough. Your disclosure should clearly reveal that you have been compensated in some way for the content.
If you’re being honest and genuine
This applies, of course, to both marketers and Influencers. Marketers should give Influencers the freedom to speak honestly and openly. Resist the urge to constrain Influencers to only saying positive things about your products, and encourage them to post their honest feedback; a great Influencer understands how to be honest without being damaging. On the other side of the coin, Influencers often feel obligated to be glowingly positive, even if the brand hasn’t asked them to do so. In the end, the reason you’re influential in the first place is because your followers trust you and your opinions; don’t sell out by saying what you think the brands want to hear.
If you enforce compliance – and mean it
It’s all too tempting for brands to say “Well, we explained to the Influencers that they needed to post disclosures, but we can’t help it if they didn’t.” Brands should make compliance a condition of any collaboration, and stick to it. When brands use a platform like GrowInfluence, checking compliance is simple: it should be included in the content that Influencers send through for review. Brands can also review the blogs and social media profiles of the Influencers they’re working with to see how consistently they conform to compliance guidelines.
Staying on the right side of the ethical line isn’t just a legal concern, it’s an important marketing concern as well. Influencer Marketing works because customers trust the opinions of those they know and respect, even when they know that those opinions are being posted in connection with a sponsored campaign. Attempting to conceal sponsored content damages the credibility of the brand and the Influencer, and in the end could jeopardize the effectiveness of Influencer Marketing.