This is a heads up for beauty influencers and brand owners! The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on improper social media ad disclosures. Last week the FTC sent warning letters to 90 influencers saying they may be violating the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines.  The FTC considers sponsored content to be “native advertising.” Therefore, influencers are bound to truth-in-advertising standards when posting sponsored content to social media.

The letter reminds influencers,

“The FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines state that if there is a ‘material connection’ between an endorser and the marketer of a product – in other words, a connection that might affect the weight or credibility that consumers give the endorsement – that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed […]”

This connection may be the marketer of the product paying for this placement or providing a product or service free of charge to the endorser. Either way, the connection must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed. While the guidelines do say all endorsements must be truthful, disclosure helps the consumer weigh the authenticity of the endorser’s statements.

Putting #ad or #spon at the end of social posts is a common form of disclosure for many beauty influencers. However, the FTC says that’s not good enough anymore. At least not for Instagram. Instagram truncates captions after three lines, hiding the disclosure hashtags unless the consumer reveals the rest. The FTC is pushing for the disclosure to happen in those first three lines. Additionally, the FTC wants the disclosure hashtags to be separated out from other hashtags in the caption. The letter says “where there are multiple […] hashtags […] readers may just skip over them, especially where they appear at the end of a long post.”

The FTC is specifically calling out influencers who use “particular disclosures that are not sufficiently clear.” They point out that disclosure terms such as “‘#sp,’ ‘Thanks [Brand],’ or ‘#partner’” may not signify to consumers that the content is sponsored. Further adding to the confusion, the FTC never actually sets out an example of proper disclosure. They did release some hypothetical situations in such disclose may or may not be needed last year.

What Can You Do?

How do you prevent violating the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines as a beauty influencer? First, when in doubt, always disclose. Sometimes brands won’t mention disclosures when sponsoring content or sending free products. Some brands even go as far as to tell influencers not to disclose. Always disclose or reject the partnership if they insist you break the law.

Beauty brands, the same goes for you, too.  Brands can also get in trouble if their partners do not disclose. So make sure you communicate acceptable disclosure procedures to your partners.

Additionally, per the letter, try disclosing in the first three lines of your Instagram captions. It seems #ad and #spon still suffice, if separated out from other hashtags. The FTC also suggests clear language like “Ad,” “Advertisement,” “Paid Advertisement,” and “Sponsored Advertising Content.” Also remember, disclosure is required for products, trips, services, etc. you receive for free.