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FTC rules clarified for online influencers

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The law can be vague regarding online influencers – That includes streamers. Recently there was a PDF released by the FTC to clarify those rules.

In short: The FTC wants you to disclose your advertising relations with brands immediately within Social Media & other advertising platforms. However, reading the fine print, there is a bit more information to gleam.

FTC rules explained

These rules are intended to combat deceptive advertisements, such as link cloaking, affiliate marketing, Brand perpetuation, etc.

It forces advertisers who wish to be compliant with the law to openly state that they make money from any purchases made using their links. In fact, we also abide by these rules. We disclose within our privacy policy of our relationship with the Amazon Associates affiliate program, for example.

In addition, at the top of every single page that has a link, we disclose the fact that we make money from purchases made from the Amazon Associates LLC program, all in the name of FTC Compliance. Personally, we have no issue disclosing this information, as we believe in being honest and up-front; We make an advertisers fee from purchases made from links to Amazon and other affiliate programs we are apart of.

So why is it such a pertinent issue? It has to do with the gross misuse of user data and serving extremely targeted advertisements. Your purchase history paints a bold picture of who you are, and advertisers can use that information to serve ever more relevant ads, all to strip you of just one more dollar.

Being told your being advertised to makes you less likely to make a purchase. This is where this problem all began in the first place.

FTC Rules for figuring out when you need to disclose:

A Mongoose that appears to be whispering the FTC rules. 

The Mongoose is symbolic for an Online Influencer. The Act of whispering is symbolic of the fact that these rules are kind of hard to find.

As stated within the PDF released by the FTC, Social media is the main target in the line of fire. When a brand provides you with a product for review for free, you must state as such. Other examples include:

  • Disclose when you have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand.
    • Financial relationships aren’t limited to money. Disclose the relationship if you got anything of value to mention a product.
    • If a brand gives you free or discounted products or other perks and then you mention one of its products, make a disclosure even if you weren’t asked to mention that product.
    • Don’t assume your followers already know about your brand relationships.
    • Make disclosures even if you think your evaluations are unbiased.
  • Keep in mind that tags, likes, pins, and similar ways of showing you like a brand or product are endorsements.
  • If posting from abroad, U.S. law applies if it’s reasonably foreseeable that the post will affect U.S. consumers. Foreign laws might also apply.
  • If you have no brand relationship and are just telling people about a product you bought and happen to like, you don’t need to declare that you don’t have a brand relationship.

These rules are directly from the FTC Document to avoid confusion. We did not write these.

How to properly disclose based on your platform

FTC rules involving Livestreamers – Twitch, Mixer, Dlive, YouTube Streaming, Etc.

The main point they want to make about disclosing is to make it extremely difficult to miss; The point most relevant for streamers is the one where you must repeatedly mention within the stream of your relationship. In other words, if you are sponsored, or are featuring products of a brand within your stream in a working relationship, you need to continually mention as such.

It’s a bit of a pain, but its the reality if you wish to be compliant with U.S. laws and still reap the benefits of such a relationship. We recommend prefacing your disclosure as something like;

"We are required by law to mention that we are sponsored by Company name for today's stream."

It should have less of an impact on a viewer’s perspective, though it will probably annoy them a bit to continually hear it. They didn’t specify how frequently, but use your best judgment.

YouTube, and other VOD Platforms including Instagram

For YouTube & other VOD platforms, the disclosure must be at the very beginning of the video. Additionally, the disclosure must be both visual and audio.

To be safe, we recommend also including the disclosure within the video description. They didn’t specifically state as such, but their wording wasn’t exactly super-specific.

Static Media – Pictures, Articles, posts on Twitter, etc.

For Pictures, they simply state that you should super-impose the disclosure(ie, Watermark it). This particular rule is especially infuriating, but alas, that is the rule. They specifically mention Snapchat & Instagram Stories for this category

As for articles, such as this one, Disclosure must be located at the TOP of the article, and within your Privacy Policy. This isn’t specifically mentioned in the PDF released. It’s from our own research into FTC compliance.

Next up, we have “micro-blogging” platforms like Twitter: Disclosure must not be bundled next to other hashtags, and they prefer it to be at the very start. To Elaborate:

 #Sponsored, blahblah #hashtags #hashtags #hashtags 

This is what they are looking for. Not #spon or something short like that. You cannot shorten it in any way.

The Takeaway – Just tell people about your relations with brands.

The gist of it all is simply to be honest. Tell people your affiliations & relationships with brands. Be sure to read their press release, just in case we missed something. You never know, and it is always better to be safe.

Did you find this post helpful to you? Spread the word to help other content creators!
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