The Federal Trade Commission has stated that influencers who receive anything for free from a company must disclose this information in any post they make about the product.
The FTC ran a lengthy Q&A session on Twitter in response to its first filing against social media influencers. Earlier in September 2017, it charged two YouTubers for advertising their own Counter-Strike: Global Offensive lottery website without disclosing they owned the website.
One of the main takeaways from the Q&A was that if an influencer makes a post about a product sent to them for free, without any deal or requirement that they write about the product, it is still considered an ad.
As such, the post will need to have the fact the product was sent for free disclosed. The FTC itself prefers the word "ad" for disclosure, though it needn't be a hashtag, so long as it is obvious somewhere on the post.
The commission was then pushed to clarify its statement, adding that disclosure could just mean that an influencer says "[the brand] sent me this product and here is my honest review."
However, if an influencer paid for the product themselves, they do not need to disclose that it isn't an advertisement. The FTC is only concerned with undisclosed advertisements – personal posts remain acceptable.
Other guidelines confirmed were that video content requires disclosure to be made both in the video and in the text description. The FTC also doesn't consider YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram's built-in disclosure tools good enough to count as true disclosure.
Make it obvious
As for known spokespersons of a product, the FTC suggested that repeatedly disclosing a relationship wouldn't be necessary if the majority of followers knew it was an ad. That said, it's difficult to prove how many people know, so disclosure is a smart move to avoid being charged.
Overall, the commission rounded up its various guidelines by stating that viewers and readers just need to be made aware when a post could be considered an ad. Influencers were warned not to simply assume that their followers will know.
Some developers already update their own guidelines to avoid being charged by the FTC for misleading campaigns. Back in November 2016, EA changed its rules to require all influencers to mark their content with the hashtag #supportedbyEA or #advertisement depending on the company's involvement.