How to make sure your influencers meet advertising rules

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As part of our client work, we’ve recently been engaging with a range of influencers. These influencers help get our brands in front of our target audience – but now the Advertising Standards Agency and Competition and Markets Authority are cracking down on how these social media personalities promote brands. Sam looks at how influencers are having to be more careful when promoting brands…

Over recent years, social media has become a key battleground for brands. Whether it’s advertising on the likes of Facebook, offering instant customer service through Twitter or showcasing products on Instagram, many businesses have harnessed the power of social media to profitable effect.

Individuals have also used social media to raise their profile. While the likes of Ariana Grande and the Kardashians may have millions of followers, social media stardom isn’t just about the rich and famous. Many people have built up huge followings on social media by becoming a respected authority in their particular field, and this has created the rise of the influencer.

Over recent months we’ve been working with a range of influencers across YouTube and Instagram. These people allow us to showcase our brands in front of our target audience by:

  • talking about them honestly on social media
  • posting pictures
  • sharing videos of them using the products
  • hosting competitions and giveaways.

The use of influencers has become a key part of our paid media advertising strategy. We’ve found that we can reach more of the right people through influential figures on social media then we can through more traditional forms of advertising.

Of course, this rise in the popularity of influencers has not gone unnoticed by the Advertising Standards Authority. Now, the ASA are cracking down on users who break social media regulations about the endorsement of products and brands.

ASA and CMA warn high-profile stars about posting commercial content

In our experience, influencers can earn their living in several ways. Some are happy to talk about a brand in return for samples or products. Others charge for their endorsement, and these fees can range from £10 into thousands of pounds.

With influencer work on the rise, it’s perhaps no surprise that the ASA and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have stepped in to warn influencers about breaking paid advertising rules and to remind hundreds of social media stars of the rules.

16 high-profile stars have become the first to volunteer to change their practices following warnings from the CMA that they may be breaking the law. Celebs including Rita Ora, Elie Goulding and YouTube star Zoella will now clearly state if they have been paid or received any gifts or loans of products they endorse.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Influencers can have a huge impact on what their fans decide to buy. People could, quite rightly, feel misled if what they thought was a recommendation from someone they admired turns out to be a marketing ploy.

“You should be able to tell as soon as you look at a post if there is some form of payment or reward involved, so you can decide whether something is really worth spending your hard-earned money on.”

Three rules influencers must follow

So, what are the rules?

  • Influencers must clearly label any content for which they have been paid or received gifts. These labels must be prominently displayed at the beginning of the post, such as #ad or #sponsored
  • Gifts that are made without a requirement to post about them must also be declared as such if they appear in posts, using #freebie or similar
  • Each individual post must be treated in isolation and every single piece of commercial content dealt with in the same way.

And, breaches of the rules can have significant consequences. Under the CMA rules, influencers who break these regulations can be fines and even jailed for up to two years.

Using influencers the right way

Following these rules isn’t rocket science, and it’s pretty easy to use a hashtag such as #ad or #freebie to clearly identify commercial content.

As an agency, we’ve been clear with our influencers that they deal with branded content in the proper way, and this transparency can only be a good thing.

Writing in the Guardian, Amelia Tait says: “Young, impressionable audiences deserve to know whether someone they admire is truly recommending a product or being paid to do so.”

We’ve been able to achieve brand advocacy for our clients as reputable, trusted influencers in our field have chosen to use their product. This has increased brand awareness, increased the brand’s social following and driven sales.

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