By Colleen Patterson

Two months ago, the Federal Trade Commission sent nearly 100 letters to a series of marketers and social media influencers — specifically those posting on behalf of brands— to remind them of a very important rule when it comes to sponsored posts:

“clear and conspicuous disclosure.”

While the reminders didn’t constitute a crackdown, they still serve as a reminder that the FTC is actively working to wrap its mind around influencer marketing, the latest iteration of native advertising to pose a challenge to our traditional definition of marketing. 

Let’s back up.

Federal law requires that message of advertisers “be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.” It’s the same law that ensures cigarette packaging includes a warning label and the same law that reigns in outrageous commercials that claim their snake oil miracle pill will cure you of every illness.  So how does this law pertain to influencers and bloggers who make a living off of affiliate links?

The job of the FTC is to protect consumers against— brace yourself—unwanted influence. After all, nobody wants to feel manipulated!

Remember when you clicked on this article and thought that you were going to learn five different ways to declare a sponsored post and the article took a left turn right at the beginning? It’s that exact type of misdirection that the FTC hopes to work against:

advertisements which present themselves to consumers as objective but are driven by ulterior motives; advertisements which aren’t actually what they say they are; which lack transparency; consumer manipulation.

Transparency is the crux of all endorsement and testimonial regulations. The FTC wants your disclosure (though loosely defined) to be as obvious as possible. Unambiguous language that precedes your actual content is the ideal.

For instance, if you’re posting on Instagram about your favorite new skin cream which happened to be gifted to you by its creator, before you breathe a word about how your face feels, it’s best that you open with “#ad.”

As Michael Ostheimer, a deputy in the FTC’s Ad Practices Division recently told Bloomberg:

We’ve been interested in deceptive endorsements for decades and this is a new way in which they are appearing,” he said. “We believe consumers put stock in endorsements and we want to make sure they are not being deceived.”

That’s not to say that deception is the intention of influencers who fail to disclose.

The vast majority of influencers take pride in their ingenuity but for the sake of consumers, the FTC has to presume that not everyone operates at the same level of integrity. For every paid post by an influencer of a product they genuinely love and would recommend to close friends, there just as likely exists another paid post which isn’t earnest. 

That influencer marketing is a form of deceptive marketing is arguable; that failure to disclose, whether purposefully or not, is considered by the department to be an act of deception is not.

So, disclose! As an act of faith you can use the phrases, ” sponsored post” and “ad,” verbally or within a chyron if your medium of choice is a video, within a hashtag if Twitter is your M.O.

As promise, though not exactly as promised, here are five creative ways to declare a sponsored post which don’t fly by the FTC:

“#sp,” “Thank you such-and-such brand!! ],” “#partner,” “brought to you by…,” and my personal favorite, “spon.”   

Respect your audience by playing by the rules. They’ll appreciate your openness and honesty.

We know! It’s time you got paid as an influencer. Dig into these blog posts more for tips and ideas on how to get there. Check ‘em out!

Colleen Patterson is the content marketing manager for Muses, the only digital growth app focused on building long­-term relationships. She’d love you to get involved.