Your Brand’s intention may not be to deceive consumers, but you may be unintentionally stretching the truth when it comes to disclosures when it comes to endorsements.

When someone endorses your product in return for gifts, money or free product, you are ethically bound to  be honest and disclose it.

Of course, brands want to sell more products but consumers want more transparency. It comes down to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Endorsement Guides. Here, the belief is that the average consumer wants to know the truth – whether or not endorsers work for the company or receive something in return for their testimonial. People care about authenticity. They want to know if the reviewer is an authentic advocate without bias or if they’ve been motivated by other factors.

I write a Tech & Gear column for a national magazine. Sometimes, companies send me their products to review. Sometimes I review them. Sometimes I don’t. I don’t usually “endorse” the product, but rather, I review it – sharing both pros and cons so that my readers have a better feeling for the produ
ct before they decide to buy. I’ve always tried to be clear if I cross that line, to tell my readers (and the Publisher) that if I endorse the product and have received something from the company that produces it, I will state that upfront or at the end of the article.

You can learn from the most common mistakes made by brands, so you won’t have to repeat them. Complying with the FTC’s guidelines will allow you to be viewed as a trusted advertiser and transparent brand, and serve to help keep you out of trouble.

Here are the top Three Big Mistakes when it comes to Social Content.

1. Omitting Proper Hashtags

Many brands run influencer marketing contests or campaigns to gather user-generated content (UGC) to help promote a product… and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the brand needs to provide the influencers, or endorsers, the proper guidance for what is required to include in their posts. Someone viewing a shared social image or post should understand clearly that it’s part of a promotional contest to validate and disclose authentically.

“Entry into a contest to receive a significant prize in exchange for endorsing a product through social media constitutes a material connection that would not reasonably be expected by viewers of the endorsement,” says Mary Engle, the FTC’s Associate Director for advertising practices.

I have seen this over and over again on Facebook. Companies offering a prize for a free enforcement when the Follower doesn’t even know that they are indeed, endorsing the product!

Endorsements need to be properly labeled with a #Ad or #sponsored hashtag because a contest hashtag alone doesn’t provide the average consumer with sufficient disclosure.

2. Failing to Obtain Earned Media

No matter how you spin it, UGC and influencer marketing strategies are used as a form of advertising. Influencers’ posts about their experiences with brands and products effectively are influencing consumers to buy more than traditional advertising tactics do. So, brand marketers are actively curating social proof from all major social networks. However, curating content does not give brands the right to use it; they need to earn the media.

Marketers should avoid repurposing UGC without obtaining permission from the content creator. For example, when you come across an Instagram video that beautifully showcases your product, you must ask the user who posted the video whether you can publish it on your marketing channels. Without someone’s explicit permission, you run the risk of subjecting your brand to not only legal repercussions but also the loss of consumer trust.

Even though UGC is shared publicly, the person who originally created and published the content has full rights to control how that content is used later on. Which could mean denying a brand the right to use it.

For the most part, people are more than willing to let brands use their content if they simply ask. Asking permissions is a very easy price to pay to earn such valuable media.

3. Having Unclear Communication and Concealed Relationships

The amount of influencers that brands are recruiting to advertise and promote their products is rapidly increasing. With this growing trend comes added responsibility for brands and marketers to clearly communicate to endorsers the requirements for posting and how to disclose their brand affiliations and relationships.

For example, most bloggers share opinions about their favorite products because they want to inspire their readership to try something that will positively affect them.

On the other hand, those bloggers may be approached by brands to blog or post about specific products and services in exchange for compensation. A reader can’t easily decipher which posts are authentic and which are influenced by brand partnerships without properly disclosing how an influencer is associated with a brand.

Disclosing influencer relationships is not just something a brand should be concerned with; influencers should be equally as mindful. For influencers, working with hot brands is very exciting. However, the most successful influencers know it is more beneficial to grow relationships with a few brands that fully embody their same lifestyle and personal mission than to promote numerous brands and varying products.

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According to the FTC, under the law, an act or practice is deceptive if it misleads “a significant minority” of consumers. Some readers may understand social media advertising and influencer marketing guidelines, but many consumers don’t. Do your homework and make sure your ads and campaigns are compliant with the FTC guidelines. The risk you take by not complying isn’t worth the penalties and undesirable PR you’ll get trying to cut corners.