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Should Influencers be Certified in Advertising?

Influencers Certified

Probably my biggest pet peeve within the influencer marketing industry is when influencers don’t declare adverts, sponsored posts, affiliate links or if something has been gifted.

There has been so much press surrounding this, so much information from the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and even the general public (who often act like the advertising police) that it’s mind-boggling to me how influencers are still posting and not declaring.

But how do we fix this? How do we regulate every influencer out there? To me, the influencer pool is now an ocean and the ASA seem to only have a pond-sized sample of influencers in their line of sight. Is it possible to keep an eye on every single one of them? Probably not, but there should be.

Disclosure 101

The Federal Trade Commission released a guide last November called “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers,” outlining tips for influencers on when and how to disclose an ad.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t at all familiar with this guide before researching this topic. It seems like a document that everyone working or participating in influencer marketing, should know about.

Yes, the FTC is America’s version of the UK’s ASA, but still, the guide is highly relevant and explains when to label something as paid, and when not to.

The guide that I have linked to a few paragraphs above even gives examples of how to disclose and declare paid-for posts. I mean, it couldn’t be any easier, could it? So why do we still have influencers avoiding disclosing?

Why do influencers not disclose ads?

Sometimes, influencers think that their post will see less engagement when there is an ‘#Ad’ thrown into their caption. Others think the Instagram algorithm is favours organic posts over sponsored. And worryingly, some influencer marketing agencies and brands actually ask influencers not to disclose that the post was paid for or sponsored.

For some of us, it’s very obvious when a post on Instagram has been sponsored. You can tell by the content itself and more often, the caption. I don’t really agree with sticking #sp or #ad in the middle of a mix of hashtags at the end of a caption. I think for adverts, it should be clearly noted at the beginning of a caption, like Victoria Magrath (inthefrow) has done below.

Most of us remember the celebrities that slipped up with copying and pasting their captions, lacking any signs of disclosure. I mean, as if you standing awkwardly beside a box of BooTea wasn’t a giveaway already?

Not so long ago, a staggering 93% of A-List celebrities were posting sponsored content on social media and weren’t disclosing the posts as such, according to this report.

For the most part, influencers tend to avoid disclosure because they fear less engagement. If your audience is genuinely interested in your content and you partner with brands that you know your audience will be interested in, then you should have no problems with engagement.

Stay authentic and play by the rules.

What can we do about it?

Should we be the advertising police? Should we be the ones to report it? I remember last year, influencer Siobhan O’Hagan had a lot of trouble with people reporting her Instagram posts and stories when she wasn’t fully disclosing.

For her situation, it was difficult as she is a MyProtein ambassador and wears their clothes and uses their products all the time. The ASA decided that every time Siobhan posts a story wearing the clothes, she must declare that she is an ambassador. Even if she’s just walking to the shop and creating a story talking about what she’s doing for the day, she has to declare that she is a sponsored athlete.

Surely that’s a little bit tedious, no? Should there be a feature on Instagram that allows us, as consumers, to report an Instagram post that we think doesn’t comply with the ASA or isn’t disclosing payment? I think it would be helpful.

Especially in a world where the ASA can’t seem to keep on top of every single influencer, it may be helpful if followers could flag posts that they think are ads. But could this start hate campaigns for certain influencers from people that don’t like them and just report them for the sake of it?

There’s good things that could come out of it and there are bad things. If influencers just stuck by the rules, we wouldn’t have to think about introducing these features.

Getting certified

I think I’ve mentioned in a blog post before that I really want to study advertising law on digital and social platforms, both with general brands and with influencers. I think it would be great knowledge to have, following a career in influencer marketing and working with contracts.

I haven’t yet seen any Masters/Post-Graduate degrees with this content, but hopefully in the next few years, with the more that influencer marketing continues to grow there will be courses available.

Even though I want to learn more about advertising on social media, so to should any influencer out there. If I was them, I wouldn’t want to be breaking the law with my Instagram posts and it’s always better to be knowledgeable about the job that you’re doing rather than skimming the surface.

I would love if the ASA could bring out a course for influencers and influencer marketers to become certified in the rules and laws surrounding product placement, disclosing payment and advertising on social media. If you know of any of these types of courses that exist, please do send them my way.

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