Influencer marketing has an established foothold for reaching rural audiences, and it can be a smart tactic within your marketing strategy.

Even though the current iteration of influencer marketing may seem like new territory, it’s good to be reminded that influencers have been around for decades. Importantly, so has the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), running alongside to keep consumers safe and brands truthful.

Way back in May of 2000, the FTC issued their .com Disclosures, and they updated them in 2013. In September 2014, the FTC sent out letters to some very big brands warning them about their lack of influencer disclosure—and that was just for print and TV ads! More regulations have been added since then in an effort to keep up with all of the social media platforms.

The current regulations came out in 2019. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Understand what a “material connection” to a brand means. This can include a brand paying you outright for an endorsement, but it also includes receiving products or services in exchange for the endorsement.
  • Material connection also includes being employed by a brand or having a personal or family relationship with the brand.
  • Disclose your relationship conspicuously, which means at the very beginning of the video, the top of the post or on the image. No scrolling to see the disclaimer or learning about it halfway through the video.
  • Include hashtags like #ad or #sponsored, but no obscure abbreviations.
  • Be truthful about the product and your experience with it and don’t endorse products you have not tried.
  • The Federal Drug Administration is watching too, so prescription and over-the-counter medications involve even more regulations, including disclosing side effects.
  • Google is in on the game too, so use nofollow tags if you are sponsoring content that gets indexed, such as a blog post.

You can slog through the official Endorsement Guides here.

Or you can read the “plain language version” here.

All told, if you are an influencer or if you represent a brand and contract with influencers, it’s up to you to understand the FTC's Endorsement Guides and follow them. According to the FTC’s website, “When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $40,654.”

Now that’s the ultimate influencer!