There’s a big problem with influencer marketing — and it’s not what you think.
There are countless breathlessly buzzy articles about celebrity-level influencers and the bustling creator economy. But no one’s paying attention to one of influencer marketing’s most important assets: credibility.
I’m not talking about an influencer’s expertise in a given topic. I’m talking about the general quality of being trusted and believed in.
Each time an influencer posts on behalf of a brand without clearly disclosing the post as a paid sponsorship, credibility gets eroded. Audiences lose faith in the influencer, form negative associations with the brand and if things go REALLY bad, the FTC steps in with nasty financial penalties.
Given all that, you’d think disclosure would be an absolute no-brainer. But I see post after post after post from influencers using shady disclosures, or avoiding disclosure altogether. And it’s driving me crazy — because bad disclosure is bad influencer marketing.
All-too-common disclosure trickery
Who likes being fooled? Show of hands? Turns out, none of us enjoy feeling tricked, which is why the following social media tactics are straight-up garbage:
- Posting without a disclosure, then updating the content later in an effort to avoid a fine.
- Hiding a disclosure several Story posts into sponsored content.
- Using vague terms like “sp,” “spon,” “collab,” “partner,” “Thanks [Brand],” etc.
- Styling disclosure text so that it’s very small and hard to read.
- Mixing a disclosure into hashtags (#dogs #dogfood #petlovers #pets #petfood #ad)
- Placing disclosure at the end of a long caption, or another difficult to find spot.
The FTC guidelines are not some byzantine instructions. They are not notoriously difficult for brands or creators to understand. Really, the FTC couldn’t be clearer about the basic rule of disclosure: Place it so it’s hard to miss.
It’s that easy! Just disclose the partnership, and don’t be weird about it.
Transparency is key
Unfortunately, too many brands and influencers seem to think that content will perform better if people don’t know it’s sponsored. In fact, early research indicated that disclosures didn’t affect how audiences receive content, and a 2019 study showed that proper disclosure actually improved how audiences felt about content.
Knowing about a paid partnership is crucial to assess the validity of an influencer’s recommendation. This is where credibility comes into play: can a recommendation really feel genuine when an influencer is getting paid for it?
When an influencer is up front about the sponsorships and shares the reasons they choose to support and promote a brand, YES. When an influencer hides their brand relationships behind insincere skin-deep endorsements: OH HELL NO!
Failing to include proper disclosure doesn’t just put brands at risk for fines and legal proceedings; it can actively alienate audiences. Transparency isn’t just required by law; it drives the all-important element of authenticity that makes influencer marketing so effective.
Better disclosure = more brand impact
It’s understandable that marketers are getting swept up in the possibilities of influencer marketing. TikTok’s game-changing ability to send products soaring into the viral stratosphere is a MUCH sexier topic than the importance of adhering to FTC guidelines.
But those guidelines are important, and it’s increasingly important that brands and creators realize that. Brands that use influencer marketing should prioritize FTC compliance across every campaign, and that includes checking influencer content before it goes live. (Guess who gets in trouble for those FTC violations, brands?)
There is a true misconception that sponsored posts don’t resonate the way organic posts do. The truth is, the quality of the content is what matters. Compelling, relatable content that is fully disclosed gives audiences everything they need to act upon an influencer’s endorsement, including trust.
Without disclosures, credibility is lost. Without credibility … influencer marketing doesn’t exist.
Danielle Wiley is CEO and founder at Sway Group.