Advertising has quickly become one of the main purposes of social media platforms. Facebook, like most social media trends, was the innovator in this respect with its right-side advertising and boosted posts, but platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have taken it the next level with influencer advertising.
If you are not aware of what influencer advertising is, very simply put businesses will contact celebrities, or even everyday people that have large social media followings, and send them free products to use and then post about on their social media accounts. In some cases, the larger the following or the bigger the name, companies will pay celebrities to talk about their products. This has had the unfortunate consequence of blurring the lines between paid advertising and genuine product reviews.
To that end, both the United States and Canada have taken steps to regulate influencer advertising on social media. In early 2017, Advertising Standards Canada issued guidelines that “any endorsement or testimonials must disclose any material connection between the endorser, reviewer or influencer and the entity that makes a product or service available” and “If there is a connection, it must be clearly and properly disclosed in proximity to the representation of the product.” (Quotes lifted from the following Canadian Business article).
Now how is this connection to be made clear? In most cases, influencers need to state their relationship within the post using clear language, or include certain hashtags within their post. The problem is that there are no specific rules or hashtags to be used, and many influencers have been burying their so-called disclosures deep within a long list of hashtags (average hashtags used per post on Instagram is 30) or using unclear terms.
Many celebrities and companies, from Lindsay Lohan to Bell Canada, have been running afoul of regulators lately. So what is the solution? More clear disclosure rules, including a list of specific hashtags or phrasing would be a start, but I feel social media users need to exercise a bit more personal discretion when it comes to sorting out what is a genuine review versus what is sponsored content. Use the common sense you have – you probably wouldn’t take health advice from a 80s TV star, but rather your doctor. If the messaging in a Instagram post about a new nutritional shake seems just too polished, that post was likely composed by a professional marketer.
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