How to Balance Ethics and Reality in Influencer Marketing

The evolution of informational access is nothing new, and neither are the struggles marketers experience to keep up. What is new for some, however, is the challenge to make sure all earned media complies with what the FTC and Google define as “ethical.”

From new guidelines from the FTC (in June) and constant posts on how to not be penalized from Google, there is an overload of information, confusion surrounding the rules, and a nervousness on how to be creative in marketing while simultaneously not getting in trouble.

Responsibility Conundrum

While ethically any influencer has a responsibility to their audience to disclose a brand relationship, legally the brand is the one who gets in trouble when disclosure is lacking. Thus, brands are faced with the predicament of trying to control their earned media when it’s not quite that simple.

Some brands take it as far as reading through every earned post to make sure that it’s labeled as sponsored, while other brands leave it up to content creators and hope for the best.

Though sometimes annoying, the goal of Google and FTC crackdowns is to eliminate spammy link building and dishonest marketing. Thus, being transparent as a marketer and asking your influencers to do the same when they generate content that mentions your brand will, for the most part, keep you safe.

Simplifying Disclosure

I used GroupHigh’s blog, Instagram, and YouTube search functions to search the word “sponsored” in influencer-generated content and pulled up posts from well-known brands. These three are some of hundreds of thousands of examples.

These posts reveal that disclosure really is as simple as one word. The influencers here are disclosing the fact that the giveaway or post is sponsored by the brand.

sponsored post - gourmesso

Sponsored giveaway by Gourmesso

sponsored post - estee lauder

Sponsored Instagram post by Estee Lauder

sponsored post - home depot

Sponsored YouTube review by Home Depot

5 Simple Steps to Avoid Hassle

We know brands are the ones held accountable for proper disclosure. These simple tools and steps can help marketers keep things legal.

  • Media/influencer kits: A lot of brands create a media or influencer kit they can provide to bloggers and social influencers. Along with pretty graphics and brand facts, a short policy or best practices on your approach to legal disclosure is a great idea.
  • Nurture authentic network: If you’re working with the same influencers on a regular basis, you won’t have to worry about posts that may come across as insincere or spammy.
  • Quarterly earned media audit: Simply type your brand’s name in to your favorite social tracking tool and content finder every quarter, and make sure that the posts you paid for are labeled clearly. Send an email to those authors who didn’t mark it, and it’s an easy fix.
  • One word: Every time you run a campaign or PR push, and money or goods are exchanged, simply ask that the post contains the word “sponsored.”
  • Communicate: Make yourself available for questions and feedback. Open communication is underrated.


Tweet @grouphigh and let me know your take on disclosure in influencer marketing.

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