YouTube comedian, Lilly Singh, aka Superwoman, posts a selfie from a movie premiere. Beauty guru Marisa Roy raves about a new makeup product. The people behind the science channel AsapSCIENCE post Snapchats from an event. What’s missing from their message? Any indication whether they’ve been paid by the brands they mention in their captions.
The expansion of internet celebrities sending brand messages through their social media accounts has not gone unnoticed by the Canadian government. Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) plans to enforce a new set of rules: users need to be clear when they are getting paid to promote something. The organization will create a set of guidelines which will be enacted later this year or by early 2017. According to ASC, the new rules will reflect closely, the guidelines applied in the United States by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.)
Why It’s Important to Regulate Social Media Marketing
Canadian companies like Sherpa Marketing Calgary, have been pouring marketing dollars into social media campaigns, getting almost everyone onboard from YouTube celebrities to Instagrammers. Reaching Millennials is becoming more and more difficult because of television, losing its appeal. Social media is the new marketing powerhouse with brands worldwide spending $23.68 billion in 2015 alone. The U.S. and Canada, in particular, place a special interest in social media marketing and they are expected to spend more than $10 billion next year on sponsored content.
Consumers have the right to know when the celebrities they follow on social media are being paid by companies to promote a product. Under the Advertising Standards Canada, companies can no longer pay internet influencers to deceive customers with branded messages that aren’t marketed accordingly.
According to Janet Feasby, the vice-president of standards at ASC, cited by canadianbusiness.com, internet influencers must disclose any connection between the service or product they are endorsing and the company that makes the product or service available. If there’s any connection, it must be stated clearly in the description of the image or social media posts. But, how can you make sure that users see and understand that the message they are reading is sponsored content?
ASC May Ask Social Media Influencers to Put Disclosures at the Beginning of Posts
The FTC asks social media personalities across U.S. to use hashtags such as #ad or #sponsored to mark paid posts. But, if consumers don’t read the entire post, then there’s no effective disclosure. If hashtags such as #sp or #spon are mixed with ten other things at the end of a post, it’s easy for users to skip over and not realize that the message they’ve read was, in fact, sponsored.
The real test for ASC isn’t only to make sure that both, companies and social media influencers are complying with the rules, but that consumers read and comprehend the message.
Although nothing is certain yet, it’s expected that ASC will require internet celebrities to put disclosures at the beginning of a sponsored post instead of burying them at the end. The only question that remains is how vloggers can notify followers that their message is sponsored. For
YouTubers, it’s fairly easy to mention disclosures at the beginning of a video or to display them on screen. But, that gets a bit complicated with mediums such as Snapchat or Vine, where there’s not that much space to place hashtags and the videos are only a few seconds long.
Should the ASC Focus on Companies or the Social Media Influencers?
Most of the times, a company is working with tens if not hundreds of influencers, and not the other way around. The focus should be to get companies to do the right thing and ensure that social media personalities are disclosing correctly.
But, that’s not to say that the ASC wouldn’t target influencers, as well, if they neglect instructions from a brand to disclose. Entities who don’t comply might get fined by the Competition Bureau.
Do influencer posts deserve such attention? They are not the same thing as traditional ads, with most internet stars only working with brands they like and use frequently. But, here’s a tough question: if consumers knew a social media personality was compensated in any way, would that change their opinion on the product advertised? Advertising Standards Canada thinks, it will, and that’s why it will soon require bloggers and influencers to disclose any paid mentions or endorsements.