media update’s Nikita Geldenhuys checked in with a number of professionals in the influencer marketing industry to hear what their stance is on the topic of disclosure.

Kirsty Sharman, a co-founder of the influencer marketing platform Webfluential, says that disclosure has become common practice outside of South Africa’s borders.

This is partly because organisations like the United States’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are working to get influencers and brands on board with guidelines regulating influencer marketing. In April 2017, the FTC sent out more than 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that they should disclose their relationships with brands when they endorse the brands’ products in social media posts.

Social media platforms are also trying to make it easier for brands and influencers to disclose their relationships. Instagram, for example, was testing a feature in June 2017 that would allow users who work with sponsors to tag a brand within their posts. According to Ad Age, the brand would then have the option to confirm the relationship, which marks the post as an advert with a "paid partnership" tag at the top.

According to Ad Age’s article, Instagram’s head of global creative programmes, Charles Porch, pointed out that creators should still “defer to their local authority that gives best practices" about disclosure.

Here are four things you need to know about disclosure if you are an influencer in South Africa or a brand using local influencers:

1. South Africa does not have laws specific to influencer marketing

Regulators in South Africa have yet to turn their attention to specific rules governing this form of advertising, writes Kelly Thompson, a partner at Adams & Adams, in an article on the law firm’s site

How influencer marketing should be dealt with in South Africa is likely to be found in the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 68 of 2008 and the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) Code of Advertising Practice, Thompson explains.

She notes neither the CPA nor the ASA’s Code deal specifically with situations where influencers post content on social media in order to market or promote a brand – or its goods or services. She points out, however, that “the ASA Code requires that ‘advertisements should be clearly distinguishable as such, whatever their form and whatever the medium used’.”

Similarly, “the CPA requires that advertising must take place in a fair and reasonable manner and that no misrepresentations be made,” she writes. “Goods or services must not be marketed in a manner that is likely to reasonably imply a false or misleading representation concerning those goods or services.”

“Could an argument be made that a paid-for advertisement which is not clearly labelled as one is misleading? Probably. After all, a consumer is far more likely to be induced to purchase a product that has been given a rave review by someone he or she knows or admires.”

Her advice? Ensure that all posts contain an indication that they are advertisements. Make this indication very clear by using the terms “sponsored ad” or “#sponsored_ad” at the end of your social media post.

This recommendation applies to all types of influencer-brand relationships, regardless of whether the influencer receives money or free products and perks. “Any form of compensation or inducement, whether in monetary terms or some other form such as a discount, tickets to an event, or free products, will likely trigger the need to disclose the relationship with the advertiser.”

2. Respect consumers, or else…

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recommends clear disclosure when it comes to native advertising.

But does influencer marketing fall under the umbrella of native advertising? Yes, writes Thompson. “The use of social media influencers is but one form of what has been termed ‘native advertising’, which is paid media that matches the form and function of the platform upon which it appears.”

The issue, she notes, is that these endorsements, which constitute paid-for advertising, often appear among hundreds of organic social media posts and may not be perceived as sponsored content by those who view them.

“Therein lies their very appeal to advertisers, especially in the modern consumer landscape that craves authenticity and personal connections. But, similarly, therein lies the potential to deceive consumers and fall foul of the law.”

She points to a very real risk that brands and influencers run when they take part in an influencer marketing campaign: consumer disappointment.

“Disclosure should drive the authenticity and transparency of the individual’s relationship, not only with the brands but also with the followers,” Josephine Buys, the IAB South Africa’s CEO, says on the topic.

“There has been known backlash online, where the audiences or followers of particular social media celebs found that they have, in fact, been duped,” she tells media update. “If there is full disclosure at the start, there is less chance of disappointing followers later on in the relationship.”

3. It’s all about partnering with the right brand or influencer 

There are concerns that disclosure may make influencer marketing less effective, as Charl van Rooyen, head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising, explains: “Although more experienced social users might respect brands and influencers more for disclosures, especially within in the micro-influencer level, I believe most casual social users can't always distinguish between paid-for posts and organic brand advocacy. Once disclosure is made, followers could disengage from the endorsement as it might seem disingenuous, especially in the case of tier-one influencers.”

Van Rooyen recommends that influencers choose the alignment with brands carefully so that it fits naturally within their interests and values.  

Sharman also has advice on this dilemma: “As I say to most of our clients, if you've partnered with the right influencers, and you're generating great content with them, a #sponsored tag really makes no difference to the audience. Consumers don't mind sponsored content, as long as it's good quality.”

Under these circumstances, disclosure is harmless, as Buys confirms: “As long as the fit is authentic, and not forced, there should be no impact on the effectiveness of influencer marketing.”

4. Disclosure will be common practice soon

Van Rooyen explains that while local influencers have adopted disclosures within their posts, MediaCom has seen erratic growth of disclosure mentions adoption over the past year.

In Sharman’s experience, the rate of disclosure in South Africa is increasing and it will become common practice over the next 18 months.

How should influencers disclose their connections with brands? “On shorter content like Tweets, the best practice is using #ad as a prominent hashtag,” explains Sharman. On longer pieces and videos, consider #sponsored in your content or description. See Webfluential’s guide on The Rules and Regulations of Sponsored Content for more information.

If you’re in doubt about disclosing your connection with a brand, or about requiring influencers to disclose their relationship with your brand, here’s the verdict: Disclose. It will keep you from falling foul of the law in future, it will allow you to keep your true followers, and it’s where influencer marketing is heading.

PRISA’s youth chapter, JumpStart, discussed influencer marketing at a recent event. Read what the debate was about in our article, Jumpstart puts influencer marketing in the spotlight.