First, what exactly is a compliance strategy and why do you need one?
You already know that successful brand-influencer collaborations can have enormous reach and influence but, as with all types of marketing, there are rules and regulations that need to be followed. For influencer marketing, compliance with the rules on disclosure seems to present the biggest challenge but, depending on your niche, there may be numerous other rules that you need to be aware of.
“With great power comes great responsibility”
Creating a strategy that seeks to avoid any type of rule-breaking should be a top priority. It wasn’t so long ago that it was my job at the ASA to impose sanctions on rogue marketers so I know exactly what impact even just one small error can have on a brand or agency.
The ASA are adept at harnessing the power of media attention to punish brands and influencers and can escalate sanctions to the point of court proceedings (via Trading Standards). Some brands and agencies might seem more skilled at avoiding regulatory attention but, when it comes to influencer marketing, it is not a matter of luck. The key is to have a robust compliance and disclosure program.
So, what are the key elements of a robust compliance strategy?
- Know the rules that apply
You should know exactly what type of posts require disclosure and be aware of the challenges, beyond disclosure, in your niche. There are e.g. specific rules for health and beauty ads, motoring, alcohol etc so you should familiarise yourself with the rules and any accompanying guidance. It’s also important to understand what clear and conspicuous disclosure actually looks like in the platforms that you are using and to apply the rules across all features in each platform.
- Stay up-to-date
You should stay up-to-date with regulatory developments and be aware of the significant judgements and rulings in your jurisdiction (ASA/CMA in the UK and FTC in the US) because, although the basic rules and regulations on disclosure are unlikely to change, there may be subtle but important developments that affect e.g. which hashtags are acceptable, where they need to be placed, whether you can rely on platform tools such as “paid partnership” features, for disclosure etc.
- Educate your content collaborators
You should ensure your influencers are aware of their responsibilities and set out those requirements in a context and in language that they will understand (i.e. not buried in obscure legal jargon in clause 328 of their contract). Contracts or influencer agreements should contain the latest disclosure regulations and it’s also a good idea to provide influencers with additional materials such as desktop guides on disclosure, links to ASA, FTC and CMA guidance etc.
- Practice ongoing oversight
You should conduct ongoing monitoring for compliance and keep records of that monitoring action. In the event that a breach is spotted (or an enforcement body notifies you of one) swift action should be taken to rectify the error. It might seem obvious but holding up-to-date contact info, including a mobile phone number, for every influencer is key because the less time a non-compliant post is visible, the lower the chance of a complaint to the regulators.
- Act swiftly to correct rule-breaches
If you suspect similar breaches have occurred previously, conduct an audit and consult your lawyers or a specialist regulatory firm like Hashtag Ad Consulting to ensure your compliance training and guidance is relevant, current and, importantly, simple and easy to digest. If it’s too late and a regulatory body such as the ASA has contacted you, reply promptly with information about how you are correcting the breach. A swift, candid response with an assurance of future compliance can mean the difference between a low-key informal resolution (with no further action) or a formal upheld ruling that is published on the ASA website and distributed to the press (and which may require a comprehensive and costly crisis management strategy).
Rupa Shah is Founder and Director of_ Hashtag Ad Consulting, a London firm that provides guidance and training on the advertising rules to social media and influencer marketers. Hashtag Ad Consulting takes a unique approach to demystifying advertising regulations across the globe and Rupa, following a 13-year career at the ASA, now works closely with influencers, their managers, ad agencies, tech platforms and brand owners to embed compliance throughout the marketing process and, ultimately, to help brands and influencer marketers protect their reputation. You can keep up-to-date with the latest ASA rulings, FTC guidance and influencer compliance updates by following Rupa on LinkedIn, Twitter and Youtube.