Researchers reveal disclosure failures in YouTube, Pinterest posts

Let’s Put On a Show!

Affiliate marketing on social media is becoming more and more prevalent.

Here’s how it works. An ordinary consumer or social influencer creates content regarding a product or service that she posts to YouTube or Pinterest. With that content, the individual or social influencer (now wearing an affiliate marketer hat as well) furnishes a link that takes a person directly to an e-commerce website where he can purchase the product or service −, let’s say. When a YouTube or Pinterest user clicks that link and purchases the product, the affiliate marketer gets a percentage of the sale.

The range of products that can be pushed this way is staggering, and the money isn’t bad either, if the affiliate marketer’s social media posts get enough attention.

Shhhhh! Don’t Ruin a Good Thing!

Despite the homespun quality of much of their advertising − and the genuine brilliance of some of the content − affiliate marketers have rules to play by, established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). However, according to a recent Princeton University research paper, few of the affiliate marketers are paying much attention to those rules.

According to the paper, titled “An Empirical Study of Affiliate Marketing Disclosures on YouTube and Pinterest,” 90 percent of affiliate marketers’ posts on two of social media’s most important outlets − YouTube and Pinterest − do not disclose the nature of their content to viewers at all.

As we’ve covered before, the FTC requires disclosure of material connections between marketers and the brands they’re pushing. And starting back in April 2017, the FTC began serving notices to the most visible affiliate marketers − celebrities and other social influencers − that their lapses have been noticed.

The Takeaway

The authors of the research paper combed through half a million videos on YouTube and two million Pinterest “pins” to reach their conclusions: Only 10 percent of affiliate marketers disclosed the nature of their relationships, but user engagement is generally higher on posts that contain affiliate links.

Furthermore, the study notes that the majority of affiliate marketers who did bother to disclose used an “affiliate link” disclosure − for example, the phrase “Disclosure: These are affiliate links” − which is not enough, according to FTC guidelines. The FTC prefers “explanation disclosures,” wherein the affiliate marketer explicitly announces that the relationship exists, for instance: “This video contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission.”

According to the researchers, “explanation disclosures” were the least common form of disclosure used by affiliate marketers, when they used a disclosure at all.