With their engaging, educational and often inspirational social media posts, influencers attract thousands or even millions of followers whose demographics are highly appealing to brands.
A successful influencer can be a powerful marketing asset, but even the most experienced are not immune to mistakes. That includes sometimes failing to comply with the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising (CAP Code) and consumer protection regulations, which cover most forms of influencer marketing.
These rules can be a minefield to navigate, so if you’re an influencer or you advise influencers, here are five simple tips on ensuring compliance with the hashtag rules when posting about brands on social media.
1. Choose the right hashtag
Ads are controlled by the CAP Code and enforced by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). A post should use the #AD hashtag if both the following apply:
Payment. Is the influencer getting paid for the post, with money or freebies? For example:
- The influencer includes links or discount codes for products in their post, and they are paid for every click on the link or sale made using the code.
- The influencer receives free products, gifts, services, trips, hotel stays etc. from the advertiser.
Control. Does the brand have a degree of control on the post’s content? The level of control depends on what the influencer agrees with the brand; if the influencer does not have completely free reign, the brand will likely exercise an element of control.
- The brand tells the influencer what to write or include in their post.
- The brand has the right to check or approve the content before it’s posted.
- The brand is allowed to ask the influencer to change the content of their posts.
- The brand requires the influencer to upload certain posts or videos such as ‘box opening’ or ‘trialling’ but doesn’t tell the influencer what to write in the post.
If the influencer is promoting their own product on their own channels, it is still an advertisement. Though it’s not strictly necessary to include #AD in the post, this should be considered best practice.
Gifts are controlled by statutory regulations and enforced by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Trading Standards.
A post should use the #GIFT hashtag if the influencer is paid (in money or freebies), but the brand has no control over their posts or the influencer has no agreement with the brand.
For example: the influencer is sent a pack of face creams from a brand they have no affiliation with, and uploads a “thank you” post without being asked to.
2. Make it immediately obvious it’s an ad
The #AD #ADVERT #ADVERTISING #ADVERTISEMENT hashtags are widely regarded as acceptable.
The following are riskier and should be avoided:
#SP #SPON #SPONSORSHIP “in association with” “paid partnership” “thanks to [brand] for making this possible” “@[brand]”
The hashtag must be at the beginning of the post, in the title or thumbnail, not at the end or embedded in a list of hashtags such as:
“Thanks so much to @[brand] for my lovely new makeup, can’t wait to try it! #new #makeup #face #ad #excited #freebies”
The hashtag should also not be hidden in a part of the post where a user has to click again to see it.
3. Don’t make false or misleading claims
If the post makes any claims, they must be true and the facts should be available to support them if the post is challenged.
It’s also safest to avoid advertising age-restricted products (e.g. gambling or alcohol), as this is a real reputational risk.
If the influencer wants to run a prize draw or giveaway, it’s vital to study Rule 8 of the CAP Code in detail before running the campaign.
4. Both influencer and brand are responsible
If a complaint to the ASA about an advert is successful, both the influencer and the brand will be held responsible.
The ASA prefers to resolve complaints informally by asking the influencer to remove the post. However, if there is good reason, the ASA may formally investigate the complaint and question the influencer about the post and their relationship with the brand.
Once the ASA makes its decision, it will post its ruling on the ASA website – the complaint will either be upheld or not upheld.
If there is a problem with the post, it must be changed or removed. If the influencer and brand ignore the ASA, sanctions may be applied (although this is generally a last resort).
5. It’s still not over when it’s over
Even when the brand relationship has ended and the influencer is no longer being paid, if they continue to post about the brand or its products, consumers might still think there’s an affiliation.
Consequently, the ASA wants influencers to continue to use #AD at the beginning of their brand or product posts for at least 12 months after the end of the agreement.
The easiest way to avoid these issues is simply not to post about past relationships.