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Legality and social media: A question of influence

Article-Legality and social media: A question of influence

Forbes magazine reported at the end of 2017 that, with increasing ad blockers and diminishing interest in radio and television, influencer marketing trends would dominate in 2018.

Media influencers include local or worldwide celebrities or people with huge online followings on particular topics, like beauty. With a mere product or service mention, influencers can reach thousands or millions of followers.

The problem is influencers’ endorsements often are advertisements in disguise.

“Sometimes they are referred to as ‘Brand Ambassadors’ or something other than ‘Influencers,’ but the effect is the same. They often receive money or free/discounted goods in exchange for posting about the goods in their online feeds. And very often they don’t properly disclose the nature of the relationship with whoever supplied those goods,” according to a blog post by attorney David Lizerbram.

The American Med Spa Association (AmSpa) recently pointed out that social media influencers’ power is beginning to impact the medical aesthetic industry specifically, according to a blog published earlier this year.

The AmSpa blog describes an influencer visiting a medspa for treatment, filming and later broadcasting the visit on his or her social media channels. If the medspa agreed to pay or compensate the influencer for promoting the visit, that’s advertising and must be treated as such, according to the blog.

Influencers and the services, products, companies, etc., they promote can be in legal trouble if the influencers fail to disclose they’ve received reimbursement for their endorsement or have other conflicts of interests.

For example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced in September 2017 that it settled a case against two famous YouTubers, Trevor Martin and Thomas Cassell, and their company CSGO Lotto, for failing to tell people that they were owners and officers of CSGO Lotto when they promoted its online gambling service.

“Under the laws about truth in advertising, they should have told their followers. And they should have told their followers clearly…,” according to a blog on “Their followers may have felt differently about their recommendations to use if they had known Martin and Cassell were behind the website.”

Influencers and marketers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media, according to FTC guidelines. The FTC’s Endorsement Guides specify that the disclosure applies when there’s a “material connection” between an endorser and an advertiser, which might affect the weight or credibility that consumers give the endorsement.

The FTC goes so far as to say that consumers viewing Instagram posts on mobile devices typically see only the first three lines, unless they click “more.” When making endorsements on Instagram, influencers should disclose any material connection above the “more” button, according to FTC.

The AmSpa blog post suggests it’s important that medspa practices maintain compliant advertising to avoid what can be severe penalties for violations.