Three separate guides set out the expectations for social media platforms, brands and influencers about being open and upfront when it comes to paid promotions, as well as explaining the roles and responsibilities of the different regulators of online advertising. This builds on commitments made by Instagram in 2020 to tackle hidden advertising on its site.
Guidance for social media platforms
The ‘Compliance Principles’ set out how social media platforms should prevent and tackle hidden advertising appearing on their sites. These principles apply to all social media platforms and the CMA states that platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and Twitch have engaged constructively with it in drawing up the guidelines.
The principles require platforms to be proactive in tackling hidden advertising, including by:
- Providing users with tools to label commercial content and to report suspected hidden advertising
- Improving information to content creators and influencers about what to label as a paid-for endorsement
- Improving policies and taking action where hidden advertising is found
- Using technology to identify suspected hidden advertising for action
Guidance for businesses/brands
The guide helps make brands aware of their responsibility to tackle hidden advertising. This includes:
- Being clear with influencers who they pay or send gifts to that they must label these posts in an obvious way
- Taking action where this does not happen – for example, contacting influencers who are promoting products or services on their behalf and asking them to remove or amend posts to accurately reflect the commercial relationship
The guidance is clear that when posts are shared as part of a wider campaign, businesses themselves can be held accountable for misleading customers, as well as influencers.
Guidance for influencers
The CMA’s guide reminds content creators that misleading customers through hidden adverts could be in breach of consumer protection law and that people should be able to recognise an advert as soon as they view it. This includes when influencers are paid to post, when they receive gifts and when they post on behalf of a brand they own or are employed by. Posts should clearly display that they are paid-for endorsements using #Ad or #Advert and not use unclear terms, such as: #gift, #gifted, or #spon, among other ambiguous hashtags.
Separately, the CMA and ASA’s existing ‘Guide for influencers’ sets out clearly what influencers need to do when sharing paid-for and promoted content online. The ASA can take action to ban undisclosed ads by influencers and, where an influencer appears unwilling or unable to abide by the rules, impose further sanctions.
Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the ASA, said: “We welcome this guidance, which adds to the existing resources the ASA and CMA have produced to help platforms, brands and influencers stick to the rules. Platforms have an important role to play in making sure advertising content is clearly recognisable. We will continue to work closely with the CMA in this key area.”
For more information on the CMA’s work to improve transparency of paid-for endorsements on social media platforms, visit the social media endorsements case page including the CMA’s guides.