How Your Social Media Campaigns Could Get You Into Trouble

Twitter, Instagram, Vine and YouTube: these companies are racing to tap into the marketing power of influential consumers (or “influencers”) using social media - but where does that leave regular users and business owners like you? If you're not careful, it's in deep trouble with the Internet hivemind.

Their approach makes sense: one status we all share is "consumer." But before asking Shaq to Instagram your latest face mask, heed the cautionary tales below - with our suggestions to identify the risks with influencer campaigns on social media. 

Social Media Influencer Marketing - What's the Risk?

Agencies (government and watchdog groups) watch how businesses communicate with consumers, with a focus on the things you come to expect, like print, audio, radio ads, websites - but increasingly, they're also beginning to watch more subtle marketing on social media.

What do they look for?  Some agencies focus on the content or form of a communication and whether it’s misleading or fraudulent. Other agencies focus on more domain-specific concerns.

For example, the US Food and Drug Administration  or "FDA" (responsible for regulating drugs, food and cosmetics among other things) looks at communications from a labeling perspective. One of their roles is ensuring labels are accurate and have the appropriate disclaimers. An example of this is the fast talking disclaimer at the end of allergy medicine ads - a necessary part of any ad claiming to offer medicinal-grade results.

But what happens when influencer marketing goes wrong?

Trouble In Paradise: Kim Kardashian's Doomed Instagram Post

An incident with America’s sweetheart, Mrs. Kim Kardashian-West, illustrates the risks of advertising on social media

Kim Kardashian endorsed a brand of pills on her Instagram account without disclosing the risks associated, offering a promotional perspective on the substance that could be construed as an advertisement. Red flag.

Her claims also hadn’t been tested by the manufacturer or sanctioned by the FDA as an approved use of the drug. Remember, the FDA requires consumers see or hear about product risks on its “labels” (which can include advertising). The oversight resulted in Kim and the manufacturer receiving a nasty-gram from the FDA. To settle the matter, the manufacturer overhauled its social media protocols, but was also at risk of much graver sanctions.

Many agencies also require relationships between businesses and influencers (or spokespeople) be disclosed. Typically, the test is this: would want to know about the relationship before making a purchase, and would knowing of a commercial relationship influence their decision to purchase?

Here, Kim Kardashian was a spokesperson - and posted in a spokesperson capacity. As a consumer I’d want to know this before I ran out to buy. Otherwise a harmless promotion begins to come off as deceptive.

An Ounce of Prevention

Taking precautions is key to identifying and managing risks with influencer campaigns on social media channels. Here are a few suggested precautions:

Make Quality Control a Priority

Look into creating an escalation process around the biggest exposures. What triggers escalation, and who participates in the chain, depends on the industry. But knowledge of the laws that apply are a must, which include your ability to confirm whether the content included (or excluded) from the post might be seen as noncompliance.

If an influencer will receive a benefit (a sweepstakes prize, payment, deal, etc.), seriously consider whether you should disclose the relationship. Something as small as a hashtag could make all the difference.

Liability Comes in Many Forms

Understand that even if something noncompliant is posted by someone with whom you do not have a commercial relationship, you may still not be in the free and clear. By liking or sharing a post (say a testimonial or endorsement) a business could inherit headaches. Be sure to talk about this in staff web use or social media policies.

Make Expectations Clear

It’s common for influencers receiving money to sign agreement, wherein the business reserves the right to penalize or terminate the influencer if he or she is entering into noncompliance territory. Also, communicate expectations to influencers by walking them through what's acceptable, actively monitoring and calling out violations.

Because the trend is leaning more and more toward these types of campaigns, it may not be feasible for some to avoid advertising on social media entirely. Where you choose to do so, take the time to understand the constraints (like character limits), possible workarounds and what’s at stake for noncompliance.