New Transparency Rules Require Social Media Influencers to Label Sponsored Content

March 2, 2017

How do you pique the interest of a screen-scrolling consumer these days? Influencer marketing. Slap a famous face on a campaign and bingo – you’ve managed to bait an audience whose attention span lasts little more than eight seconds.

However, things are about to change.

As of today, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) is introducing a new code that requires total transparency when it comes to sponsored social media content. In other words, users will be able to determine pretty much immediately whether the posts that come up in their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds have been paid for by a brand.

It’s a technique that’s already been employed by the US and the UK, resulting in legal implications for users who fail to disclose sponsored posts. Following a steady stream of ‘micro-influencers’ trickling into the marketing realm over the past year, Australia is now latching on.

What are the details, exactly?

Before you get too ahead of yourself, let’s take a microscope to the new legislations. According to the ABC, “breaking the AANA code won’t mean a huge penalty – the association is self-regulating and following the rules is voluntary”. Essentially, this means that if brands decide against adhering to the new Clearly Distinguishable Advertising Best Practice Guideline, they risk having the Advertising Standards Board ask them to take their ad down.

However, the real dangers lie in companies potentially breaching the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which could result in a maximum fine of $220,000 per post for an influencer, and a whopping $1.1 million for a brand. Though no legal cases of this nature have yet materialised in Australia, the introduction of AANA’s new code could certainly pave the way for this to happen in the near-future.

What classifies as ‘sponsored content’?

Sponsored content is any material published online that is paid for by an advertiser to promote a product or service in a way that comes across as entertaining, useful or educational. With the mega-growth of sponsored content over the past few years, this kind of marketing has become a phenomenal trend heartily embraced by businesses of all natures: from hotels to beer brands and fashion labels, more and more companies are choosing to spruik their goods through the flashy smiles of social media gods.

The AANA guidelines regard ‘sponsored content’ as any material that meets the following key criteria:

  1. Does the marketer have a reasonable degree of control over the material?; and
  2. Does the material draw the attention of the public in a manner calculated to promote a product or service?

If these two criteria are met, the commercial nature of the post must be disclosed.

How do I label content as ‘sponsored’?

That’s up to you – as long as your message is clearly marked as promotional, you are obeying the new rules. The AANA recommends simply incorporating the hashtag #ad into each sponsored post.

Will it really make that much of a difference to the role of influencer marketing?

Most social media users are already pretty savvy when it comes to sponsored content. Even without labels, it’s fairly easy to tell when certain posts have been paid for. In fact, Tribe Group – an organisation that connects influencers with brands – has reportedly failed to detect any palpable difference in popularity between content that is clearly marked as sponsored, and that which isn’t.

As such, adding a small hashtag to posts is not likely to ebb the flow of influencers or the engagement of users, but it might encourage people to become more conscious of how and what they choose to promote.