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Instagram has promised to crack down on influencers who don’t reveal when they’re paid to promote products, following a government investigation in the UK. While a UK government investigation prompted the action, Instagram’s updates may soon apply to other regions.

An investigation by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that many social media influencers post content about businesses without revealing their financial relationships. The platform was not doing enough to tackle the problem, the agency stated.

Instagram, or specifically Facebook Ireland Ltd, which operates Instagram in the UK, agreed to do more to prevent “hidden advertising.” By the end of this year, Instagram users will be prompted to confirm they’re endorsing products if it appears they have been offered an incentive. If they have, they will not be able to publish their post until they have included a clear disclosure.

Instagram will implement technology to help it identify posts containing ads that have not been clearly and prominently disclosed. By next summer, it will report users posting suspected unlabeled content to the businesses whose products they endorse. Those businesses will then be able to take appropriate action swiftly, including asking Instagram to remove posts.

What Businesses Can Do

Instagram will also make it easier for businesses to increase their own compliance by enabling them to detect posts which promote them or their products so they can check lawful disclosures have been made.

“These changes mean there will be no excuse for businesses to overlook how their brands are being advertised either – making life a lot harder for those who are not upfront and honest with their followers,” stated Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA.

Rather than waiting for Instagram’s updates, businesses can use a media monitoring service to scan social media for mentions of the company and brands.

Instagram also agreed to make its policies of incentivized endorsements more clear and uphold its Terms of Use, including deleting posts or terminating user accounts that breach its policies.

The CMA called Instagram’s move “an important behavioural shift” for social-media platforms, the BBC reported. “This will make it much harder for people to post an advert on Instagram without labelling it as such,” a spokesman told the BBC.

Brands running influencer promotions may wish to strengthen their oversight, and ensure they’re providing clarity on partnerships ahead of the new push, warns Andrew Hutchinson at Social Media Today. “The details may be unclear, but we do know that change is coming, and the expectations around such are likely to be ramped up very soon,” he says.

How Influencers Hide Disclosures

More than three quarters of influencer ads on Instagram have the disclosure hidden somewhere in the post, whether in the middle, at the end or in a comment, according to new research from Awin. Influencers were most likely to place the disclosure in the middle of the post, with 59% of posts reflecting this pattern, while 24% were found at the end. Another 5% were located at the beginning of the post, and as many as 12% were hidden in the comments section.

“Disclosure is a really important part of being an influencer, not just because of the legal ramifications but also to have complete transparency with your followers,” says Kevin Edwards, global strategy director at Awin.com. “It was surprising to find that so many influencers were ‘hiding’ the disclosure of their advertisements from followers, and something we hope to combat this year.”

Guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) call for influencers to post disclosures in a prominent location. Brands and their PR and marketing agencies could face the ire of the FTC, financial penalties and reputational damage if they ignore disclosure rules.

Influencers must disclose the relationship if they received anything of value to mention a product. “The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement,” the FTC states.

Bottom Line: Instagram is strengthening its oversight to make sure influencers properly disclose when posts are paid advertisements. Brands can make sure influencers follow government guidelines and safeguard their reputations with social media monitoring tools.

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