Have you ever made a purchase on social media because someone you follow endorsed a product or service? Of course you have. We all have.

More importantly, did you know the influencer was being paid or getting some incentive or perk for helping to promote a brand, product, or service? Often, the answer is no.

Sponsored Influencers are a powerful tool to help businesses market direct to their audience. They possess the unique ability to build strong emotional connections with consumers as they reinforce core brand messaging. It’s no wonder, then, that they play such a central role in marketing efforts for so many small businesses and niche industries. There’s a lot to love about influencer marketing, but it holds a few clear limitations and a lack of transparency that can be misleading for some consumers.

Influencers can backfire for businesses if they are reluctant to provide transparency around their financial arrangement for creating branded content or capitalizing on sponsorship opportunities. A lack of transparency can damage a business’s reputation as well as the influencer who misled their followers.

While the platform maintains strict rules mandating that sponsored influencers in several regions use signifiers such as #ad or #sponsored, many defy these requirements. This makes it difficult for followers to determine when and to what extent everyday posts involve sponsorships. Many are perfectly happy to follow sponsored influencers, but they have the right to know which posts involve outside advertising.

In an effort to curb problematic behavior among sponsored influencers, Instagram has announced a crackdown designed to promote proper disclosure. While this effort was sparked by an investigation conducted in the UK, it could hold implications for marketing initiatives all around the world.

Many entrepreneurs are nervous about what this could mean for their influencer strategies. Others are completely unaware that anything has changed — and this lack of awareness could be a huge problem as the platform steps up enforcement for branded content disclosures.

Not sure what this means for your social media marketing strategy? No worries: we’ve provided several suggestions to help you remain in the clear while still maintaining strong relationships with your top influencers.

Why Is Instagram Making Changes?

Hidden Advertising within Instagram is Misleading for Instagram Followers

Posts such as shown here are pushing the boundaries of sponsored influencers promoting products without tagging the post as #Ad or #Sponsored. This lack of transparency impacts authenticity in influencer posts and hurts the relationship between fans and influencers as well as the brands being promoted.

Restrictions on sponsored posts are far from new. The same is true of government action stemming from a suspected lack of disclosure. In 2019, for example, the Federal Trade Commission issued warnings for several prominent influencers, citing the need for “clear and conspicuous disclosure” for sponsored posts. Even then, however, Instagram largely operated on a policy resembling the honor system.

The latest rules might not have been drafted had it not been for an investigation conducted by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. This effort revealed the alarming extent to which influencers get away with avoiding disclosures.

CMA’s CEO Andrea Coscelli explained, “For too long, major platforms [such as Instagram] have shied away from taking responsibility for hidden advertising on their site.” Leaders at CMA welcome Instagram’s response to the investigation as an opportunity for the platform to “[make] it difficult for users to ignore the law.”

While this will be the first time Instagram has pursued a crystal-clear branded content policy, this strict approach is far from new in the social media world. Facebook, for example, announced a similar policy in 2017. Still, given the prominent role influencer content plays on Instagram, the latest overhaul represents a seismic shift for social media marketing.

How Will Instagram’s New Tools and Requirements Work?

How Will Instagram's New Tools and Requirements Work?Instagram’s sponsorship changes will be comprehensive in nature. Businesses and influencers will enjoy access to more tools, but this will be accompanied by increased oversight and added responsibilities for advertisers.

The sooner you get a feel for these updates, the better. A few of the most noteworthy changes include the following:

Prompts Before Publishing

Instagram Prompts Before Publishing Sponsored Content

Perhaps the most influential aspect of Instagram’s new policy: a prompt that will seek confirmation of incentives prior to publishing posts. This prompt will make it far more difficult for influencers to unknowingly neglect to disclose sponsorships. Those who complete the prompt and still fail to highlight content as sponsor-based may be reported to the businesses with which they work.

Paid Partnership Tools

Instagram Paid Partnership Tool Allows Influencers to be more transparent when posting

In this example, famous footballer Christiano Ronaldo uses the Paid Partnership feature to clearly disclose the relationship between himself and Nike. Examples like this allow influencers to promote products and brands while maintaining transparency with their audience.

Instagram will now allow all users to take advantage of its paid partnership tool. This helpful solution is designed to streamline labeling for sponsored posts. The tool is simple: a tag that discloses when posts occur due to partnerships between sponsors and influencers.

Algorithm-Based Detection

Instagram Influencer Marketing is Getting more Transparent

In this example, The Rock does a good job of promoting the product while also mentioning the paid partnership with VOSS. While not utilizing the paid promotion tool this still allows followers to understand the nature of their partnership and business relationship.

While Instagram aims to equip businesses and influencers with the tools and prompts necessary to make disclosures simple, enforcement will also play a role in the platform’s new policy. This includes swift detection of advertising content via advanced new algorithms. When such content is discovered free of disclosure, publishers will be alerted and given the opportunity to let followers know of its branded status.

Planning for Instagram’s Crackdown

Planning for Instagram's Crackdown on Sponsored Influencers

If influencers play a prominent role in your social marketing strategy, it’s time to rethink your approach. After all, while Instagram’s latest changes aim to address how influencers handle branded content, the bulk of the control ultimately rests in the hands of the businesses behind these sponsorships.

Because Instagram now makes it so easy to oversee posts, it is imperative to follow through with monitoring influencers. This means keeping a close eye on sponsored content and, when necessary, seeking the removal of posts that go against the platform’s new policy. The following solutions will increase your likelihood of complying with both Instagram’s policy and related consumer protection laws:

Audit Your Social Media Strategy

How closely do you monitor your influencers and their branded posts? You may be surprised to discover that many neglect to follow Instagram’s most important sponsorship guidelines.

If your influencers have previously hidden ad disclosures behind other hashtags they’re far from alone — research from Awin suggests that over three-quarters of promotions involving influencers feature disclosures strategically placed beyond the main section of the caption. This forces users to expand the text in order to see hashtags that accurately describe the post’s sponsored status.

While it was previously easy for sponsored influencers to avoid disclosures, expanded access to the tools highlighted above will grant businesses a greater degree of control. This could serve as both a helpful opportunity and a significant challenge. Although businesses will enjoy greater insight into influencer activity, the failure to properly patrol branded posts could cause major problems moving forward.

Provide Detailed Guidelines For New and Existing Influencers

Now that Instagram is far stricter in its treatment of branded content, there’s no room for error. Thorough vetting has always been a cornerstone of any successful influencer strategy, but it’s that much more important in light of the platform’s new policy. Hence, the importance of selecting influencers carefully and letting them know your expectations during the onboarding process.

All influencers affiliated with your brand should understand from the get-go that you take Instagram’s branded content guidelines seriously. Prior to forming a partnership, let prospective influencers know that they’ll be expected to disclose all relevant sponsorship information in a way that followers can clearly see and understand.

Obligation or Opportunity? It’s Up to You

How is your influencer marketing strategy working

Instagram’s latest crackdown should not force you to abandon your influencer marketing strategy. Still, it’s worth your while to take a second look at your current social media outreach efforts to ensure that you’ve covered all your bases. By vetting your influencers carefully and continuing to check up on sponsored posts, you can avoid future problems without compromising your social media marketing ROI.

If your Instagram strategy could use a little help, don’t hesitate to reach out to Vinci Digital. We know what it takes to plan and maintain an effective campaign. Reach out at your earliest convenience to learn more about our social media marketing and advertising solutions or to request a quote.

PS: How do you handle your brand’s partnerships with influencers? Do you expect to shift your approach as Instagram changes its rules? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci is the CEO of Vinci Digital with over 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising. He partners with mid-size, established businesses as a growth and scalability consultant and strategic branding advisor as well as offering a full-suite of agency services. Gerald calls Carmel, CA home with his wife Safira and two children. He has co-authored two books, and is working on his own upcoming book titled, “Small Business Pricing Mastery – Creating effective pricing and defining value for today’s products and services.”