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By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

It seems like every brand is jumping on the influence marketing bandwagon … and with good reason. 72% of consumers have recommended a local business by word of mouth, and 84% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family as the most influential.

There are, however, certain risks inherent in relying on people outside your company to represent your brand. Here are some tips for working with influencers without damaging your brand or creating legal headaches.

1) Disclosure and Oversight

Let’s start with disclosure. The Federal Trade Commission requires that bloggers and other online influencers disclose anything “material” that is not obvious to the reader.

For instance, if ABC Resort and Spa pays for me to fly and stay at their resort in Bora Bora, and I then post a glowing review about the quality of my stay and their services, I need to disclose prominently (e.g. at the top of the post, in bold letters) that they paid for my trip. The requirements relating to disclosure are far from clear, but I provide some insight into existing FTC guidelines here.

Brands working with influencers need to emphasize that they expect compliance with any applicable laws relating to disclosure, and encourage influencers to err on the side of disclosure.

If you send someone a free sample of your product in the hope that they will write about it, but they are under no legal obligation to write or post about you or the product, your brand is still responsible and should recommend that influencers disclose when posting that they received a free sample or review copy.

2) A method to cover your tweets, too

In the eyes of the law, a tweet holds the same legal weight as a blog post: if you can’t fit a necessary disclosure into your tweet, you shouldn’t encourage influencers to use Twitter. But how do you create an appropriate disclosure when you only have 140 characters to work with?

A service called CMP.LY  helps to bridge the gap between the modern-day reality of social media and the somewhat arcane laws relating to consumer protection. CMP.LY lets you write a completely customized disclosure, then generates a short link that you can use across different social platforms. I created a disclosure for you to view so you can see what this looks like when somebody clicks a link:  http://my-disclosur.es/MtT0T7

Because of how the link looks, consumers know that it leads to important information relating to your post, which alerts them to any potential bias much more effectively than a simple hashtag like #AD or #SPON could.

Before launching an influencer outreach campaign, your brand should create a disclosure on CMP.LY for bloggers and other influencers to use, then provide the link to that disclosure along with the rest of the materials you provide.

3) Get it in Writing

If you are engaging influencers on a deeper level, perhaps working directly with them to build buzz for a particular product launch or other initiative, you need to commit the terms of your agreement to a written contract, signed by a representative of your organization as well as each influencer.

There’s no room for uncertainty in influence marketing: you need to clarify from the start what your brand expects from influencers, what you will provide them with, and the limits of their affiliation with you.

For instance, you want them to promote your product launch, but are influencers also free to invite people to the launch party? If so, how many people can each influencer invite? Can they promise free samples to people, or should they direct people to a landing page or one of your social networks?

Be specific, and clearly envision the path you want influencers to set before prospects, so everyone understands what constitutes an ideal outcome.

4) Protect and Respect Intellectual Property

Explain how influencers may use your company logo, branded materials, product photos, etc. You want content shared online, but that doesn’t mean you’d be thrilled to see an influencer you hired turn a product photo into an Internet meme. (Maybe you would, but you should decide this consciously, and avoid reacting to a situation you did not anticipate).

Also be clear what you expect in terms of any user-generated content. If you are planning to have influencers run a promotion in which users submit photos or videos, have them include a link to terms and conditions that provide you a license to reproduce that user-generated content elsewhere. Otherwise, you could potentially be sued for copyright infringement for using users’ photos in your promotional materials online or offline.

5) Consider Contests

In many instances, influencers who receive several sample products may proactively decide to run a contest or “giveaway” in order to generate buzz and increase awareness of your new product. In the written contract that you will have (see above), be sure to address whether such contests are permissible and, if so, emphasize that influencers must comply with any local, state, national and international laws that apply.

The law relating to contests of skill and games of chance (i.e. lotteries or giveaways) is voluminous and complex. The safer practice generally is to use contests of skill, but exercise caution in allowing contests at all. Depending on the value of the prize, there maybe tax implications for the winner, and documentation requirements for your brand.

6) Clarify Compensation

Clearly define what influencers will receive in exchange for their role in promoting your brand online. For instance, will you pay their travel expenses to attend your product launch party? Will they also receive a fee for creating content? How many posts are expected, on which networks, and how many full-fledged blog posts must each influencer produce? Address these questions in your contract.

Many influencers will post in exchange for sample products, but the ones who have expended the effort to build a substantial and engaged audience online will expect to be paid for lending you their platform. When selecting influencers for outreach, remember the old adage “you get what you pay for.”

Influence marketing represents an exciting new channel that is sure to grow. If you use these guidelines, you are in a better position to conduct these efforts in a way that is clear, effective and legal! I would love to read your comments and questions below.

And please let me know when I should schedule that trip to Bora Bora!

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone teaches New Media Marketing at Full Sail University. She also hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast for MarketingProfs. Find Kerry on Google+ and Twitter.

 

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