Five Affiliate Marketing Legal Tips For Beginners

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Affiliate marketing can be lucrative, but industry pitfalls can involve profit-gobbling hassles. So, how can you avoid issues? Here are five tips to dodge affiliate marketing problems.

Disclose Relationships

Since 2013, the United States Federal Trade Commission has required websites to disclose material relationships, including promotional incentives. Failing to let consumers know about these types of associations could result in an FTC investigation or action — not to mention a hefty fine.

Native Advertising Guidelines

I’m sorry to break the news, but the party is over. After years of hemming-and-hawing over native advertising rules, the Federal Trade Commission released guidelines for the space. You can read more about them depth here. In short, the FTC’s Native Advertising: A Guide For Businesses hammers home one thing: DO NOT make native advertising look like editorial content (i.e., Slow your click-bait roll, if said click-bait is actually advertising).

Tip: The guidelines specifically cite “Promoted Stories” as an unacceptable header for native advertising sections. If you use it, consider changing it.

Concerning Liability

Playing liability hot-potato won’t get you far in an FTC “unfair and deceptive marketing” investigation. Brands and networks can’t blame individual affiliates for using out-of-bounds tactics, especially if there’s reason to believe the network knew about it. If a network encourages questionable actions, it definitely can’t point the finger elsewhere. Conversely, individual affiliates can’t blame a network for forcing the use of underhanded methods.

In other words: everyone is responsible for their part in an “unfair and deceptive” marketing act.

Social Media Hashtags

To hashtag or not to hashtag, THAT is the question — at least it is for many online marketers. And it’s a tough one, too, because in some instances, the risks associated with omitting a #regulatoryHashtag don’t outweigh the potential rewards.

Now, please don’t think we’re condoning regulatory disobedience. We’re not. But we are pointing out a reality about social media promotions.

And be warned: the FTC is cracking down on companies that don’t use promotional disclosures on social media. In fact, the Commission slapped Lord & Taylor with a hefty fine because of a Twitter-Instagram-Facebook hashtag faux pas. You can read about the incident here.

So, what’s the hard-and-fast compliance rule for social media marketing? Make sure your affiliates and influencers use a #paid, #sponsored, or #ad hashtag when publishing marketing posts on your behalf.

A Note About Canada

We’ll end this post with a nugget of cross-border advice for U.S. affiliates that market to Canadians. In 2014, Canada’s Parliament passed rigorous anti-spam legislation. So, if you sell to those kind-hearted hockey fans above the 49th parallel, be careful how you engage via email with your customers.

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