B2B Influencer Marketing: the cost of non-compliance with Rupa Shah

Similarly to consumer brands, B2B brands now face significant Influencer Marketing non-compliance and regulatory risks. However, currently, there is little official guidance for brands to understand how and when they need to disclose any relationships, and what information they need to provide any influencers working with them.

At DigiConf 2020, we were joined by Rupa Shah, Founder of Hashtag Ad Consulting, a London firm providing bespoke guidance and training on advertising rules associated with social media and influencer marketers. Rupa has trained in law and previously worked at the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) for 13 years, developing CAP guidance papers when consumer influencer marketing was first established.

Rupa provided 10 minutes of valuable insight into how B2B brands and influencers can properly adhere to the regulations, and ultimately protect their reputation. Specifically, she explained who the regulatory bodies are and what might happen to brands found to be breaching the rules. 

What are the regulatory bodies involved in influencer marketing?

The UK regulatory bodies for influencer marketing are the ASA, CAP (Committees of Advertising Practice), and the CMA (Competition & Markets Authority), with ASA and CAP being sister bodies—ASA dealing with consumer and industry complaints, and CAP writing the code of marketing and providing guidance, which is useful for when brands have detailed questions about marketing. The CMA additionally deals with marketing, but its involvement in Influencer Marketing non-compliance is only when there are industry-wide concerns.

Now that brands have a global stage to market products on social media, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), may get involved in B2B influencer breaches, depending on the circumstances. The US regulatory body is starting to take a closer look at Influencer Marketing as a whole and overhauling penalties and processes. While the FTC generally gets involved in consumer protection for B2C influencer marketing, Rupa explains that it’s important for B2B brands to be aware that the possibility of enforcement is there.

“It’s very much worth keeping in touch with and knowing exactly what the regulators have to say. They have blogs and they have various resources [to utilise].”

What could happen if regulatory bodies investigate your influencer marketing?

If a brand is conducting influencer marketing and has not disclosed in the correct way, e.g. with the appropriate use of hashtags, there are various actions the regulatory bodies can take.

The ASA deem content as ‘adverts’ when payment/gifts or editorial control is evident. An investigation may be formal, informal, or with them just providing advice. While the most common course of action is asking for written assurance, they can have fixed response deadlines, so it’s crucial that brands respond within the time allocated.

The CMA investigates content when it’s alerted to an influencer taking payments/gifts. There doesn’t need to be any editorial control; it would still be regarded as something that brands/influencers need to disclose. The CMA can write formal warning letters to anyone in breach of the code, warning them when disclosure is not evident. It is unusual, but civil and criminal penalties may also be incurred.

Watch Rupa’s full presentation from DigiConf, in which she discusses why disclosure matters for B2B influencer marketing, why there has been much confusion around the subject, and her key learnings that brands should take on board straight away to comply with regulations.

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