Media Etiquette: How to Adhere to FTC Guidelines While Working with Influencers & Editors

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

The divide between understanding how to work with media influencers and journalists is vast; some companies comfortably collaborate often while others never do, but many are curious about what’s involved in getting more exposure. This article, requested by an AGTA member, aims to outline some best journalism practices and guidelines established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

For starters, there is a wide range of different types of writers, journalists, media personalities, and social media influencers, with many referred to as ‘influencers,’ or those who inspire others to action.

Many influencers operate primarily from a social media platform like Instagram but can also be journalists, gemologists, or have other skills. Those who have accumulated the most followers often charge for exposure. Journalists who write for publications should never charge for inclusion in an article (unless it’s advertorial), as they are paid to do the job.

Influencers & FTC Guidelines

In the U.S., the FTC has guidelines for those working with influencers to ensure that consumers are not being deceived. If companies engage in paid collaborations with influencers and even one of the parties isn’t adhering to FTC guidelines, both entities open themselves up to possible legal redress.

For example, when paid to promote products, posts must be clearly labeled as “Paid” or “Ad” in an obvious location such as within the first three lines of the written portion. This is necessary for viewers to “weigh the value of your endorsements,” according to the FTC’s Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers.

“If your endorsement is in a picture on a platform like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, superimpose the disclosure over the picture and make sure viewers have enough time to notice and read it,” the document continues.

Media Etiquette: How to Adhere to FTC Guidelines While Working with Influencers & Editors

These promotions extend to free or discounted products received, that is, those arrangements must be disclosed. Influencers must also be truthful about claims and not offer reviews on products they do not know.

Companies that want to work with influencers to promote their products should outline all terms of payment, number of and duration of posts, etc., on paper, with each party signing the documents.

Media Etiquette: How to Adhere to FTC Guidelines While Working with Influencers & Editors

AGTA entered into an agreement with an influencer ahead of the 2022 AGTA GemFair Tucson to attend the show and cover its exhibitors. The influencer’s handler told AGTA that the influencer didn’t need to label posts as “sponsored” despite negotiated financial agreements. AGTA showed FTC guidelines to the handler and stated that the only way the organization would work with the individual was if the person followed the guidelines stated in a written contract.

Working with Publications

When it comes to articles in publications, the same guidelines apply but can be outlined further in each outlet’s own procedures or adherence to ones established by industry authorities, such as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). It has its own Code of Ethics, which outlets are free to follow on their own volition. This document outlines voluntary guidelines established by the SJP for journalists to follow to serve as reputable sources of news and information.

Content includes points like not plagiarizing, verifying accuracy prior to publication, disclosing conflicts of interest, denying favored treatment to advertisers, clearly labeling advertising as such, and more.

Media Etiquette: How to Adhere to FTC Guidelines While Working with Influencers & Editors

It is improper to sell articles without disclosure. For example, a writer for Forbes writes about a big brand in exchange for money from the brand but doesn’t disclose it. That violates editorial guidelines of Forbes and can get a writer fired and the brand fined by the FTC.

A good way to get editorial exposure for your company is to get professional photographs of your gems and jewelry shot on white backgrounds. That is what most outlets use; you must send them what they use, not what you want them to use. Also share interesting new developments, such as new collections or mine finds, with journalists. If topics are of interest to their audience, they may choose to write about you or your products.

Gray Areas

Not covered by these documents are other practices about which many may be curious. For example, when someone is interviewed for an article, he or she may want to review the article prior to publication. Publications do not typically honor that request, nor do they need to; you as an interview subject are not paying for that article, nor are you directing its content, so you are not permitted to review it or anything anyone else says in it. If you pay for an advertorial article to be written, then you are entitled to see it and direct its content, though the finished article must be labeled as advertorial because it is a paid endorsement.

Interview subjects can ask writers if they may fact-check their own content and quotes prior to publication to ensure accuracy. That request is up to the discretion of the writer to honor, and every writer has a different way of fact-checking information, but subjects can ask. However, fact-checking by interview subjects, if allowed, is not an opportunity to rewrite statements and quotes, only to clarify specifics such as numbers or name spellings. Journalists may permit modest edits to quotes, but that is up to the outlet to decide.

Media Etiquette: How to Adhere to FTC Guidelines While Working with Influencers & Editors
An antique jewel I secured permission to shoot at a trade fair last fall.

Also know that what you tell influencers or journalists could end up in the public eye online or in print. Be clear if you are offering information “off the record”—not for sharing. And when at trade shows, it is largely considered to be in poor taste and not helpful to the industry to disclose wholesale prices. This happened recently at a Bangkok trade fair when a gemstone dealer (not an AGTA member) talked openly in video interviews about prices the trade pays. In the eyes of many, that was a poor decision and possibly harmful to the supply chain. Yours truly asked the vendor to remove the posts and they did not.

Media Etiquette: How to Adhere to FTC Guidelines While Working with Influencers & Editors
Gems that I secured permission to shoot at a trade fair last year.

Another important point to remember is giving permission to shoot video or take photos when at trade shows or in source countries. There are tales of industry personalities going to mine sites and snapping away, posting content online, and then getting in trouble with local governments. At trade shows, vendors must clearly give permission to booth guests for any photography. This is for the dealer’s safety—you may not want your picture online—and for supply chain integrity. Plus, shows themselves often have guidelines for videographers and journalists, who are given press badges for entry. Ideally, give permissions in writing, but you can also state them at the beginning of videos.

If you have other questions or desire clarifications on this topic of working with influencers and journalists, feel free to reach me at [email protected].

This is proprietary content for AGTA and may not be disclosed.