Influencer marketing is a billion dollar industry especially for the B2C market. From micro influencers making about $50 per post on Instagram to top of the line celebs like Ariana Grande allegedly banking half a million per post.

Instagram has come a long way from being just an iOS app to share ‘Instagram-worthy’ photos to some ‘doing it for the gram’ as a full-time job who call themselves influencers. More and more brands are swaying from the usual tv or print ad to social platforms in order to push their products and/or services using influencers. And when you see local or international influencers flooding your Instagram, don’t you sometimes wonder if what they are saying about the brand is true? Or are they just saying it to get paid?

Last year, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in the US sent out more than 90 letters to influencers and marketers as a reminder to disclose influencer partnerships with the brands and any sorts of endorsement of products via social media. Why? Because 93% of top celebrities’ social media endorsements violate the FTC guidelines.

“#ad”, “#sponsored”, “#sp” and “#partner”. Are these hashtags enough for audiences to determine the relationship between a brand and the influencer?

Not long after the FTC issued those warnings in the US, Instagram introduced its Branded Content Tool. The aim of the tool is to “bring transparency and consistency of Branded Content on Instagram” and “help creators disclose results of partnerships”. This tool allows influencers to tag their business partners and appear on top of the post right below the username, ‘Paid partnership with [brand]’. It is worth mentioning that the much sought after analytics about stories on Instagram is available to the partnering brand for 14 days if the post is tagged correctly, without the influencer need to hand over their account details. Instagram has incentivized properly tagged partnerships with analytics the brand would otherwise not have or would find hard to obtain.

Based on Instagram’s Privacy Policy, it is compulsory for brand collaborations to be clearly marked in posts for both monetary or non-monetary compensations.

Why does this matter?

We believe authenticity and disclosing the nature of partnerships between brands and influencers will help to create sustainable relationships. People will turn away from disingenuous brands, we have seen it before. Remember the Kendall Jenner and Pepsi commercial that received such a huge backlash from fans all over the world? Clearly, she signed up for a commercial that she didn’t understand completely and if she truly vouched for the brand, Pepsi, why have we never once seen her with a can of Pepsi in Keeping Up with The Kardashians?

Below is an example of an influencer who is compliant and one who isn’t:

An influencer who upfront tells you this post is a paid partnership or another who hard-sells a brand without telling you it’s a paid post and, therefore, leads you to believe it’s a “good-to-share” kind of post.

The Bloglovin’ Consumer Study found that 61% of women said they won’t engage with an in an influencer’s sponsored content if it doesn’t feel genuine. Even though this study is specifically about women the principle applies the same across the industry.

Trust and authenticity is crucial for influencer marketing as it affects both influencer and the brand. Low engagement is not just a result of poor content but also a lack of trust.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why Selena Gomez is the most followed account on Instagram to date – excluding Instagram itself, of course.

Out of curiosity about whether influencers follow the FTC (US Federal Trade Commission) guidelines or at least use Instagram’s Branded Content Tool, we selected four countries in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia) and the top five most-followed account influencers.

  1. Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor5,582,024 followers
  2. Nora Danish5,357,952 followers
  3. Siti Nurhaliza Tarudin5,293,491 followers
  4. Zizan Razak4,924,286 followers
  5. Scha Alyahya4,277,461 followers
  1. Brad Lau626,942 followers
  2. Wendy Cheng600,397 followers
  3. Naomi Leo433,747 followers
  4. Little Miss Bento Official335,706 followers
  5. QiuTing299,339 followers
  1. Aum Patchrapa9,230,686 followers
  2. Araya Alberta Hargate7,931,462 followers
  3. Davikah7,484,915 followers
  4. Boy Pakorn6,765,115 followers
  5. Urassaya Sperbund6,714,717 followers
  1. Ayu Tingting24,869,480 followers
  2. Raffiahmad Nagitaslavina23,040,465 followers
  3. Prilly Latuconsina21,788,129 followers
  4. Laudya Cynthia Bella21,748,500 followers
  5. Syahrini21,570,364 followers

We looked at 20 of their recent posts and found the top five from Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia are not at all compliant in terms of disclosing their partnerships with brands. And less than 16% of the posts were properly tagged from influencers in Singapore. This was surprising, so we dug a little deeper. In total, we looked at 30 unique influencers and 250 of their posts in the Southeast Asia region and the result?

Pretty much the same.

For comparison, we looked at the top five most followed celebrities on Instagram and it’s obvious these accounts are mostly from the US. We screened these five accounts with the FTC’s guidelines in mind and even there, less than 55% of branded posts passed our guideline review.


86% of the 250 branded posts we looked at, were not marked or incorrectly marked as branded. Only 14% of posts had appropriate tags. In comparison influencers in the US have a higher percentage of branded posts that are properly tagged. This shows it is still early days for this industry in Southeast Asia and brands are not expecting compliance from the influencers they work with.

For the sake of clarity, let us look at the Facebook/Instagram definition – “We define branded content as a creator or publisher’s content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if the influencer received monetary or other goods/services from the brand, it must be disclosed in the post as a paid partnership or a form of collaboration with the relevant parties.

This behavior carries high risks for brands though, and it is only a matter of time before the local consumer protection agencies start paying attention. It is important to note that the liability of incorrect tagging lies with both the brand and the influencer.

Regardless of the policies and as part of the audience, what are your thought on the disclosure of paid partnerships on Instagram?