A new research paper from Princeton University found that 90 percent of affiliate posts on YouTube and Pinterest are not disclosed to users.
Affiliate links are custom URLs that content publishers can include in their publications. Basically they are ads and publishers receive money from companies when users click on them. In the USA The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires content creators to identify when they are paid to post something, but despite that, influential people continue to circumvent disclosures. The FTC has sent letters to influential people to remind them of the requirement to communicate paid relationships with brands to their followers.
Table showing the top ten categories of affiliate links that appear on YouTube and PinterestData: Princeton University
The Princeton document analyzed more than 500,000 YouTube videos and 2.1 million unique pins on Pinterest. Of them, 0.67 percent, or 3,472 videos on YouTube, and 0.85 percent, or 18,237 pins, contained affiliate links.
Sponsored content published by influencers is not always identified as such, which makes it more difficult for consumers to distinguish between original content and ads. The document, written by Arunesh Mathur, Arvind Narayanan and Marshini Chetty, collected data between August and September 2017 and summarizes three main findings:
The prevalence of disclosures is low, with only 10 percent of affiliate content on YouTube and Pinterest labeled as such
Both on YouTube and on Pinterest, user participation was greater in publications that contained affiliate links.
Disclosures of affiliate marketing were formatted in three different ways: disclosures of affiliate links such as the phrase "#affiliatelink"; Explanatory explanations like "This video contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I will receive a small commission"; and the revelations of the support channel that say "AMAZON LINK: (Check this link to support the free program!")
The FTC says that simply declaring that a link is sponsored is not enough, and publishers must use a short phrase that clearly states that they are paid when a link is clicked. Having revelations is important, notes the Princeton document, because publications with affiliate links usually get more user participation. This means that they are more likely to be picked up by algorithms and shown to users through the search or in their feeds. The paper says:
Accordingly, our results show that the general prevalence of affiliate disclosures is low, and that disclosures are largely the variety that the FTC specifically advocates: Affiliate Link disclosures. In fact, the disclosures of Explanations, recommended by the FTC, only appear in 1.82% and 2.43% of the content of the affiliate on YouTube and Pinterest, respectively.
Affiliate links were mainly found on YouTube in videos about science and technology, style, travel and events, and film and animation. On Pinterest, publications with affiliate links were mainly included in pins related to fashion, products, hair and beauty of women, and sports.
Continuing my exciting research topic with depressing conclusions: we analyzed 500k YouTube videos and 2 million Pinterest pins, discovering that 90% of affiliate marketing is not disclosed to users, in violation of FTC guidelines and other regulations. . https://t.co/4m7X1xHANM- Arvind Narayanan (@random_walker) March 26, 2018
The researchers note that social media platforms play a crucial role in how affiliate links are presented and point to YouTube's payment approval tool and Instagram's recent disclosure feature that shows a "paid association" mark on the sponsored publications.
"Such disclosure tools are a step in the right direction, however, it is unlikely that such general disclosures cover all marketing strategies," the researchers wrote. "Future work could investigate what kind of benefits should be designed on social media platforms to allow affiliates to clearly disclose." The researchers said that companies that pay content publishers to publish sponsored content must also be held accountable for best disclosure practices.
In the future, the researchers said they hoped to build a tool such as a browser extension that detects affiliate content that could be hidden in the publications, and highlight them to users.