Facebook's Branded Content Policy ... for Bloggers! Updated for 2018

Facebook Branded Content Policy and What It Means UPDATED

Updated August 2018: Facebook’s Branded Content Policy and Branded Content Tool rolled out in April 2016. This post was originally published on April 28, 2016. Since then, there have been a lot of updates to the policy. This post has been updated to reflect the latest changes to the Branded Content Policy, including how to deal with affiliate links and sponsored content on Facebook. 

graphic - Facebook Branded Content Policy explained

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about Facebook’s Branded Content Policy and Branded Content Tool (“handshake tool”) when it comes to blogging. In this post I will break down when to use the Branded Content Tool and how to use it in your business.

To make it easier for you to find the answers you need, I’ve created a table of contents for this article. Choose the topic you need more info on from the list below:

  • What is the Branded Content Policy
    • What is Branded Content?
    • What is the Branded Content Tool?
  • Facebook Branded Content Policy and Bloggers
    • Syndicated Content
    • Affiliate Links
    • Sponsored Posts

What is Facebook’s Branded Content Policy?

According to the Branded Content Policies Page, there are 7 policies that govern posting branded content on Facebook.

What is Branded Content?

“Branded Content” is any photo, video, text, or links that features a third party brand, product, or sponsor. Usually branded content promotes a product or service that is not your own. I made this handy dandy chart of some of the common types of content you might be sharing on your Facebook Page and whether or not that might be considered “branded”:

Chart of branded content versus non-branded content on Facebook

Some of the guidelines are confusing. If you use a glue gun you bought in a video, but the glue gun shows the brand logo, is that “branded content”? Technically, it is, but you weren’t paid for it. You might not even have a relationship with the brand. And what if the brand does not have a Facebook Page (yeah, some still don’t) or they are out of business?

Facebook’s Branded Content rules are not the same as the FTC’s rules for disclosures. And while some criteria overlap, they each have a different set of criteria for when the rules apply and when they don’t.

Branded Content is any content that meets the following criteria:

  • You were paid by the brand (cash money, yo!) or you were given product (kitchen sink for a remodel, craft supplies to make something, a gift card …) or an experiences by the brand (movie tickets, event screenings, theme park admission …) or you stand to benefit materially in some way (a commission but not affiliate, earn free product based on referrals, etc)
  • You and the brand have agreed that you will post about their product, in the context of your content, on Facebook
  • You have permission from the brand to tag them with the Facebook Branded Content Tool

You might be thinking this includes affiliate links … but it doesn’t. With affiliate links, you don’t have permission from the brand to tag them and likely have not discussed posting about the brand on Facebook. We’ll dig deep into affiliate links and the Branded Content Policy later in this post.

What is the Branded Content Tool?

Facebook’s Branded Content Tool, also known as the “handshake tool” is a way for you to link your Page to a sponsor’s Page so they can monitor analytics for the post and create ads with the post. It’s also alerts Facebook that this post is Branded Content. And finally, it tells users that the content is branded by marking it as “Paid” under the date and time stamp on the post.

Facebook Branded Content Policy compliant disclosure on sponsored post on Facebook

The highlighted sections circled in green are indicators from Facebook’s Branded Content Tool that this content is a sponsored placement. I was involved in creating the content and got permission from the sponsor to tag them with the Branded Content Tool; therefore, I can post this using Facebooks’ Branded Content tool. Because I was paid to create and post this content I must use the branded Content Tool according to Facebook’s guidelines. The sponsor is a marketing firm representing a product and they are tagged under the Page name. Next to the date and time stamp is the word “Paid”, Facebook’s way of notifying users that this content is paid.

Screenshot of facebook branded content tool - handshake tool

How to use Facebook’s Branded Content Tool:

The only way to use the Facebook Branded Content Tool is from desktop on Facebook. Here’s how:

  1. Start a post on your Facebook Page.
  2. Select the handshake icon from the bottom of the post editor.
  3. Choose the sponsor’s Facebook Page by typing it into the bar that appears.
  4. Write your post, adding photos or videos.
  5. Tag the brand in your post (optional).

You’ll also need to include an FTC disclosure and any other wording the brand requires. I’ll discuss the FTC disclosure below.

Once you’ve posted, the brand will get a notification through their Facebook Page that you have posted branded content. That’s all you have to do!

When Does the Branded Content Policy Apply to Bloggers?

You’re probably thinking, “Okay, all this is great but what the heck am I supposed to do? I’m a blogger!“. I got you covered. I’ll go through common situations bloggers face that may require the Branded Content Tool as well as how to use the tool for that specific content type.

Facebook Branded Content Tool and Sponsored Posts

In this next section, I’ll answer some common questions that have come up in Facebook Groups and from my clients about using the Branded Content Tool.

Do I still need to add FTC disclosures if I am using the Branded Content Tool?

Yes, you still need to add FTC disclosure when you using the Branded Content Tool. The Branded Content Tool is for Facebook compliance. The FTC disclosures are for compliance with US Federal Law. Think of them as separate things completely that must be used together on Facebook.

  • If your post needs and FTC disclosure, it should be posted with the Branded Content Tool.
  • If you use the Branded Content Tool, you probably need to use the FTC disclosure because you need to disclose your relationship with the company you’re posting about.

FTC compliant disclosure on sponsored post on Facebook

In the post above (screenshot), I circled in red the portions that I included for FTC compliance. Using #AD or [AD] makes it obvious that this post is sponsored. And in the video, I include a bar across the bottom that disclosures who the sponsor is and that this is sponsored content.

FTC disclosures are a whole post unto themselves. But I wanted to call them out there because they are still needed, even when you use the Facebook Branded Content (handshake) tool. You can’t skip that step.

Learn more about FTC disclosure here.

Who do I tag if the company who pays me is different from the company that makes the product?

Ask your contact from the sponsor who they want you to tag. Sometimes a brand has hired a PR firm but they want you to tag the brand. Sometimes the PR firm wants to be tagged so they can manage ads for the post on behalf of the brand. Always tag the Facebook Page your contact tells you to tag.

Do I need to use the Branded Content Tool every time I repost or post this content after the campaign is over?

It’s not clear whether you need to use the Branded Content Tool every time you share the post outside of the original agreement. Let’s say you’re contracted for one Facebook post but next month you want to amplify that blog post again. You don’t have permission from the brand to tag them for the post next month. In that case, you cannot use the Branded Content Tool. However, the content is still considered sponsored. If you put the FTC disclosure on the post, it will surely be flagged by Facebook for violating the Branded Content Policy.

Facebook branded content policy screenshot - section 5

Here’s what you can do:

  • Share the original post (marked “Paid” with the Branded Content Tool)
  • The post will have all the tagging intact but will be a new post to your Page

Personally, I don’t use the Branded Content Tool for future promotions of the same post.

I tried tagging the brand on my post and I got an error message. Can I post without the tool?

Nope. Brands have control over who can tag their Pages on Facebook with the Branded Content Tool. Some brands have chosen to only allow posts from pre-approved Pages. You might be getting an error message when you try to post if the brand did not add you to their approved list.

If that has happened, email the brand and ask them to add you to the list. You might be on a deadline to post on a certain day or time; include a screenshot with the error message so the brand knows that you were holding up your end of the bargain. The screenshot can also help them explain the situation to the page admin; typically the person working with you on a blogging campaign is not the same person as the Facebook Page admin. Save the post as a draft. You’ll be able to access it from the Publishing Tools tab on your Facebook Page. Wait for them to notify you that you have been approved to post.

How to notify a sponsor about errors with the Branded Content Tool:

  1. Screenshot the error message showing that you tried to post at the approved date and time.
  2. Email this message to the campaign administrator, asking them to add you to the approved list for that sponsor’s Facebook Page.
  3. Ask them to notify you when you have been added so you can them publish your post.
  4. Save the post as a draft until you get approval so you don’t lose your work.

Sometimes Facebook hits a glitch and won’t allow you to tag a sponsor’s Page. Again, notify the sponsor and keep checking back to see if Facebook has fixed the problem.

Do not post the content without the Branded Content Tool.

What happens if you post sponsored content without the Branded Content Tool?

I don’t recommend posting sponsored content without the Branded Content Tool. However, in some situations you might be tempted to do it.

Here’s what can happen if you choose to ignore the rules:

  • Facebook will pick up that the post is sponsored. Your post will be removed. Not only do you lose your post, you lose all the stats, shares, and momentum. It’s as if the post never existed.
  • The brand doesn’t have access to the post for analytics or ad purposes.
  • The brand won’t know you posted; they get notified when someone tags them with the Branded Content Tool.

Don’t ignore the Branded Content Policy.

How does Facebook know if your post is Branded Content or not?

Let’s say you don’t use the Branded Content Tool. If you are using #ad or another FTC compliant wording to indicate that you post is sponsored, Facebook can pick up on that. When Facebook’s algorithm picks up that your post is sponsored and you did not use your tool, the system may automatically remove your post. You’ll get a notice that it has been removed but the post will be gone. You can submit an appeal to have it manually reviewed but I have never had a post reinstated that was removed … just don’t risk it!

Your blog post should also have an FTC compliant disclosure on it. It’s not clear whether Facebook is looking at the content the link leads to or not.

Facebook Branded Content Tool and Syndicated Content

As on January 2018, syndicated content is no longer allowed on Facebook (see section 6 of the Branded Content Guidelines).

Facebook branded content policy screenshot - section 6

What is syndicated content?

Syndicated content is when you create content and give other people permission to post it on their site. In relation to Facebook and social media, syndicated content is when someone pays you to post their content on your social media account. For example, the site The Little Things would pay other large Facebook Pages to share and post their content.

How does syndicated content work?

Content syndication starts when a website has a piece of content they want you to share on your Facebook Page (or social media or your own site). They agree to either pay you a fee for posting that content or, more commonly, they agree to pay you a rate based on the traffic you send to their site from that piece of content. Usually this rate is a fraction of the ad revenue that the traffic you send generates.

For example, let’s say that a home decor site wants you to send traffic to a post about fireplaces. They would create a graphic, text, and a unique tracking link for the content. You’d post that content to your Facebook Page. People on your Facebook Page start visiting the link and sharing your post. More people visit the link from the shares of the post. The home decor site and you have agreed that for every 1000 people you send to their site, you make $2. Typically, they are probably making $10 to $20 from ads for every 1000 visitors to their site. As you send them more traffic, they make more money. And so do you.

Many bloggers and Facebook Page owners (admins) saw syndicated content as a huge opportunity to give them more content to share to their Pages and as another revenue stream for their business.

Why syndicate content?

Syndicating content is one way to game the system by artificially making a post go viral because sharing from large accounts can cause the content to get in front of a lot of people at once, which can increase engagement on the post, which causes Facebook to show it to more people and keeps the snowball rolling. Syndicating content became a popular way to promote content on Facebook and became a lucrative way for Facebook Pages with large followings to make money from their following. But now content syndication, as it was , is not allowed …

Why syndicated content is not allowed on Facebook?

Facebook changed their Branded Content Guidelines to include the stipulation that all content must be created by you or feature you in their January 2018 update to the Branded Content Guidelines.  Facebook explains that this policy is meant to help Pages and brands have more success in their partnerships, which they believe is best when the content is created by the influencer.

What happened to syndicated content when Facebook changed their Branded Content Policy?

When Facebook changed their Branded Content Guidelines to include the stipulation that all content must be created by you or feature you, large Pages like Little Things, who depended on syndication to spread their content, started to struggle. Owners of sites that syndicated content scrambled to alert their publishers (Pages who were paid to repost their content) were informed. These Pages also took a hit to their bottom line as content syndication could bring in thousands of dollars in revenue a month.

Less than month after Facebook made this change in January 2018, Little Things announced they were closing. Let this serve as a warning to never build your business so deeply on one platform that if it makes a change, you business would collapse after 30 days.

How do you know if syndicated content is okay to post?

You CAN post syndicated content as long as the following is true:

  • You’ve created the content
  • You helped create the content or were involved in it’s creation
  • You’re featured in the content

What does that mean?! 

Since syndicated content is largely disallowed because you probably didn’t create, we’ll discuss section 6 in relation to affiliate links.

Facebook Branded Content Tool and Affiliate Links

There’s been a lot of confusion about Facebook’s Branded Content Policy when it comes to affiliate links. Early in 2018, Facebook issued another section in the Branded Content Policy that many believe applies to affiliate links and content.

Facebook branded content policy screenshot - section 6

Typically for affiliate links, a blogger might feature content the seller has created and then add their own affiliate link. This practice would be in violation of section 6 of Facebook’s Branded Content Policy.

Conflicting messages from Facebook, the FTC, and Affiliate Programs

Affiliate programs like Amazon’ Associates have said that they do not allow their affiliates to tag them on Facebook. If you can’t tag the brand, you can’t use the Branded Content Tool.

For FTC compliance, you need to indicate to followers that the link is an affiliate link. You need to indicate to the user what happens when they click the link. They need to understand that when they click and purchase, you may make a commission from that transaction. To do this, many people use the word “affiliate” in their post. Facebook knows this and bascially any post with the word “affiliate” in it will be tagged for violation of the Branded Content Policy, in my experience.

The FTC has since said that using the word “affiliate” is not clear to the consumer so other wording is recommended. So now what?

Holly Homer has called this new policy “vague”. She calls attention to Facebooks’ history of making vague guidelines and then enforcing them unequally. Some Pages post affiliate links featuring content they did not create, with no repercussions. And other Facebook Pages are completely deleted for one offense.

How can you share affiliate links on Facebook?

These practices seem to be working right now:

  • Use wording that let’s people know what happens when they click your affiliate link, avoiding using the word “affiliate”. Some people use “referral”.
  • Create your own content with the product you’re featuring.  Don’t just use the images or videos the brand provides unless you were involved in the creation of that content.

I’m not a lawyer. I recommend consulting with a lawyer and the FTC if you have more questions about your affiliate amrketing strategy’s compliance on Facebook.

How are you staying compliant with Facebook’s Branded Content Policy? Share in the comments!

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About the Author Jennifer Priest

A craft industry professional for over 14 years, Jennifer Priest has been featured in major publications and online by the likes of Apartment Therapy and MSNBC. Jennifer's digital marketing consulting firm, Smart Creative Social, has a prestigious client list in the craft and hobby industry, connecting influencers with brands, developing digital marketing strategy, and guiding clients in creating a solid social media strategy for their brand.

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3 comments
Emma McDonagh says July 23, 2018

Hi there, I have recently just started using amazon affiliate links. I linked a product a few days ago on Facebook called olaplex (I wasn’t sponsored to do it) I was just writing about how I’d had it recommended to me a few times. But I’m confused about this branded policy stuff, do I need to tag the brand (Olaplex) in the post somehow? I’ve complied in all other ways for the use of affiliate links on website and fb (I think) to ..disclosure, cookie policy, privacy policy etc. Have you any advice please?

Reply
    Jennifer Priest says July 31, 2018

    Tag the brand if:

    1. They gave you money and/or product, or
    2. You stand to gain money or product by talking about them (affiliate links)

    If you share your affiliate link from Amazon, the “brand” is Amazon, not Olaplex.

    You also need permission from the brand to use the branded content tool. If you don’t have their permission, you can’t use it. Amazon doesn’t allow affiliates to tag them.

    So now what? Don’t use the branded content tool for affiliate links. You do need to make sure you:
    1. Disclose that it is an affiliate link – explain what happens when people click the link – this is for FTC compliance. Don’t use the word “affiliate” because FB will flag it. I use “referral”.
    2. Use content you made or that features you – so don’t grab a photo off Amazon. Use your own imagery.

    Then you should be good to go in this case 🙂

    If you bought the product on your own and are talking about it on your own, with nothing to gain, you don’t need to tag the brand.

    Reply
Emmanuel says November 29, 2018

Thanks for your post, this branded content is very confusing and difficult.
Heres is my problem
I Retail Branded Perfumes i ordered from wholesale company in New Jersey
Now i cannot boost or run ads on this product cus facebook said they dont run ads for my content or its prohibited.
How do i use branded content to run sponsored ads on facebook when the product didnt actualy come to me from Dior, Ysl, Prada or Chanel.
Kindly help

Reply
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