Consumer Watch: How to spot secret commercials online

Your favorite social media darling could be selling you something with their posts, without you even realizing it (KOKH). 

Social media can make us feel closer than ever to our favorite public figure, but what you are seeing may not be exactly what it seems especially when it comes to product recommendations.

When you really like a product, you may have told family and friends about it. Word of mouth can be a powerful thing, consumer specialists know this, and that's why many social media influencers-- are actually product advertisers.

The explosion of social media use has made it popular to be popular, and that social media popularity could be a money maker for both businesses and influencers.

“If you have a large following then you can make money because they will pay you to subtlety endorse their product,” says Patrick Allmond, a social media expert.

The key there, is a subtle endorsement. If your favorite Instagram star is going on and on about a product, check to see if it's a commercial. Best practices now include a hashtag that says something like “#sponsored” to clue people in, and it's not just about ethics, it's the law.

“People have broken the law, and not disclosed relationships, and the FTC actually has guidelines now as to what you can and cannot do,” says Allmond.

It's not that there is anything wrong with being tapped as a spokesperson for a product. The Federal Trade Commission laws protect consumers by letting them know, they are basically looking at a commercial.

Other than checking the hashtags, there are other clues a post might be about selling you a product. Check to see if the influencer describes something as a partnership or says a company approached them. This usually means the influencer is being payed or getting a free product as a part of the partnership.

This year the Federal Trade Commission reached out to 90 social media influencers to remind them of guidelines when it comes to advertising online. If you believe someone is breaking these guidelines, you can file a complaint here.

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