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How do I know if social media posts are sponsored?

Two teens looking at their phones

Social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat offer children entertainment, education, information, social interaction, and simple enjoyment. They allow children to interact with their friends, watch videos, and search for information. The abundance of social media content offers something for children of any age, at any time - and mostly, it’s free.

A substantial part of ‘free’ content on social media is sponsored by brands in order to reach and persuade people - including children - to buy things. In contrast to more traditional forms of advertising such as television commercials and posters, sponsored social media messages can be difficult to recognise as advertising because the brand is often embedded in non-commercial content. 

YouTubers might unpack branded products, for instance, or demonstrate makeup, gadgets or games, without explicitly stating ‘buy this product’. Instagrammers show what and where they eat or what they wear, and people naturally want to do the same. All these types of content can be paid for by brands, and in many cases, the influencers are only doing it because they’ve been paid.

This advertising allows content-creators to finance their activities. Sponsorship deals are part of the revenue model of YouTubers, Instagrammers and other social media influencers: with the money from brands, they can create new videos, buy better cameras, or hire staff.

Why is it important to spot sponsored content on social media?

It can be very challenging to recognise when social media content is sponsored. Only when people can tell the difference between sponsored and unsponsored content can they see the content for what it is, and evaluate it critically. Recognising that a sponsored social media message is actually advertising enables people to think about whether the information that is given is true, unbiased, or overly positive because it was paid for. If children and parents cannot see through the commercial nature of sponsored social media content, they may be misled and encouraged to believe things that are not true.

How to recognise and deal with sponsored social media message

Many people find it difficult to spot sponsored social media messages. Here are some tips to help guard ourselves from their persuasive appeal, so we can make informed choices about what we purchase:

  • If you see #ad, #sponsored, or #paid within a post on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, or if a YouTuber says “I created this video in cooperation with…”, it means that the content creator has been paid by a company to advertise a product or service.
  • Remember that the making and sharing of videos, photos, and other posts is a paid job for many social media influencers. Sponsored posts allow the influencers to make a living, which may allow them to make other interesting or funny content for which they do not get paid.
  • If you are a fan of a social-media celebrity, you may want to look like that person and buy the brands and products that he or she has. Advise your child to think carefully about whether they really like a particular product or whether they want it mainly because the Youtuber or Instagrammer has it - and remember, that may be only because they were paid to have it!

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