Legal challenges with social media

From website communications to Facebook pages, from Twitter competitions to blogger outreach – the number of communication channels for online marketers has expanded quickly over the years….meaning the lines may sometimes become blurry when it comes to knowing what can and cannot be legally said in social media communications.

From website communications to Facebook pages, from Twitter competitions to blogger outreach - the number of communication channels for online marketers has expanded quickly over the years….meaning the lines may sometimes become blurry when it comes to knowing what can and cannot be legally said in social media communications.

It's important to note that as brands are increasingly using their own websites and social media channels to target customers, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has extended the digital remit of the CAP code of practice to maximise consumer protection online.

The new remit ensures that traditional advertising standards are upheld within communications on company websites, and other non-paid for space such as corporate blogs and social networking profiles like Facebook and Twitter. Therefore, all advertising messages must comply with the CAP code, ensuring they are legal, decent, honest and truthful.

Comply with the code: user generated content and blogger outreach

Many marketers are now seeing the merits of incorporating user generated content into online marketing campaigns - but companies must be careful to ensure that content produced by private individuals comply with the CAP code of practise. Such content falls into CAP's remit if it is incorporated into an organisation's own marketing communications, or if it is shared onto a non- paid for online space under an organisations control such as a company blog or Facebook or Twitter. For example, in the US a Quiznos competition which asked customers to create and upload an advertisement to promote their store saw many customers comparing Quiznos to Subway. Subway complained that these advertisements made false claims about their brand, meaning that if it were to run in the UK, this campaign would fall in breach of the CAP code for false advertising - despite the fact that the company did not make the claims directly.

Furthermore, as of the end of last year, The Office of Fair Trading made it compulsory to clearly identify when promotional comments have been paid for on websites, blogs and microblogs such as Twitter, so that customers are not misled. The industry standard at the moment is for bloggers/social media publishers to label sponsored copy as *sponsored post when uploading promotional copy on their own social media presence…which is why we advise all bloggers recruited to work with Equator clients to clearly state that their copy is sponsored at the beginning or end of their work.

And what are the consequences of breaching the code?

Any companies found in breach of the updates outlined in the CAP code are subject to investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and may be asked to amend or withdraw offending communications. Sanctions are applicable to those who continue to breach the code upon these recommendations - which just goes to show why it's so important for social media marketers to keep the code in mind…