New ASA Social Media remit advice at SMWF Europe

The Advertising Standards Authority’s remit was extended on 1 March to cover marketing material that UK businesses publish on their own websites, and also through their social media web presence.

The ASA has long held jurisdiction over paid-for online advertising, but this new extension means that social media marketers now need to ensure they can back up any claims they make on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks.

However, the remit extension also covers user generated content and how marketers use material posted by their customers. “It’s not our intention by any means to close that down or to hold marketers responsible for everything that appears there,” clarifies Malcolm Phillips, code policy manager at the ASA. “We respect the fact that spaces like a Facebook page are an area for consumers to interact with brands.

“It’s more when marketers start to take more responsibility for that material and start to interact more with consumers and actively shape that material, that we begin to get interested.”

What this boils down to is that if a customer posts something about your brand on Twitter, for example, you’re not liable for what they say. However, if you retweet them, their claim becomes your claim, and you’d better be able to back up what they say.

“It could be a fine line in some circumstances, but I think it will mostly be obvious,” adds Malcolm. “We’ve spoken to the industry over the past six months and given examples of how it works, and people have seen it as a fairly common sense extension of the remit.”

While the ASA relies mainly on the awareness of marketing practitioners and self regulation to avoid breaches, the CAP Code includes a number of sanctions that it can level against businesses in breach of the code.

The Authority can ask for marketing materials that are in breach to be taken down or changed, and other sanctions include a name and shame policy on the ASA website, removal of paid-for search advertising and ASA paid-for search advertisements to spotlight an advertiser’s continued non-compliance.

However more serious and persistent breaches can also be referred to the Office of Fair Trading, and nobody wants that.

Malcolm Phillips will be appearing at the Social Media World Forum Europe 2011, on 29-30 March in London, to take part on a Social Media Advertising panel and discuss the new ASA remit in the free-to-attend Social Media Hub.

“I want to get out at Social Media World Forum and talk to social media practitioners about how they think this is going to affect them,” he says. “I want to kick start a good, lively constructive debate with people in the industry about the work we’re doing. We’re not here to be some kind of scary presence for social media practitioners, but a cooperative partner.”

For more information about Social Media World Forum, see the event website.