IP, Technology & Data

The Advertising Standards Agency has issued guidance on running promotional activity and customer engagement over social media based on a number of its recent decisions. The guidance emphasises that what businesses do and say on social media is covered by the ASA’s CAP code.

Much of the guidance should not come as a surprise – particularly for anyone that has read our blogs on running competitions and promotions using social media.

The guidance includes recommendations on how to make clear that a promotional tweet or endorsement is sponsored (using a “#spon” or “ad#” hashtag), ensuring that adverts are appropriate for the audience that will see them, and ensuring that the terms and conditions of competitions are clearly stated.

However, the ASA’s views on user-generated content may catch some organisations out.

User-generated content on social media

If you allow or invite user-generated content as part of your social engagement activity then the ASA says that it is your responsibility to ensure that such content is responsible, and not misleading, harmful or offensive. It is also your responsibility to make sure that it is accurate, and that you have evidence to prove it.

The rules apply not just to content that the organisation re-uses (for example, retweeting responses to requests for engagement), but also to material that appears on pages that are under the organisation’s control.

This means organisations need to ensure that they are properly policing and vetting content that appears on their Facebook or LinkedIn page, or any other social media presence that allows third parties to post content to it.

Case study

The ASA’s guidance on user-generated content refers to a recent case involving a drinks company, Hi Spirits, which carried out promotional activity through its Facebook page.

The ASA upheld complaints in relation to the use of Facebook posts using user-generated photos that breached the CAP rules on social responsibility and encouraging excessive drinking.

However, the ASA also upheld complaints regarding a Facebook post that asked followers to share their best “Fireball stories” from the weekend (Fireball was the name of the product involved). Whilst on the face of it the post itself did not encourage excessive drinking, the ASA held that the comments posted by users below the post glorified the idea of drinking to excess. On that basis the ASA held that the advert promoted excessive drinking and was irresponsible and in breach of the Code.

Risk of adverse publicity

Last week, the mobile operator EE seemingly got into a problems in relation to an online competition to win tickets to Glastonbury. Whilst it is not clear what actually happened and whether EE was in breach of the CAP code in relation to this competition, the resulting Twitter campaign to #GiveTerryHisGlastoTickets undoubtedly caused damage to EE’s brand and also allowed a competitor to come in and offer to save the day.

The Hi Spirits ruling shows the importance of ensuring that any organisation operating a presence on social media monitors user-generated posts and comments posted on its pages and that all staff are aware of the CAP Code. If not, then as the EE and other cases have shown, such promotional activity could cause more harm than good to the organisation’s brand.

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