As new online regulations came into place in the UK on Tuesday, businesses will have to scrutinise their content marketing online much more closely from now on.
Having been passed back in September last year the implications of the widening scope of the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) should come as no surprise to many, but how will this impact the daily activities of most businesses?
According to the ASA the new CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) code covers:
“Advertisements and other marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.”
Having previously only covered paid for online advertising (such as banner ads or pop ups) the ASA’s reach now extends to any content under control by an organisation within the UK. Essentially, this now includes areas such as a company’s website, their Twitter feed, Facebook, blogs etc.
This has primarily come about due to the growing number of complaints received by the ASA over fraudulent or misleading copy by some organisations online. For example, in the two years between 2008-09 the ASA rejected more than half of the 3,500 complaints relating to online promotion because this fell outside their remit.
So, what are the main areas of concern? To put it broadly, all online communication activities now fall under ASA watch but online public relations activities are excluded.
Search Engine Marketing
Natural search results are excluded from the CAP Code as these are not 100% under an organisations control (search engines can sometimes pull data and snippets to be displayed in results from 3rd parties). However, as was the case previously, paid advertising IS included.
Any copy found within an organisations website or social media channels is now under scrutiny and can be up for examination should the ASA receive any complaint. Any content on a website must be “legal, decent and honest” and any claims must be qualified (more on this later).
Why is PR excluded as a channel of communication? Simply because a PR is labelled as such and is intended primarily for bloggers and journalists. Personally, I think this seems like a gaping hole in the system just waiting to be exposed by copywriters who will simply re-structure and re-label misleading and dishonest copy.
This is the big one. Conversations held between customers and organisations ARE NOT covered by the code. However, if any of this material is used proactively as part of a wider marketing communications activity then is DOES fall under the ASA’s control.
This would happen if an organisation used quotes from a customer but misrepresented those quotes to promote their business. For example, unhappy customer Bob* states “Your prices are ridiculous! and the service I received was terrible” is then misrepresented by Scammers Ltd* as part of a communications on their low prices as “Your prices are ridiculous!”.
There are some grey areas that will cause some mild confusion, however, businesses operating online certainly need to understand what is being communicated and by who. If you are responsible for any online communications within your organisation you need to be aware of the new regulations and how they affect you.
Whilst being careful about what is communicated and where these new regulations will actually have a positive effect on many industries where consumers are not getting a fair deal. What this does is streamline social media and other online communications with other offline promotional channels. That added clarity brings an additional level of security to a previously wild landscape.
Whilst, as ever, only time will tell how this impacts and changes the way business approach social media and online communications, it certainly assists those businesses who continue to act in customers best interests and targets those business who are in it for a quick buck (too many of these pop to mind unfortunately!).
* “Bob” & “Scammers Ltd” are purely a work of my own imagination. In no way is this a representation of comments made by a Bob near you.