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Published 20 September 2012 03:33, Updated 20 September 2012 07:09
Social media just got that bit more complicated with a recent decision that companies are accountable for user-generated comments on their pages.
Foster’s Group found this out recently when the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) rules that Foster’s had breached the advertising code because comments made by “fans” on the VB Facebook page breached the advertising code.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission then signalled it would take a similar approach, holding companies responsible for user-generated comments that make misleading claims about a product or service.
The two rulings triggered widespread alarm about how closely brands need to monitor social media. The ASB decision found user comments on the VB Facebook page were derogatory to homosexuals and breached decency standards with coarse language and explicit references to sex.
Fosters had argued the “light-hearted” comments from members of the public were akin to conversations in a pub and did not count as advertising.
However, the board rejected that argument saying the Facebook page was intended to promote the company’s product and it was a “marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control”.
A further consideration was the fact the user comments identified in the complaint were posted in reply to questions posed by the advertiser.
The director of regulatory affairs at the Internet Advertising Bureau, Samantha Yorke, says the ASB made a “fairly big leap of faith and judgment” and strict adherence would create an onerous burden on business.
However, she adds that people should understand that the advertising code is voluntary and the ASB ruling has “no basis in law”, so brands should not be put off social media as a result. “But you still need to do a risk analysis . . . and think about pros and cons of choosing to allow user comments,” she says.
An ASB spokesman told BRW the board would take a reasonable approach and did not expect 24/7 monitoring.
For example, if someone left a comment on a Saturday morning, it would be reasonable for the company to look at it on the next business day. He adds that any complaint would be dismissed if the company moderated the content before the board considered the case.
The social media manager at communications agency TCO, Matt Chisholm, says if brands are responsible for user comments then Facebook should be, too. He warns that deleting posts can cause a backlash from the community.
“Posts should be allowed to be left up and dealt with so as to not anger the community, which then negatively affects the brands,” Chisholm says. “Brands are now finding themselves between a rock and a hard place as the general population will not understand the reasons for posts being removed.”
The managing director of communications agency We Are Social, Julian Ward, says the ASB decision has “logistical flaws” but is aimed at encouraging responsible communication. “Social [media] should not be a free-for-all,” he says. “Putting the rulings aside for the moment, as a brand you need to have a comprehensive social strategy in action. It’s not about 24/7 monitoring, but there needs to be regular content monitoring and an engagement strategy. This is your space and it needs to reflect your brand and contribute towards the overall equity you have built, not take away from it. Why on earth would you risk not doing this properly?”
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