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The rules of social engagement

06 June 2013

Online advertising is increasingly becoming the shift of focus for how companies reach their audiences – it represented 28% of our workload in 2012, and according to a recent report by the Internet Advertising Bureau now accounts for nearly 32% of total ad spend.

There are many reasons why advertisers are spending more of their budget online: tighter ad targeting, cost savings and immediacy of engagement; transferring a potential consumer into an actual consumer there and then.

While these are great benefits, it’s just as important for an advertiser to apply the same diligence online as they would when preparing their ads offline. That means ensuring that your ads are in line with the Advertising Codes, and that really doesn’t have to be a challenge – we’ll explain why.

For those that don’t know, we extended our remit in March 2011 to cover advertising on companies’ own websites and in other third party space they control, like social networks Facebook and Twitter. Easing that transition was the fact that the same rules that apply to ads in traditional media, also apply to marketing that appears on advertisers’ own websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and apps.

Here are some key tips in a social context, to help you get your ads right first time. Which in will turn will help you garner consumer trust, and protect your brand’s reputation.

Make sure user generated content is appropriate, if it’s part of your advertising

If you’re incorporating user generated content into your advertising, then make sure it’s responsible, and not misleading, harmful or offensive. You should also make sure it’s accurate, and you’ve got evidence to prove it is.

This also means that if you’re positively inviting a conversation, for example through a promotional question ‘How have you used [our product / service] today?’, then we’d expect you to monitor the user generated responses (on pages under your control), because those responses become part of your advertising.

This is so you can ensure that the content being added (that includes text, images and videos) by yourself, or your followers, is appropriate for the audience, and does not breach any of the advertising rules.

Example Hi Spirits Facebook-1 May 2013

Make clear that it’s an ad

Make it clear when you’re advertising. Essentially, that means making it easy for the average consumer to be able to judge whether or not they are seeing an ad. If you’re getting a celebrity to endorse your brand, then they too have to adhere to this rule.

On Twitter we’ve suggested that advertisers use #spon or #ad to make it obvious.

Example Nike Twitter – 20 June 2012

Advice Online: Social Media

Target your audience appropriately

Making sure you direct your ad appropriately online is important, particularly as the rules place an emphasis on protecting children.

This applies to all media – and in any form including images, video, and text. In fact, problematic images alone can be reason for ASA intervention, so make sure that you think about whether the content visible in that image is appropriate for where it is displayed, and who it can be seen by.

A good example of this was a ruling we made against Maxxium UK on their blog page.

Take care with competitions

Make sure you administer competitions online with the same precautions that you would offline.

That means administering the competition fairly – and includes, making sure you collect personal information so you can contact the winners; the Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) are available upfront; you’ve explained how to participate; and what the closing date is.

We’ve got AdviceOnline to help you: Sales Promotions: GeneralSales Promotions: T&Cs

Read our rulings & guidance

ASA rulings must be followed by all advertisers, not just the company in the original case. Our rulings give clear guidance on how the rules are interpreted. As well as this we have a wealth of guidance notes on a range of specific topics to help you get it right.

Search our rulings 

Access our free Help Notes or AdviceOnline database where you can search for over 400 topics.

We appreciate that online and social media offer great opportunities to reach an audience, and with the information they want to see and hear. While navigating that territory can be exciting, and offer dynamism to your marketing strategies, it’s still important that you approach this space with the same precaution you would putting an ad on TV or in print. And that’s important for you, and your audience.

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