Earlier this week, the Advertising Standards Bureau ruled that company Facebook pages are a form of advertising, making any user generated comment the responsibility of the brand.
For any staff in charge of a brand’s social media channels, particularly those responsible for moderating Facebook pages, the job just got that much harder.
That’s because the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has decided to consider Facebook pages a form of advertising and therefore any content posted by the public, whether positive or negative, are a form of brand promotion. If this content doesn’t meet advertising standards, the onus lies with the company to moderate it in a timely fashion, or suffer the consequences.
“The Board considered that the Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control and could be considered to draw the attention of a segment of the public to a product in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly that product,” said the ASB.
“The Board determined that the provisions of the Code apply to an advertiser’s Facebook page.”
The decision follows a complaint made regarding the Smirnoff Facebook page, managed by the alcohol brand Profera and Diageo.
The page was alleged to have content posted by fans of the brand that was vulgar, obscene and promoted excessive drinking. This included photos of people posing with drinks and material that connected alcohol consumption with sexual/social prowess.
While the brand behind the page professed innocence, pointing out the users as the culprits, the ASB ruled against. In doing so, the ASB has piled all responsibility for Facebook pages and any related content squarely on the shoulders of advertisers.
This case represents a major change in the way brands approach their social media presence and may cause some to even reconsider having a Facebook page.
“Moderating Facebook pages is like trying to moderate the internet,” says Lucas McEntee, Managing Director of pureplay electronics retailer OHKI. “Good, bad or ugly comments from the public are exactly that, and as long as it’s not a company employee making statements, how are we supposed to start vetting what people say?”
The issue that many brands will have with the ruling, particularly those that aren’t large enough to afford dedicated social media resources, is the specific decision that advertisers have “a reasonable degree of control” over their brand pages.
A reasonable degree of control? For plenty of businesses, the only real control they have over their Facebook pages is whether or not they have one at all. This decision leaves brands completely vulnerable to any competitor, activist or anyone with a motivation to spam its Facebook page with material that doesn’t meet advertising standards with the eventual result being a sticky legal mess – all at the cost of the brand.
“Some companies will start removing anything negative,” says McEntee, “then consumers will lose faith in the whole thing.”
On the other hand, larger ventures that can afford to invest in social media resources might not see the ASB’s decision as much of a problem.
“At The Iconic, our social media team already screens each comment soon after it is made,” says Finn Age Haensel, Managing Director at The Iconic. “The only problem is that now we will have to provide the team with more training to ensure that they are aware of these changes.”
For those less well-resourced companies, the situation will boil down to a decision between taking their Facebook page down now, or waiting with baited breath until an eventual complaint arises before having it taken down anyway.
Facebook is yet to make comment on the issue.