Just when you thought you had social branding and social media figured out, Australia’s Ad Board throws a very interesting curve ball that can have far reaching implications if other countries decide to adopt it.
It ruled that Fan Comments on Brand Pages on Facebook constitutes ads and are therefore held to the same standards as other ads. The catch? It’s the Brand’s responsibility to monitor these comments as they are considered their ads. And it’s not just offensive content, it can also be considered false advertising. And although the article refers only to Facebook, I’m pretty sure where applicable this ruling will extend to all social media platforms (blogs, Twitter accounts, Pinterest) where customers can be part of a Brand’s page and comment.
Let’s say someone left a comment saying that Taco Bell’s beefy 5-layer burrito is the most healthy fast food item out there, and that he lost weight and stayed in shape by eating six a day – Taco Bell would be responsible for removing the comment because it is false advertising.
Interesting twist right? So for every brand that’s currently using social media in Australia, they now need to hire a monitor. Although it may not seem like it this is both good and bad news.
The good news? Well, if companies are really serious about their social branding efforts, they will have to hire staff to ensure no Fan is engaging in offensive or false behavior. Aside form the obvious – job creation – it will also force companies to be more engaged in their social branding as they now have to truly engage in a conversation with consumers. As they have to pay attention to everything that is said to avoid fines, this in a round about way, pushes them into the two way conversation and interactivity social media is about. That is truly the silver lining here. Although currently this only applies to Australia, I can see this spreading. This is also great news for institutions who have invested in creating social branding curriculum – for a greater demand there has to be a greater supply (at both ends students and faculty).
The bad news? Companies will need to monitor their social branding efforts. As this will require a higher investment I fear some businesses who took advantage of the low cost of social branding efforts will decide to leave the conversation as they may not be able to a) afford to hire staff and/or b) afford to receive a fine. This will hurt mostly small business and mom and pop shops. However, as they usually tend to have fiercely loyal Fans, establishing rules of behavior and appealing to their customers may be all that is needed for these smaller businesses to remain in the social branding arena.
Speaking in plain marketing terms, what’s been called eWOM for so long has just been validated as what word of mouth has always been – free advertising. The only change now is that advertising rules apply.
I’m hopeful that at least in Australia (and wherever else this decision expands to), businesses decide to continue their efforts and finally engage the customers rather than letting them talk amongst themselves.