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Australian Brands Hit with Ruling on Facebook “Comment Advertising”

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The Australian Advertising Standards Board ruled this week that Facebook brand pages (or fan pages) were advertisements, making brands directly accountable for any content on their pages, user comments include. This after the advertising watchdog received complaints lodged against Foster’s Group-owned Victoria Bitter (VB) page on Facebook, which complainants said contained discriminatory user comments against women and homosexuals.

Not surprisingly, Foster’s Group has expressed strong opposition to the decision, saying the court’s ruling is commercially unrealistic. However, the implications of this decision for all businesses and brands using social media are significant.

Foster’s argued that the best way for brands to contain inappropriate comments on Facebook pages was to take their presence out of the site completely (which the company notes is impractical given the marketing value of Facebook) or review each and every user comment before it goes ‘live’ on the page.

The latter option, Foster’s said, flies in the face of the essence of social media, potentially resulting in mass disengagement with the audience. Foster’s also points out that more stringent monitoring of user comments would call for constant moderation by staff 24/7 throughout the entire year.

However, you could also argue that any brand using social media needs to accept the good with the bad and the whole responsibility that goes with it.

The beer group isn’t alone in the matter, as alcoholic beverage company Diageo is also dealing with a similar ruling against its Smirnoff page after complaints relating to similar issues of sexist remarks, irresponsible consumption of alcohol, and obscene language.

Rebuttals of these concerned companies aside, one would be hard-pressed to refute the ASB’s ruling. The ASB states that since it considers a brand’s Facebook page a marketing and communication tool that page administrators have a significant level of control over, it stands to reason that content, whether comments, photos, and videos, generated by both the advertiser and user, can be regulated, making brands responsible for whatever’s on their pages.

For instance, Facebook has “Manage Permissions” section in its admin controls, allowing page owners to block specific terms and block profanity. Likewise, administrators can implement age restrictions in this section to block minors from accessing their page.

The above may be more ammunition for the social media corporate “nay-sayers” to cry “I told you so” but you can’t stop the conversation now, its happening and brands need to be there. However Enform recommends companies and brands engaging in social media need a strategy, training and set of rules to guide them on how best to maximise the potential benefits while managing the risks.