The Adverting Standards Authority (ASA) siloed approach to regulating social media highlights this regulatory body’s lack of understanding of real-time communication channels.
On 1st September the ASA announced that the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) had empowered it to police ‘marketing communications online, including the rules relating to misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children.’ The statement from the ASA added that, ‘the remit will apply to all sectors and all businesses and organisations regardless of size.’
It all sounded very well, apart from one specific paragraph, which stated, that journalistic and editorial content and material related to causes and ideas - except those that are direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising – were to be excluded from the remit.
And here lie the problem. The guidelines and regulations that the ASA wishes to apply to social media and networking channels appear to have been written from a 20th centaury perspective, where marketing disciplines where siloed - advertising was the big beast, direct marketing was direct marketing and public relations was, well, media relations. There appears to have been little understanding of the fact that social media and networking crosses all these marketing disciplines. In fact, it brings them together and maximises message penetration.
You would have therefore thought that the ASA would have consulted widely before announcing that it was to regulate social media channels. Well, its statement said that the regulations that it would be enforcing were formed as a result of ‘formal recommendations from a wide cross-section of UK industry.’ Very odd thing to say given that the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and it’s Social Media Advisory Board, which I should declare that I sit on, had been omitted from any consultation even though numerous requests were made.
Without a doubt social media has to a certain extent be regulated – best practice needs to promoted. The CIPR is currently reviewing its social media guidelines and has uploaded these to a wiki where people can register and share their thoughts.
Online and social media has changed the way that companies, brands and consumers interact with each other. Transparency has a higher value than ever before, especially in a world where the old ‘broadcast communications model’ is taking a back seat to a ‘conversational’ one where consumers and stakeholders can cross examine business.
The ASA is right, there is a need to regulate. But before doing so there needs to be a clear understanding of what one are trying to regulate, and why. Marketing communications is changing. Six months, the time until 1 March – when the regulations are currently due to come into force, is a long time in social media terms.
Engagement, dialogue and understanding comes through dialogue. So lets start here.