A number of British news outlets have recently run articles explaining how legal regulations are beginning to change the face of social media marketing. Those articles specifically addressed a decision by the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency, which in turn stemmed from a campaign on Instagram which took aim at deceptive practices in the marketing of beauty products.
The ASA’s judgment makes it unlawful to use filters in sponsored Instagram posts if they appear to be making claims about how products may affect a user’s appearance. The decision has been a long time in coming, since the #filterdrop campaign began last July and was clearly a response to pre-existing controversies. Any social media marketing company that has been monitoring developments in the industry should have already made the requisite adjustments or put themselves in a position to do so.
One might even argue that the new rule won’t be especially relevant to social media marketing professionals who were operating ethically in the first place. But there are shades of grey in terms of what is and isn’t deceptive. So for some companies that have used filters in the past, this news is just a sign that they will have to be more careful about representing themselves accurately. And for those same companies’ social media marketing teams, it may also be a reminder that they need to pay attention to ongoing developments and develop a plan for remaining successful in a more tightly regulated social media marketing landscape.
It’s not as if the newfound regulations have come out of the blue. More than two years ago, the ASA announced that examples of influencer marketing would have to be expressly identified as paid content. This effectively brought an end to the era of surreptitious product placement on social media timelines belonging to individuals with a large, established following. At least, it did so in the United Kingdom, but for the time being this type of social media marketing remains a viable option in other markets.
These kinds of geographic differences are sure to proliferate as more and more tactics of social media marketing are subjected to scrutiny, leading to more and more decisions from regulatory agencies. Invariably, those judgements will sometimes be at odds with each other, as will the resulting enforcement. This means that navigating the legal constraints of a global marketplace will become more and more challenging, and less and less accessible to amateurs and in-house marketing teams.
Social media marketing companies should have a much better grasp than their clients on the ways in which the online landscape is evolving, both inside specific regions and across various markets. Legal complexities represent only a portion of that evolution. They are especially important because failure to understand them can result in financial penalties, but even if a company’s social media content only violates terms of service, the resulting take-downs of that content can be costly in their own right.
It’s perilous to underestimate the potential consequences of pouring financial or human resources into a social media marketing campaign only to find that those resources end up wasted when the platform ends up withholding that campaign from its intended audience. It’s also perilous to discount the possibility of take-downs or account bans being executed in error. Even if that error is rectified in the long run, a company could suffer financial losses for every day that the campaign remains hidden.
In addition to helping clients avoid legal problems and TOS violations in the first place, a professional social media marketing team should be better positioned to fight back against misplaced enforcement. Clients may understand those topics well enough to only sign off on appropriate campaigns, but they might still not be able to cite chapter and verse in order to prove that platforms or regulatory bodies have made mistakes.
The necessary depth of knowledge will naturally become more and more difficult to acquire, especially on short notice, as more judgements come down from bodies like the ASA in response to campaigns like #filterdrop. At the same time, as one learns to navigate an evolving social media landscape, one ends up with less time to make strategic decisions regarding the campaigns they plan to run on the relevant platforms. This is significant because some of the specific changes, including the ASA’s no filter rule, can dramatically alter the calculations of cost and benefit for certain strategies.
As mentioned above, the growing body of rules means that clandestine social media marketing is practically a thing of the past in the UK. For many entrepreneurs and site owners, this raises questions about the value of influencer marketing in general. If influencer marketing has to be identified as such, does it make sense to continue paying influencers to feature a product on their own accounts, when you could spend a comparable sum of money on real Facebook and Instagram advertisements and trust the algorithm to place them before the eyes of the right users?
The answer to that question isn’t straightforward, and it may require advanced discussions between a social media marketing company and its clients. It’s also fair to say that by the time that question is resolved, other developments will emerge which complicate the matter even further. These include not just laws and regulations, but also future changes to advertising practices and algorithms, which will further influence the comparative effectiveness of different strategies.
If keeping up with those changes isn’t a part of your full time job, then it will be very easy to fall behind. If you’re not a social media marketing professional, you might think you understand the topic well enough, but you might also be amazed by how quickly your knowledge goes out of date. If that happens and you don’t notice it, there are a lot of things that could go wrong. Legal troubles are certainly something to worry about, but so is the gradual loss of market share that comes with putting all of your time and energy into social media marketing campaigns that just don’t work as well as they used to.