Social media advertisements: keep it ethical

SocialMedia_Ethics

It’s possible to write an entire series of articles discussing the advantages of social media advertisements. Social media is no longer just an optimum platform for sharing breakfast photos, it can also serve as an ideal platform for businesses to promote their product or service to a worldwide audience. For example, it has been estimated that Facebook now has approximately 1.59 billion users worldwide, whereas, Instagram has 288 million average users per month.

While the realm of social media is no longer new, it continues to mature and the laws surrounding it have become increasingly ambiguous. Issues with jurisdictions and state sovereignty have often made it quite difficult for strict enforcement of Australian law over the internet. However, there are still rules to be followed. There are laws in place governing your conduct and advertising practices online.

Current consumer protection laws, codes and regulations apply to, and govern, advertising and business practices taking place over social media. There are certain practices you are prohibited from engaging in, such as misleading or deceptive advertising of your product and/or service. This applies to your business regardless of whether you are advertising on Facebook, television. Radio or print media.

As an ethical business owner, you should know that the following practices are to be avoided:

1. Advertisement of false or misleading claims about your product or service offered

The statements you advertise about your given product and/or service need to be accurate and true.

For example, you cannot claim and advertise your product to be microwave friendly if, in fact, it will suffer damages or overheat when put in the microwave. Such practices can not only open you to a hefty fine, but even a potential lawsuit. Ensure that your product/service sticks to its advertised words.

2. Letting your employees post any false or misleading claims under your business name 

Even if you did not intend for, or were aware of, the misleading or deceptive content your employee posted on your business’s behalf using the business’s social media account, you, as the business owner, will be held liable for any false or misleading information that your employees post.

It is best to ensure that you have a social media policy in place. It will allow you to ensure your employees understand what is and isn’t acceptable content to be posted, and what the ethical business practices are when operating over social media, as well as the consequences for breaching the policy.

3. Advertisement of misleading or deceptive competitions, special offers and awards

Promoting your product through offering a competition, special offer and/or award is a creative way of engaging your existing customers and perhaps even draw in future clients. However, it is all fun and games unless you did not intend to actually offer the promised prize or award, or the special offer you have been promoting does not actually exist. In which case, you may be given a hefty fine when caught, and may be open to a potential lawsuit.

You are required to disclose any special terms and conditions of the award, prize or special offer. You are also obligated to supply the promised gift or prize to the winner.

4. Not respecting the privacy laws

Only because it is Facebook, and everyone is publicly sharing all their emotions and personal information, you are still obligated to treat your customer’s personal information as being confidential.

You are not allowed to post their information on a public platform without their consent. This includes some very obvious details that must be confidential such as their banking details, address, phone number and any other information provided to you by the customer for the purpose of engaging your business’s services.

An example of this is Facebook’s “lead ads” feature introduced in 2015. It allows a business to collect customer information from Facebook. The ad for the business comes up on Facebook and an interested customer can click on the ad which then shows a prefilled form with the customer’s personal information that they have shared with Facebook, the customer can then edit and add information to the form and submit it without leaving Facebook. However, when a business is signing up for the feature, a privacy policy is mandatory.

In conclusion, using social media for advertising your products and/or services does not lessen or hinder the obligations you have, as an ethical business owner, to maintain standard ethical practices and not mislead consumers. Following the law will not only prevent you from incurring a hefty fine but it will also build trust in your customers regarding your business and the way it operates.


About the author

Ananya Singh is  Legal Analyst at LawPath, a provider of cloud legal services for small to medium businesses.