Don’t use misleading marketing methods on social media, businesses are warned

Businesses are increasingly using misleading marketing methods on social media, risking significant legal, financial and reputational damage, according to recent research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

The Keep Social Honest study shows a significant increase in the number of people who cannot distinguish between marketing and non-commercial content on social media, with only 19% saying they can tell the difference. This compares with 38% of people who said they could distinguish between marketing and non-commercial content in a 2014 study by CIM.

The research also found a rise in consumers saying that they have seen questionable activities from brands on social media. A quarter (25%) have seen a brand fake an online review (compared with 17% in 2014); 21% have seen a brand pay or incentivise customers to share positive comments on social media without making this clear to other users (up from 14% in 2014); and 16% have seen brands pay someone to promote a product or service without disclosing the payment (also up from 14% in 2014).

Chris Daly, chief executive of CIM, said: “Misleading marketing communications on social media is a real problem and it’s evident that advertisers aren’t doing enough to ensure transparency. This isn’t always intentional – from previous research, we know that 52% of marketers have little or no understanding of the regulations affecting their communications on social media – but the consequences are still the same.

“Businesses face a serious risk of regulatory or legal action, but they also need to understand that the penalties for misleading customers on social media go beyond that. Brands are putting their reputation at risk too. We are calling on all organisations that market and communicate through social media to understand what the law is, and ensure they follow it. Doing so can reap rewards for businesses in the form of increased consumer trust and confidence. Not doing so can have damaging results.”

Top tips from the Chartered Institute of Marketing:

Make sure those responsible for marketing on social media in your business have the right knowledge and skills – businesses should adopt social media compliance as a professional development priority for marketing staff, and provide the appropriate training and support.

Set a policy and revisit regularly – set out the behaviours and standards on social media that reflect your brand and values. Social media and related technologies are constantly changing. So, policies need to be subject to regular review.

Get everyone on board – make sure all of your employees and any supplier partners you use are aware of your social media policy and commit to complying with it. Make it part of the HR process and supplier contracts.

Make your position public – once you have a policy in place, let your customers know what they can expect from you and welcome their feedback.