Social networks are increasingly popular with marketers, and that means they're increasingly popular with the government bodies that regulate marketers.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued guidelines designed to set boundaries on what marketers can and can't do in the world of social media. So it's no surprise that a similar effort is now taking shape across the pond in the UK.

A proposed amendment to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code would give the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) the ability to scrutinize activity that takes place on social networking websites. According to the Advertising Association, which submitted the proposed amendment:

The recommendations, if accepted, will bring companies’ marketing communications on their own websites, and other non-paid for space online, such as brand activity on social networking sites, within scope of the CAP Code.

Currently, paid online advertising, such as search and display ads, fall within the ASA's remit. But the ASA says that's not enough:

...nearly two thirds of the complaints that we receive about online marketing activity are not presently covered by the Code. The proposed extension of our remit will plug this regulatory gap, ensuring that consumers enjoy the same level of protection on websites as they do in paid-for space.

Needless to say, this move is not surprising given the amount of marketing activity that takes place outside of the areas the ASA has the authority to regulate. And it's not entirely surprising that industry is supporting it. As we've seen in the United States, where much was made of the FTC guidelines when they were first announced, the threat of this kind of regulation usually turns out to be exaggerated. The vast majority of businesses aren't trying to break the rules, and with some official guidelines in place, some marketers may feel more comfortable about their activities in nascent mediums like social media. If expanding the ASA's remit helps foster more comfort amongst marketers who are interested in social media investments, the expansion could be a good thing.

Unfortunately, it's unclear how many of the complaints not covered by the CAP Code would be actionable even after the remit is expanded. After all, legitimate businesses aren't behind most of the egregious online scams that ensnare online consumers. Scammers don't care about the rules, and for consumers, the ASA's ability to regulate won't be nearly as important as its capacity to enforce.

Photo credit: davidsonscott15 via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 March, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)


selina howells

I think this has to be seen in the context fo the OFT's investigation of online pricing and advertising and avoiding government stepping in to legislate. The Advertising Association and the ASA are the advertisers, like the Press Complaints Commission is editors. Everyone wants to self regulate.

over 8 years ago


Marketing Leeds

I think your last comment is completely correct. These regulations won't effect the scammers, only the threat of prosecution would change things and even then who has juridiction on the internet? 

over 8 years ago



The idea of brand promotion is not wrong, but has to be within the norms. Moreover, one cannot constantly keep spamming about the product in order to gain traffic to a site.

over 8 years ago


Kevin Warhus

I can't say I'm too surprised that the UK is looking to censor social media marketing given its growing popularity. While I think it is important to set rules and regulations with social media, I am fearful of how slippery this slope may be. 

over 7 years ago

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