helping brands make perfect sense of social media, from IAB UK’s social media council

By Nick Stringer, director of regulatory affairs at the IAB.

At the end of last year I wrote about the top priorities for digital media regulation in 2010. One of which was the industry’s extension of the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) into new areas digital media space.

Last week the advertising industry announced this extension. The aim of the proposals is to include areas of non-paid for space, such as marketing communications on advertisers’ own websites and within social media, within the ASA’s existing self-regulatory remit. ‘Traditional’ paid-for digital advertising (such as PPC search marketing, display, video, mobile etc) already falls within remit.

The announcement has been publicly welcomed by the Government and the Conservatives alike. This week, in response to the House of Commons Health Select Committee report on alcohol, the Government welcomed and encouraged “the action being taken by the regulators and industry in reviewing these areas.” And, also this week, speaking at ISBA’s annual conference, Conservative Media Spokesperson, Ed Vaizey, praised the move (he also signalled more government marketing online if the Conservatives win a General Election).

Making as bold and significant an announcement as this with few details to determine the potential impact may not be the ideal strategy, but given the level of recent political concern on marketing to children – particularly from the Conservative Party and Dr Linda Papadopoulos’ report for the Home Office – industry will need to understand why this was done now and to also agree the principle of taking this step.

So let’s start by outlining why this is a significant step for the internet and advertising, and why digital advertisers should welcome the extended self-regulatory rules:

1. We need to deliver the same level of consumer safeguards that exist for paid-for digital media in areas on non paid-for space. Internet users need to trust the media that they’re consuming.

2. We need to ensure that the likes of social media is trusted by marketers as well. This is vital for brands to continue their strong investment in the platform.

3. We’re by no means off the hook: we need to continue to reassure policy-makers that we can self-regulate. This is  particularly important in the digital media space where more formal regulation or even (dare I say it) legislation will restrict commercial innovation. Look at the mess we’re potentially facing with the Digital Economy Bill. Justin Pearce in NMA is absolutely right: we’re doing the right thing.

But – as always – the ‘devil is in the detail’ and these are industry proposals that need to be agreed and ratified by the rule-setting body, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). The IAB also supports public scrutiny of these proposals so that the wider industry (and internet users themselves) can have a say. But the detail is where industry now needs to focus its attention. We have the momentum but, for social media, we need to agree what we consider is ‘in’ and what should be ‘out’. It won’t be easy and the IAB will deploy the greatest thinkers in social media to help us get this right.

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