On-Line Reputation – Is Yours at Risk?

Business reputation is precious.  The perception that outsiders have of a business can be based on direct experience, observation or the reports of others.  Everyone in the business is a potential ambassador and their behaviour has a bearing on the overall reputation – not least online where bad impressions can be magnified out of all proportion.

From March 1, corporate web site content and social media will fall under the regulation of the Advertising Standards Authority.  This means that all promotional content on company sites must comply with the rules that cover advertising, the key principles being that it is legal, decent, honest and truthful.  There are other codes about advertising to children and other special forms of promotion that will not apply in most situations.

I am sure that most responsible companies will have no problems complying with the code.  After all, most apply strict vetting procedures when constructing sites and developing copy.  But there are areas that companies should be concerned about.

The first is the addition of day-to-day content via blogs.  By their very nature these are often informal comment-driven entries that may not be moderated to the same degree as core web site content.  It may be very easy to slip into language that is more casual and inadvertently say something about competitors, their products or people that may cause offence.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social/sharing web sites are very informal channels where the conversation may be seen as person-to-person or mainly taking place between small groups.  Nevertheless, these are public forums.  The same checks and disciplines should apply as they usually do with web sites and more formal communication.

The ASA has some teeth.  It can demand removal of content that it considers breaches the rules.  This will be backed up by a deal with the search companies that will deny offender’s access to Adwords and similar products.

Whether this will also affect natural search ranking is also a moot point – don’t expect the search engineers to tell us.

In the event of continued breaches The ASA threatens to conduct active “naming and shaming” including the use of web advertising.  Over and above this, any offended party is still able to take civil action and with the ASA on-side is more likely to succeed.

Mangers responsible for corporate communication may wish to consider an urgent review and revision of all their on-line communications – starting with the blogs and social conversations.  They may also need to consider how to moderate social network and blog conversations in future to avoid any unfortunate incidents.

Here is a link to the ASA if you want to get up to speed with the regulations: www.asa.org.uk/Regulation-Explained/Online-remit.aspx

Kevin Ainsworth, Partner, Ainsworth Maguire Public Relations

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