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14 February 2011

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Website Owners Beware: New Online Regulations from March 1

Does your company have a website?

Do you tweet or use Facebook for business purposes?

Do you advertise online?

If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions then this is relevant to you, because as of March 1 all online marketing communications will be regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA - which controls advertising content in the UK - investigates complaints made by the public and then determines whether such advertising complies with standards. In the case of this new March 1 remit, there is particular concern regarding "misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children".

The new remit will follow the same regulations usually reserved for more traditional media forms like print and TV, meaning legislation will be equal across the board to ensure that "marketing communications remain legal, decent, honest and truthful".

So, if you do any marketing online you have two weeks to ensure that your communication fits with the new rules as set out by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code.

The ASA will be able to demand that marketers remove any online advert found to be in breach of its regulations. This can be anything from tweets, to Facebook updates and ads on websites (e.g. pop-up and banners, paid search and viral ads). And if you intend on writing about someone else within a public profile, you need to get their written consent first! Even if you're re-tweeting someone else's joke, you will be responsible if it causes offence.

So the main things to watch out for from March 1st:

- Check if your content is clear, up-to-date and an honest representation of your company - you must ensure that all online content is accurate and truthful

- Any offensive exchange on social media sites (and other non-paid for spaces) that includes malicious comments or foul language could face fines from the ASA if committed under a company profile

- Do you ever mention your competitors? It is important that, when you are comparing any products or services online, you don't exaggerate or cause offence

- Make sure that you have evidence to back up any claims you make online

- When it comes to pay per click and advertising on sites like Google, you will have to be careful when bidding on competitor keywords

- If you include prices ensure that the total includes VAT, any delivery charges and additional costs to the consumer.

According to MyCustomer.com the move will be welcome by some: "Last year [CAP] received over 4,500 complaints but over half of the adverts were outside of its remit as only paid-for marketing communications such as pop-up and banner ads, paid search and viral ads were covered. And the new regulation seeks to close this gap".

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