ASA regulations also cover websites and social media

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is well known for governing the advertising campaigns of UK Businesses such as print publications and TV advertising.

However, many smaller business owners were not aware that the ASA also govern the use of advertising on digital platforms including websites and company owned social media accounts.

The announcement made by the ASA explains the extent of which their regulations cover is “Advertisements and other marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities”.

This guidance is fairly clear cut, but there are some key points that every small business owner should take note of.

1. All communications on your website are subject to the ASA regulations. These regulations aim to control communications that are designed to mislead, harm or offend. Particular focus is placed on communications relating to alcohol, health and beauty claims, children and young people, medicine, finance, environmental claims, direct marketing, prize promotions and gambling.

2. Social Networking Sites are included in other non-paid-for-space, and are subject to the same regulations as your own website. Interestingly, if you share a line of text on a social media account that is actually an advertisement then you should include a statement that tells people it is an advertisement, such as using the hash tag #Ad on Twitter, or placing an “Advertisement:” or “Ad:” warning on Facebook and other such sites.

3. Any comments posted by a 3rd party, such as a customer, will not be your responsibility. Only those communications that are posted by you or a representative of your business/company are subject to the regulations.

Keeping your website legal

For most of us building a website is a really exciting time in the business lifecycle. It’s our opportunity to add a little bit of creative flare into our business image, and it’s a way of introducing our business to the wider world.

Something that we often forget during this process though is the legal side of things. Keeping our web presence on the right side of the law, both here and in other countries is essential. It may not seem like anything to worry about at first glances (you are probably thinking that there are so many websites online that the chances of being prosecuted are minor) but the liability that you face is potentially huge should you not take some simple steps to protect yourself and your business.

Copyright

The first thing you need to understand is that all content both offline and online holds a copyright. Images, text and design are all examples of content that can hold copyright.

There are two ways you can ensure that you do not breach anyone’s copyright.

  1. Ensure that your content is your own work and unique to you. That means using your own words, your own images (taken by you or for you) and ensuring that your website is designed from scratch and uses unique code.
  2. Ensure that any content you use that is not rightfully yours is licensed for you to use, and that you use that content exactly as per the terms of your license. That means that if perhaps you don’t have your own images you may consider purchasing stock images from an online site. When doing this ensure that you check the terms of the license agreement and ensure that you retain proof of purchase and your granting of license. If you want to use other peoples text, designs or even want to link to their content then ensure that you first seek permission to do so, and keep a record of that permission just incase you are ever challenged.

Trademarks

Sometimes you can infringe registered trademarks without even realizing it. There are lots of different things that people trademark including images, words and phrases.

It’s not only the actual content of your site that you need to think about when it comes to this, but also the domain name (web address) that you register where your website is displayed.

You should carry out thorough checks before purchasing domain names, using straplines and so on, to ensure that you do not breech registered trademarks – be it intentional or not.

Defamation

Making false statements about someone or some organization that could be damaging to their reputation means that you could be held liable for a defamation claim.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t mention people or businesses online, but it does mean that you can be held accountable for what you say.

As a basic form of protection you should ensure that if you do have a need and a reason to pass comment then that comment must be based 100% on fact – the truth!

Linking

Without links the World Wide Web would not be World Wide, nor would it be a Web. However, there are a few no-no’s when it comes to linking.

Do not use an IMG link, which shows the images located on someone else’s website on your own. This is a form of copyright breech as you are using their work as your own. If you wish to do this you should first seek the copyright owner’s express permission to do so, and retain a record of that permission.

Using frames within your website to display external content. This again runs the risk of breeching copyright, than less of course that content belongs to you. If you wish to do this then again ensure that you first seek and gain permission, and have a record of that permission.

Usage Policies

Every website should set out clear guideline for use of the site in the form of a Terms of Usage or Terms and Conditions style document. The document should be easily viewable online and in some cases it could be worth providing a printable copy too.

A Privacy Policy should be in place to explain to visitors how you treat their privacy. This is especially important should your site collect information from them, sell products or services, or use cookies to track their browsing habits whilst on your site – even if you use external services such as Google Analytics rather than your own on-site service. And, as per new EU Legislation you must also seek to gain a visitors permission to use cookies prior to them using your site. A simple pop-up window that asks them to either agree to the policy or not use your site should protect the average website.

Accessibility 

The Disability Discrimination Act here in the UK means that if you own a website you must take all reasonable steps to ensure that it can be accessed by everyone, regardless of their ability.

In order to adhere to this legislation you should ensure that your website is built inline with W3C standards and you should regularly review your website design and performance to ensure that it remains compliant as technologies change.

Protection

Sometimes it isn’t always possible to stay totally within the law. It could be that the use of a single word could breech someone’s trademark, and potentially no end of research would flag that breech up.

If your website is commercially based (used for business rather than pleasure) then it would be strongly recommended to think about some form of insurance cover should the worst happen.

Many standard insurance policies for business now include a clause regarding the running of a website, or at least have add-in’s to cover for such things. If however you run an e-commerce site the it would be advisable to look into full e-commerce insurance to ensure that you are fully protected for all eventualities.

Summary

We are by no means experts on the law. We are not legally trained, nor should our advice within this post be taken as gospel.

Wherever possible, should you feel that your website requires it, you should consider seeking out professional legal advice.

However, hopefully this article will serve as a rough guide to help you make informed decisions.

Building an effective mobile strategy

Sometimes it is hard as a small business owner to know exactly what will work for your target audience. We often have our own concept of marketing brilliance implanted within our own minds, but when we deliver that vision we are surprised that it doesn’t have the effect we thought it would.

Developing your digital communications is no exception to this rule. Just because you think that you have a great idea does not make it a great idea. Instead, you need to develop that idea to suit what your target market is saying they want.

Something that is happening as we speak is the emergence of the mobile web. It took ages for most smaller businesses to realize that they needed a web presence, and following the exact same pattern it is also proving equally is difficult for them to start a mobile friendly version of their website.

As a small business owner would you be interested to know that within the next 3 years many top executive at leading web companies such as Google are predicting that desktop computers will simply be irrelevant?

More and more people are taking to using the web via their smart phones, making it increasingly more important to ensure that you have a mobile optimized web presence.

If you are still not fully convinced then here are a few facts and figures to give you a little food for thought:

Why the Mobile Web & Why Now?

  • There are 5.5 billion current mobile device subscriptions
  • 48 million people with mobile phones don’t have electricity
  • 8 trillion SMS messages were sent during 2011
  • By 2015 there will be almost as many mobile devices as there are people in the world
  • 788 million mobile-only Internet users are predicted by 2015
  • $20.6 billion in mobile revenue is expected to be generated by 2015
  • $119 billion spent by mobile shoppers by 2015
  • Most mobile devices today can access the Internet, and
  • Mobile browsing will surpass desktop browsing by 2014

Why You Need a Mobile Website

  • By 2013 browser-enhanced mobile phones will exceed 1.82 billion
  • 40.1% of mobile device users access browsers
  • 39.5% of mobile device users access mobile apps
  • 90% of smartphone searches result in an action
  • 24% recommend a brand or product as a result of a mobile search
  • 77% have contacted a business with 61% calling and 59% visiting
  • 95% of smartphone users have looked for local information
  • 79% of smartphone consumers use their phones to help with shopping
  • 88% take action within a day, indication these are immediate needs
  • 74% of smartphone shoppers make an online or in-store purchase

Mobile Apps

  • One million mobile apps in the marketplace
  • Two thousand apps added every day to the marketplace
  • 31 billion mobile app downloads in 2011
  • 66 billion downloads predicted by 2016
  • Mobile users spend 20% more time using mobile apps than browsers, but of that “app” time 80% is spent on games and social networking

More Than Just Sites and Apps 

  • 71% of smartphone users search because of an ad seen online or offline
  • 82% of smartphone users notice mobile ads
  • 74% of shoppers make a purchase when using their smartphones to help with shopping
  • 88% of those who look for local information on their smartphones take action within a day
  • QR Codes bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds
  • SMS (text) Messaging can get results
  • Augmented Reality can help sell products to a mobile audience
  • Location-Based Marketing can drive a lot of traffic to your local business
  • Mobile Search Apps can help you reach a very targeted audience
  • Near Field Communication (NFC) may be the future of successful m-commerce

Summary

The mobile web is far more than just websites and apps. There are a host of tactics and tools you can implement that will allow you to promote your business on the mobile web including QR Codes, Augmented Reality and Near Field Communication.