Advertising and Marketing Law: Social, Digital, Online Compliance Oct. 21, 2016

Compliance. What does that word mean to you? Is it a dirty word? Do you think of it as something to be wary of? Do you worry that there will be a compliance check on you, your company, or your practice? Have you ever been accused of breaking the law or unethical behavior, and then had to defend yourself?

If so, then you are not alone. Legal compliance is something that most business owners and professionals have to worry about at one point or another. The law is a fickle thing, and it is changing all the time. In this article, we will give you an overview of the compliance issues that you need to be aware of in today’s fast-paced world, focusing on social media, digital marketing, and online marketing.

The Need for Legal Compliance

Whether you are advertising on radio, television, or the internet, you need to ensure that your activities are legal and that you are following the rules and regulations set by the government and the law firm you are working with. In today’s world, the lines between advertising and marketing, and regular business activity, are blurred. You need to be mindful of how you communicate with customers or potential customers, whether directly or indirectly. The law requires that you comply with certain legal responsibilities and act in a professional manner. If you don’t, you can find yourself in serious trouble. Even if you intend on acting ethically and professionally, it is still good practice to be aware of your legal obligations and ensure that you comply with them. In this case, legal compliance is essential.

Social Media

Social media has changed the way we communicate, market, and gain knowledge. Although the lines between advertising and marketing on social media are blurry, you can still technically fall under the jurisdiction of both the FTC and the FCC. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a United States government agency that regulates the use of unfair business practices, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates radio and television stations. If you are posting about a product or service that falls under their jurisdiction, you need to ensure that you are accurately representing it. Inaccurate or fraudulent advertising is a serious matter, and can lead to you being sued for damages or having your assets seized by the government. Even if you don’t intend on doing any of these things, it’s still good practice to be aware of their regulations and policies.

Digital Marketing

Along with social media, digital marketing is another form of advertising/marketing that blurs the lines between professional and personal conduct. When you are marketing online, whether through search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, or social media, you are acting in a professional manner. You are presenting your company’s value, products, and services to potential customers, and engaging with them on a personal level to gain their trust and convince them to purchase your products or do business with you. The key is to establish and maintain a trustworthy relationship with your audience.

However, it is also important to be mindful of your personal conduct and ensure that none of your interactions with potential customers are inappropriate. For example, if you are discussing prices or other financial matters with a customer over the dinner table or at a baseball game, that could be seen as inappropriate. Likewise, if you are posting about products that your company has sponsored or is sponsored by, you need to ensure that the posts do not imply any kind of endorsement or sponsorship by your company.

Online Marketing

Last but not least, let’s not forget about online marketing. Online marketing is the practice of marketing products and services online via email, text messaging, blogs, and social media. Like other forms of advertising, online marketing is a way of reaching a large audience quickly and efficiently. However, it does have its own set of compliances that you need to be aware of. For example, unless you are a natural person, you need to have a website or blog that is accessible by the general public. If you do not have one already, it is a good idea to create a small one to establish your expertise in the field. In this way, you can get yourself “pre-approved” by potential customers before you begin engaging with them on a professional level.

If you are selling products or services online, or planning on doing so in the near future, it is essential to be aware of the jurisdictional boundaries that exist between countries, states, and local areas. When it comes to marketing overseas, whether through online platforms or other means of digital communication, you need to be sure that you are not breaking any local laws. Even if you are acting within the law, you do not want to put yourself in the situation of having a complaint filed against you.

In summary, whether you are advertising on a national level via radio or television, or a local level via billboards, bus stops, or magazine publications, you still need to be aware of legal compliance. This is especially important if you are posting about products or services that fall under the jurisdiction of multiple regulatory bodies. Being in compliance is not a dirty word; rather, it is a necessary and a good thing. Ignorance is never a good thing, and neither is breaking the law. If you want to create a better understanding of legal compliance, we suggest you read the FTC’s “Four Rules for Advertising on Social Media” (https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-owners/topic-overview/four-rules-advertising-social-media).