Agents must be vigilant with the comments being posted on their Facebook “brand” pages or risk fines and public shaming.
In a move that is set to change the way companies use social media, a ruling by the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) has declared Facebook is an advertising medium, not just a communication tool.
Last month the advertising industry watchdog issued a judgment in which it said comments made by "fans" of a vodka brand's Facebook page were advertisements, and must therefore comply with industry self-regulatory codes.
In its ruling, the ASB wrote: “The Board considered that the Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control and could be considered to draw the attention of a segment of the public to a product in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly that product."
“The Code applies to the content generated by the advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users or friends.”
Companies would be liable under the Australian Association of National Advertisers code and, in turn, consumer protection laws.
Social media expert Peter Fletcher is warning that the ASB’s ruling on Smirnoff's Facebook page will mean agents need to be more active on their pages to ensure material posted complies with advertising standards.
“What this means is that real estate agents can no longer start a Facebook page and abandon it,” he told Real Estate Business at Australian Residential Property Management (ARPM) 2012 in Sydney this week.
“They must actively monitor it."
“Principals need to be aware what people are putting on their Facebook and what comments people are making on the posts that the page creates.
“They have to be aware that these posts can’t be racist, they can’t be sexist nor insite bullying, and they can’t make claims about the agency that can’t be substantiated.”
According to Mr Fletcher, many agencies become unstuck on social media by giving the responsibility of the page to a junior staff member with no training.
“Agents can protect themselves by recognising that they need to be on their Facebook often and not just leave it to some office junior to look after,” he said.
“The person in control of your Facebook page should be at a senior level.
“Just in the same way a principal wouldn’t let just any of their staff post whatever they like on their agency website or in the media, they need to be really clear about who can post what on their Facebook page.”