Careful what you say online - the ASA are watching!

With the recent extension of the Advertising Standards Association's (ASA) online advertising remit, many businesses are concerned about digital marketing and the implications of what they now put out there across the web.

As of this week, the ASA is finally regulating all marketing communications placed on a firm's website, as well as communications in non-paid-for space under a firm's control, such as a Facebook page or Twitter account.

But what does it all mean? And how does it affect your business? Put simply, the changes mean that you're not allowed to mislead, offend or harm anyone online. Your company should always follow the solid principles of marketing, ensuring that everything you say is 'honest, legal, decent and truthful'.

If you don't, you could land yourself in very hot water because the ASA now has the power to police what companies say and claim online, with social media included. Beforehand, the regulator could only monitor what you said in paid-for space, now they can monitor all of your comments and online marketing material.

As it states on the ASA website: "With the internet placed firmly on the agenda of advertisers worldwide, its ability to engage consumers and build brands has been proven time and time again, as we align ourselves with the more traditional media in terms of quality, reach and efficacy. The ‘young’ medium has now grown up. As such it requires stringent processes, rules and regulations to ensure that the practice of online advertising remains transparent, and the integrity of the medium is reinforced."

The changes are part funded by Google who are also trying to police webmasters and what they do online in the hope that this joint venture could put an end to troublesome paid-for links. Something that they've been fighting against for some time.

So if your business or digital agency are securing lots of paid-for links on websites as part of your digital marketing and SEO campaign, watch out! The new regulations require you to make it very clear that those links have been paid for.

And when it comes to misleading people, there are so many ways in which you could get in trouble with the ASA. For example, if you state that you are the 'number one company' or the 'best firm in the world' on your own website, without any evidence to back it up, then you're misleading the public - and that will count as breaking the regulations.

Overall, it's great news that the ASA has finally caught up and extended its regulations. It's particularly good news for consumers who deserve a fair and honest web. But how effective these new regulations will be is anyone's guess, especially when there are literally millions of web pages and not enough resource at the ASA to monitor everything.

It will be certainly interesting to see how this all pans out. But if you're concerned about going online, it's worth knowing what you can and can't do. You can read the new advetising guidelines here.

Katy Cowan

Manchester, England,