Social Media Advertising

In recent years, social media has allowed users to instantly communicate with each other. Social media also provides a low cost and high-yield forum for communications. Because of these effects, social media is becoming the preferred way for advertisers to reach customers. A marketing campaign that includes social media can greatly enhance a company’s brand exposure.  However, there are several legal and regulatory issues that arise when using social media for advertising. When using social media tools like hashtags and facebook pages, advertisers should monitor their copyrights and trademarks and comply with state and federal regulations.  Is your company beginning a new social media advertising campaign? Are you trying to brand your company with hashtags and handles?  If so, then you should contact us to discuss the legal issues.

What is a Hashtag and How Is It Used in Advertising?

A hashtag is a form of metadata made up of a word or phrase that is prefixed with the symbol “#” used by a social media site to create a searchable keyword. Hashtags are commonly used to direct potential customers to others discussing the same hashtag. Any user could create a hashtag with your company’s name or one that infringes on your intellectual property. Most social networks have policies that prohibit trademark and copyright infringement. Be sure to check these policies and the procedures for reporting abuses. Yet, not every third-party use of a trademark is necessarily an infringement if done under the fair-use standard. If a third-party is using a hashtag or handle that refers to your trademark, it may not be an infringement if used only to join a conversation, and that user is not claiming to be the owner of the trademark. Further, you can actually trademark a hashtag with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for additional protection. A mark including the “#” symbol can be registered as a trademark if it functions as an identifier of a good or service.

What Are the Regulatory Issues for Social Media Advertising?

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) enforces consumer protection laws to ensure that companies advertise their goods and services truthfully.  General rules of advertising law apply to social media advertising.  The FTC has provided several points to ensure that your advertisement is in compliance.  First, make sure that the advertisement is not unfair or deceptive.  In other words, all facts and practices used to advertise your good or service must be straightforward.  Second, advertisers should include qualifying information rather than a separate disclosure. For example, if you are posting on your Facebook page, any qualifying information about the promotion or offer should be included in that post.  Third, all required disclosures must be clear and conspicuous.  If you cannot include the disclosure in your post, then make sure to provide a clearly posted link to the required disclosure.  Lastly, if the forum does not provide the opportunity for a required disclosure, then do not advertise within that forum.  Social media is usually just one part of an advertising campaign, so advertisements that do not conform should be placed elsewhere.

Social media is a great tool in your advertising toolbox. If you need assistance in understanding the legal and regulatory issues involved, you may contact us to speak with an attorney.