Legal and internet experts have urged businesses to deploy software tools that monitor third-party comments on social media brand pages in order to avoid legal or brand-damaging traps.
Recent rulings by the Australian Advertising Standards Board show regulators have deemed sites such as Facebook and Twitter as marketing tools and now any activity, including fan comments, are treated with the same regulatory scrutiny as advertisers.
John Swinson, technology law expert and partner at King and Wood Mallesons, said larger businesses, especially those in highly regulated industries, should monitor their social media pages in a systematic way, including deploying software monitoring tools.
"Over the past six months, clients have been coming to us saying, practically what should we be doing?" he said. "If you're a large insurance company getting 100 posts a day to your page, you might need to be monitoring on a 24 hourly basis and on weekends. And you're not just monitoring for legal stuff, you're monitoring for brand damage and what people are saying."
The law firm advised that inappropriate content should be swiftly removed, limited website settings considered, and social media monitoring tools bought to allow search, track and analysis.
In July, Diageo's Smirnoff Vodka and Fosters' Victoria Bitter faced the advertising regulator over content on their Facebook pages, which set the precedent for brand pages to be considered ads. According to Mallesons, the complaints lodged related to concerns of third-party comments which generated obscenity, sexism, racism, and depictions of irresponsible drinking.
In VB's case, accessibility to users under 18 was also raised. It was ruled that companies be responsible for ensuring any material a third party or employee uploads complies with advertising codes and other laws.
Mr Swinson said a further reason for a sophisticated approach is that board members and senior management were following social media activity.
"The amount of monitoring depends on how many posts you're getting and how often you're using social media yourself," he said.
Alan Dormer, government and commercial services leader at the CSIRO, said its use of the CSIRO-developed monitoring tool Vizie alerted it to social media comments about it which it found to be untrue and was able to swiftly reject. "We had a very good use test . . . someone tweeted that the CSIRO gave coal seam gas a good bill of health, which was untrue, and that enabled very quick qualifications," Mr Dormer said.
"The other thing is it stops print media from making it fact . . . there's a short cycle time between print media, you need to intercept that properly."
Edward Seaford, of Melbourne-based monitoring company Webip, said he regularly sees threats to brands through lax monitoring:
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