The Australian advertising authorities suggest Facebook user comments count as "advertising"

The Australian advertising authorities suggest Facebook user comments count as "advertising"

Social media remains a minefield for businesses - particularly drinks companies. While Twitter appears to be addressing the problems, by introducing a blanket age-gating system, Facebook is throwing up different issues. And two recent rulings in Australia will do nothing to reduce the number of sleepless nights for marketers.

Diageo and Foster's have both been the subject of complaints in the country over their Facebook pages. In the case of Foster's, Australia's Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) was asked to rule over a complaint about user-generated content - in the form of comments - on its page. According to the ruling, the comments involved "sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination or vilification" and references to "irresponsible drinking and excessive consumption".

In a lengthy defence, Carlton & United Breweries argued that many comments were "throwaway lines" and ASB's code should not apply to users code.

However, the complaint was upheld. 

In Diageo's case, the complaint over its Smirnoff Facebook page, involved less controversial material and was dismissed on the basis of it not appearing to breach the code.

However, what will concern companies on a wider scale is the bureau's assertion that users' comments on Facebook pages constitute "advertising". Part of the ruling stated: "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".

It added: "As a Facebook page can be used to engage with customers, the board further considered that the code applies to the content generated by the advertisers as well as material or comments posted by users or friends."

Most large, responsible drinks firms already employ companies to monitor and control their social media. But, social media users are a hard beast to tame. The internet brings out the best and very worst in human nature, as we all know. 

With the authorities laying down the law that user comments now count as advertising, the techies employed to monitor this will have their work cut out even more. 

Perhaps if the same approach is adopted by advertising authorities globally, it could even see drinks companies ditching Facebook as a marketing tool altogether? Facebook is unlikely to allow this to happen though.

A crossroads looms.