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Fed winery social media rules vague…to say the least

on 25/05/13 at 12:01 pm


imagesAddressing the lack of any regulation on alcohol brands in the exploding social media space, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has issued new guidelines defining everything from blogs and social networks to video sharing sites and micro blogging services as “advertising.” And as such, any use of social media by industry members (specifically permit holders) is subject to the same limitations, requirements and restrictions as any other form of advertising previously has been.

What this means, among other things, is that brands are required to include so-called “mandatory statements” (such as their location and product designation as prescribed by TTB) on social media properties in an obvious place (such as the “about” or profile information section) that is clearly visible with, and associated with, the message. (This gives no consideration to consumers using third-party Twitter apps or reading a post in their own newsfeed on Facebook instead of the brand page.) And any messages are subject to the same prohibitions as print, radio or TV advertisements, as defined by the Code of Federal Regulations. Brands may not make false or untrue statements, disparage a competitor’s product, or make statements that are “obscene or indecent,” to name just a few.

The social media definitions are a clarification that some in the industry think is overdue, but this does not mean it’s without its problems.

Some of the nearly anachronistic elements of the guidelines – such as the inclusion of defunct social network Friendster and awkward sounding explanations, make some wonder if the guidelines’ authors really understand the segment of the media they are attempting to regulate.

“I find it ludicrous. I find the regulatory behavior around social media a complete misunderstanding,” said Paul Mabray, chief strategy officer at Vintank, a consulting firm and digital service provider to the wine industry. Mabray, who compares the approach to that of trying regulate phone calls or email in the same way, said, “These are a conversational social platforms,” adding, “And they obviously don’t understand them.”

“Anybody who does social media for a living knows that social media is not advertising – that’s not the way you utilize social media – but the TTB has now defined social media as a form of advertising,” said Sonoma-based wine industry web consultant James Marshall Berry. Though he doesn’t think most of the guidelines will be hard to comply with (or particularly vigorously enforced), he said wineries will need to pay attention to them.