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Member Article

How transparent is your business online?

Chris Daly, Chief Executive of CIM (The Chartered Institute of Marketing), highlights the questionable methods being used by businesses on social platforms and shares five steps towards being more open and transparent.

Consumer’s growing reliance on social media to interact with brands has led to some businesses using it dishonestly to promote their products and services. Many are at risk of losing consumer trust and confidence which demonstrates a clear need for businesses to evolve their marketing approach to avoid tripping themselves up.

Our 2014 ‘Keep Social Honest’ study explored the path to positive engagement between brands and consumers on social media and identified transparency and trust as the main barriers to achieving this. We recently revisited this research and identified that misleading online marketing methods by businesses are on the rise, signalling potential widespread breaches of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code), which should set alarm bells ringing for businesses.

The most concerning of our findings is the significant increase in the number of consumers who can’t distinguish between marketing and non-commercial content on social media, with only 19% able to tell the difference, compared to 38% in our 2014 study.

In addition, we discovered a rise in consumers citing that they have witnessed questionable activities from brands on social media. A quarter (25%) have seen a brand fake an online review (compared to 17% in 2014) and 21% have seen a brand pay or incentivise customers to share positive comments on social media without making this clear to other users (up from 14% in 2014). Also, 16% have seen brands pay someone to promote a product or service without disclosing the payment (also up from 14% in 2014). This type of misleading behaviour has been previously flagged by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) as illegal.

Conducting misleading marketing practices puts businesses at risk of more than regulatory or legal action. They are also putting their reputation on the line which can be just as damaging. 38% of people said they would lose trust in or turn off from a brand on social media if they discovered that content they claimed to be real wasn’t genuine.

The number of people using social channels to support purchasing decisions has increased by 25% since 2014. Therefore, open, transparent and customer-centric marketing has never been more crucial for business. That’s why we have developed the below practical advice that businesses can use to achieve greater transparency on social platforms:

  1. Know the law – familiarise yourself with the CAP Code and the CMA’s guidance on how to comply with the law on online reviews and endorsements.
  2. Make sure those responsible for marketing on social media in your business have the right knowledge and skills – businesses should adopt social media compliance as a professional development priority for marketing staff, and provide the appropriate training and support.
  3. Set a policy and revisit regularly – set out the behaviours and standards on social media that reflect your brand and values. Social media and related technologies are constantly changing. So, policies need to be subject to regular review.
  4. Get everyone on board – make sure all of your employees and any supplier partners you use are aware of your social media policy and commit to complying with it. Make it part of the HR process and supplier contracts.
  5. Make your position public – once you have a policy in place, let your customers know what they can expect from you and welcome their feedback.

For more information about how to Keep Social Honest, visit:

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Chris Daly .

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