Social Media Marketing: Legal Guide for Singapore Businesses
With 4.55 billion active users and its accessibility, social media’s global influence extends beyond social interactions and shapes how businesses are conducted today. Social media marketing is now indispensable for many businesses as it allows businesses to effectively reach and understand their target audience, be it consumers or other businesses.
If you are a business owner interested in engaging in social media marketing, this article will highlight some legal issues to consider to ensure that you manage your business’ online presence in compliance with the relevant laws and policies in Singapore. It will cover:
What is Social Media Marketing?
Social media marketing can be broadly understood to include any form of marketing communication that engages users through social media networks to promote a business’ products and services. Some examples provided by the Advertising Authority of Singapore (ASAS), an advisory council to the Consumers Association of Singapore that promotes ethical advertising, include:
- Affiliate marketing;
- Social network advertisements; and
- Sponsored content.
What Legal Issues Might Businesses Face When Using Social Media? What are the Laws that Must be Followed?
While social media’s accessibility offers many strengths to marketing, its ease of use should not mislead businesses into approaching the matter lightly. This is because there are laws and regulations that businesses must comply with when using social media for marketing. Failure to do so could result in them incurring penalties.
In Singapore, the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) is the regulatory body overseeing activity on any media platform in Singapore, including online social media platforms. For example, the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice (the Code) defines the term “prohibited material” and also provides a list of factors that may be relevant in assessing whether the material in question constitutes such “prohibited material”. Such factors include depictions of extreme violence or cruelty, and businesses that post in violation of the Code can be subject to fines and sanctions imposed by the IMDA.
The IMDA’s regulatory functions are supported by various other laws in Singapore, which will in turn govern your business’ marketing activities on social media. These laws cover issues including the use of customers’ personal data, uploading copyrighted content without the owner’s permission, and uploading posts containing certain offensive language or content.
Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA)
Brands are increasingly utilising first-hand customer accounts and positive reviews across social media platforms for their unique ability to build trust with customers. However, businesses seeking to leverage such a strategy to draw in new customers should be careful to comply with the relevant personal data protection laws while doing so.
For example, under section 16 of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), an individual, such as a customer, who had previously consented to disclosing their personal information to a business, can withdraw their consent for the collection, use or disclosure of such information by giving reasonable notice to the business.
If an employee or agent acting on behalf of your business continues to post content containing the customer’s personal data without their consent, then both the employee or agent, and your business, will be guilty of an offence. If convicted, one can be liable to a fine of up to $10,000, or to imprisonment for up to 3 years, or both.
Although the internet offers a ready supply of quality media, businesses should be mindful not to use content belonging to others, such as photos originating from a source other than their own, without the owner’s permission.
While such content may be publicly available, the use of copyrighted material as part of your brand’s social media marketing efforts, without first seeking consent from the owner of the copyright in the material, can amount to copyright infringement under the Copyright Act. This can result in civil as well as criminal sanctions against the business.
When using social media as a marketing platform for your business, it is often helpful to develop eye-catching content that sets your brand apart from your competitors. However, you should be careful not to publish content that may potentially damage the reputation of others in violation of Singapore’s defamation laws.
Apart from attracting civil liability in the form of defamation lawsuits, you may also incur criminal penalties for defamation. This is because defamation is also a criminal offence in Singapore. If convicted, one can be imprisoned for up to 2 years, fined or given both punishments.
Content involving words or visual media that promote enmity between different religious or racial groups can also attract a jail term of up to 3 years, a fine or both under section 298A of the Penal Code.
Platform Policies Businesses Must Comply with When Using Social Media for Marketing
Besides the laws applicable to social media marketing in Singapore, the particular platform on which you promote your products may have its own policies regulating marketing activities conducted by businesses.
The content of such policies inevitably depends on the social media platform your business is using. However, social media platforms’ policies generally address similar areas of concern and remedial measures.
Use of copyrighted work
If your business does not hold the legal right to the copyrighted content used in its marketing pursuits, your business may face copyright violations under social media platform policies.
Some preventive measures your business can take against committing such violations include licensing the images or other content sourced online or creating its own original content.
Type of content
Platform community guidelines provided by many major social media platforms include prohibitions against content that incites or portrays violence, or contains incorrect or misleading information, spam, impersonations, hate speech and threats, self-injury and nudity.
Offending businesses can face a range of consequences on social media platforms depending on the severity of the violating act. For example, Twitter’s community guidelines state that harassing or otherwise abusive behaviour may result in the downranking or removal of posts, while content relating to terrorism will result in an immediate and permanent suspension of the account in question.
Likewise, although controversial content does often generate greater interest, it would be prudent to avoid posting any offensive or inappropriate content. Failing to do so could lead to potential violations of platform policies and in turn may affect your business’ ability to maintain its online presence on the given platform. Where such violations are made public, negative publicity may result, causing further detriment to your business.
Advertisements or endorsements
Major social media platforms, Instagram and Facebook require users of verified pages that promote branded content to tag the third-party product or sponsor. This is important as disclosures can inform potential customers of potential bias in the recommendations or information provided. Failure to comply with the requirements can result in suspensions or permanent termination of your business’ account on the given platform.
Thus, it is advisable for your business to require its “influencers” or other promoters to disclose sponsored content in compliance with platform policies. This is particularly pertinent in view of the industry’s increasing capacity and efforts to tackle undisclosed advertisements through the use of artificial intelligence programmes.
Running online giveaway contests/promotion
Various social media platforms have rolled out clear boundaries within which contests and promotional giveaways or promotions held by businesses may occur. Facebook, for instance, prohibits businesses holding such online promotions from using their pages to tag or encourage others to tag themselves in content that they are not actually depicted in.
Deleting negative reviews
While it may be tempting for you to remove negative reviews left on your promotional pages or accounts on social media, many social media platforms offer official avenues to process and remedy such complaints through dedicated departments.
For instance, Google My Business’ review management tool allows account holders to report reviews to Google for removal, and also check the status of previously flagged reviews. This enhances business owners’ existing capacities to manage their reputations on the platform through a regulated process.
Opting for the review processes provided by the social media platform to deal with genuinely unwarranted negative reviews can reinforce the integrity of your business’ other positive reviews.
Choosing the Right Social Media Platform for Your Business
There is an abundance of online platforms that connect businesses with potential customers and even business partners. Amongst these, some are more prominent and widely used than others. Indeed, based on statistics published in 2021, Facebook was the most commonly used social media platform used by marketers worldwide while Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter followed closely.
Although it may sound appealing to simply opt for the most popular and widely used platform, it is important to consider other factors specific to your business and its products when choosing the right social media platform for your business.
For a start, it would be helpful to analyse the channels used by your target audience as well as the type of content you wish to create. For instance, Instagram may be a good choice for a business that seeks to appeal to millennial women as it attracts younger users and more women than men. Facebook, on the other hand, may be a good option for a business seeking to engage with potential customers belonging to a broad spectrum of demographics.
LinkedIn is frequented by older age groups and holds a specific purpose of professional networking and job opportunities. Accordingly, LinkedIn may be appropriate for brands or businesses seeking business-to-business opportunities.
Ultimately, however, you may choose to market your brand on not just one platform, but a number of them to leverage their various strengths and features beneficial to your business.
Crafting a Social Media Policy for Your Singapore Business
Once your business decides to embark on promoting your products on your chosen social media platforms, it is recommended that you craft a social media policy. A social media policy is one that provides official guidelines and requirements for your business and your employees’ online conduct, which may cover both personal and professional conduct.
For example, such a policy can lay down the relevant social media marketing laws and regulations that your business must comply with, as well as a clear framework to guide employees’ online conduct, to maintain your brand’s reputation.
A social media policy can also be instrumental in ensuring brand consistency across a business’ various social media accounts and across multiple employees in charge of these accounts. In addition, your business can attain its specific marketing goals efficiently through its effective utilisation of social media tools.
The world of social media holds immense potential for businesses to reach an extensive range and number of potential customers. However, your business will need to keep in mind numerous legal and non-legal considerations, as addressed in this article, when utilising this very accessible avenue to promote its products and services. Ultimately, social media’s extensive range and reach also present substantial potential legal implications to your business.
Thus, it is highly advisable to engage a corporate lawyer who is familiar with such legal implications when embarking on a plan to market your brand on social media platforms in Singapore. A lawyer will be able to assist with drafting an appropriate social media policy that takes into account your business’ characteristics and needs, and also advise on the best way to resolve any legal issues that occur.
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