Addressing Legal Concerns Around Social Media and Alcohol

Beer OverflowSt. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, which means the green is coming out from the bottom of closets, making it’s way into alcoholic beverages and, thanks to the world of social media, oozing across the Internet.

In a previous blog post, we discussed the benefits of using social media to capitalize on holidays. This month is no different, in that businesses are looking to leverage social platforms for promoting St. Patrick’s Day activities, specials and sales.

The entire alcohol industry includes 3,500 companies and totals annual revenue of $120 billion. This presents another enormous opportunity for marketers, especially in the digital realm on St. Patrick’s Day.

However, there’s a fine line when mixing digital marketing with alcohol.

We’re here to help you navigate through the obstacles, so you can celebrate the festivities along with fans and followers in a way that maximizes social engagement while minimizing legal risk.

Practicing Safe Marketing in the Alcohol Industry

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) Guidance Note on Responsible Digital Marketing Communications offers some helpful guidelines around online marketing and alcohol. We’ve summarized the DISCUS suggestions in a list of actionable tips below, which are meant to help guide you in starting the discussion and strategy planning process. It’s still a good idea to consult your attorney to ensure you are following the appropriate legalities associated.

1. Utilize age-gating settings: By setting Facebook and Twitter age restrictions to 21 and older – the minimum drinking age in most States – you are ensuring digital marketing communications intended for adults of legal purchase age are reaching the appropriate audience. Even though the legal drinking age in Canada is lower, your social communications could easily extend across the border.

On Facebook, go to: Edit Page > Update Info > Manage Permissions > Age Restrictions (choose alcohol-related).

On Twitter, you can register for an age-screening feature by Twitter and Buddy Media to create a Direct Message age-verification application.

Of course, Facebook posts and tweets are easy to share and retweet to a wide audience, making it difficult to ensure they are reaching the intended demographic. Age-gating will help to minimize risk, but still doesn’t remove it completely.

2. Apply selective advertising: DISCUS suggests digital marketing communications are only placed in channels where at least 71.6 per cent of the audience is reasonably expected to be of the age to purchase.

The following are approximate age distribution stats across popular social networks, according to VentureBeat:

  • 85% of Facebook users are at least 25
  • 78% of Twitter users are at least 25
  • 95% of LinkedIn users are at least 25
  • 88% of Pinterest users are at least 25
  • 45% of Google Plus users are UNDER 25 (in the US)

3. Ensure consistent monitoring: It’s important to check your channels frequently (at least four or five times a day) to ensure any user-generated content, such as comments, replies or wall posts, is appropriate and does not encourage risky behaviour associated with alcohol consumption.

This requires a significant amount of time and effort, which most businesses cannot afford to dedicate. Fortunately, we can help.

4. Discuss, don’t endorse: Focus on sharing ideas and conversation around alcohol-related products or services, rather than strictly promoting it.

Even if you are following best practices related to online marketing and alcohol, mistakes happen. Social media can be dangerous territory for alcohol-related brands. Laws and rules will continue to evolve, and it’s up to you to be smart about it. Target the appropriate audience, pay attention to feedback and use common sense.

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