Office of Fair Trading tells comms professionals to rethink Twitter tactics

PR professionals have been warned to change the way they use Twitter and other social media platforms following groundbreaking action by the Office of Fair Trading.

The OFT this week attacked a commercial blogging network, Handpicked Media, after it breached rules governing unfair trading by not disclosing which posts were sponsored. It is the first time the OFT has taken such enforcement action and the ruling will cover blogs and Twitter.

The regulator said its ruling confirmed that online marketing that did not disclose paid-for promotions is 'deceptive under fair trading laws'.

Since the enforcement action, PRWeek has identified numerous PROs on Twitter who could potentially be in breach of fair trading laws. For example, this month online directory Yell.com allowed staff to write 6,700 restaurant reviews as part of its website Trusted Places. The press office claimed staff did not need to identify themselves because 'our people are consumers too and can write their own genuine reviews'.

Industry figures warned a number of PROs could be caught out by the rule change. Diffusion MD Daljit Bhurji said: 'A lot of in-house PR and traditional agencies have jumped on the micro-blogging bandwagon and those who are breaking the rules absolutely need to change the way they are doing things.'

Speed Communications MD Stephen Waddington added: 'Best practice within PR should be that full disclosure should come first. This is not the case. If you scratch the surface, you can see blatant promotion by some PROs. It is only a matter of time before someone brings a case forward about a PR agency in breach of the law.'

What the OFT says

- 'Consumers need to understand if there is a payment involved in online comments - financial or otherwise'

- 'PR professionals need to make it clear their tweets are a promotion, not an opinion'

- 'If someone is tweeting promotions about their own organisation, it needs to be obvious that they work there'

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