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How brands annoy online consumers

A surge in the popularity of social channels has made consumers far savvier and more in control than ever before, placing pressure on brands to continually adapt their marketing efforts to keep up. Research by CIM (The Chartered Institute of Marketing) suggests that it has never been more important for PROs to stay one step ahead and work with brands to ensure their voices are heard within the social space in a way which inspires trust and confidence.

CIM’s 2016 Keep Social Honest’ study reveals the increasingly questionable marketing methods being used by brands online at the risk of legal, financial and reputational damage. A significant increase in the number of consumers unable to distinguish between marketing and non-commercial content on social media was notable, with only 19% able to tell the difference in comparison with the 38% surveyed in 2014.

Since 2014, there has also been a rise in consumers citing that they have seen questionable activities from brands on social platforms:

  • A quarter (25%) have seen a brand fake an online review (compared to 17% in 2014)
  • 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)
  • 16% have seen brands pay someone to promote a product or service without disclosing the payment (also up from 14% in 2014)

Misleading marketing communications on social media is a real problem and it’s evident that advertisers aren’t doing enough to ensure transparency. This isn’t always intentional – from previous research, we know that 52% of marketers have little or no understanding of the regulations affecting their communications on social media – but the consequences are still the same.”

Deceptive online practices have been flagged by the Competition and Markets Authority as illegal, which should not be ignored when 38% of consumers questioned said that misleading content would cause them to lose trust in an organisation.

Consumers will continue to rely on social platforms and online reviews as these tools continue to become ingrained in everyday life but it’s clear that trust is an issue. Although consumers are increasingly reliant on online reviews as part of the purchasing process (81% compared to 65% in 2014), lack of trust is evident, with only 27% placing trust in them.

CIM has developed the following guidance for PROs to use when advising clients how they can work towards greater transparency in the social space:

  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 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 – ensure all employees and supplier partners are aware of your social media policy and commit to complying with it.
  5. Make your position public – once you have a policy in place, let your customers and potential customers know what they can expect from you and welcome their feedback.


CIM’s Keep Social Honest study was carried out by Censuswide in April 2016 with a sample of 3,000 UK social media users. This was a follow up to a 2014 study conducted by YouGov with a sample of 3,054 UK consumers.

Written by Chris Daly, chief executive at CIM

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