By Ellen Davnall

Businesses with an online and social media presence should make sure they are well aware of what their online content and advertising is saying, following the introduction of new regulatory powers today.

From 1st March, the Advertising Standards Authority will extend its remit to address the marketing campaigns run on businesses own websites and on non-paid services such as Facebook and Twitter. Previously the ASA had only been concerned with paid-for advertising space, such as banners and pop-ups, but the changes have been introduced to enhance consumer protection, particularly for younger users.

In a press release, the ASA stated that "The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, which includes rules to make sure advertisements do not mislead, harm or offend, will be applied to all UK based company websites regardless of the sector or size of business or organisation."

This means that businesses will need to apply the same standards to the content they distribute on their own site or through social media feeds as they already do to more traditional forms of advertising. The new regulatory concern with the ephemera of the Internet may raise questions in some businesses as to the wisdom of making social media the traditional responsibility of inexperienced interns, who may not fully understand the new significance of their work.

This form of marketing was a problem that needed addressing, according to the ASA, who received 4,500 complaints since 2008 relating to online material which they could not regulate. They also stated that: "The extension to the ASA’s remit was in response to a recommendation from the UK ad industry, which has a long history of being committed to ensuring ads across media are legal, decent, honest and truthful. By extending the ASA’s remit, industry has responded to consumers’ demands."

And while the new regulations may initially pose concerns to businesses as they work out ways to ensure compliance in the fast-moving online environment, where a click can place content in the public domain forever, the ASA believes the regulations will be of long term benefit: "marketing communications that are trusted are more likely to work and deliver value."