Promoting Alcohol Through Social Media
By Elizabeth DeConti Shareholder, GrayRobinson, P.A. | December 02, 2012
Social Media is the new land of opportunity for all in manufacturing and retail. Facebook and Twitter alone allow restaurants, hotels, and bars unprecedented conversation with their customers. The access to these consumers is in real time and moves beyond the capabilities of any standard brand website. Understandably, motivation to interact with consumers by offering promotions on social media sites is high, especially during periods when traffic is down due to economic conditions, and everyone's focus is on driving traffic and spending.
Hotels and restaurants use social media to drive loyalty deals and promotions generally around all aspects of the business. In the restaurant context, marketers see natural opportunities using social media to promote new menu items, special pricing, and food and beverage pairings, for example. The opportunities in social media are many and they are exciting, but those who use this platform to promote alcohol need to understand that alcohol continues to be a regulated product and must be marketed as such, even in the social media context. Many people mistakenly believe that because social media operates through the internet, social media is not subject to some of the same alcohol beverage laws and regulations which apply to more traditional means of marketing alcohol beverages. This is in fact not the case: this "new world" is governed by "old laws," and as operators and counselors to the industry, we need to learn to work within them. Offering consumers a bucket of beer on Facebook is not the same as offering them a bucket of chicken wings. Here are some basic pointers and issue spotters to get you started.
First Protect Your Brand
When building a social media identity for your brand, protect your own intellectual property and avoid infringing the intellectual property of others. This is a threshold legal issue and is important in any social media campaign, even if alcohol beverages are not involved. If you are building a fan page or a Twitter page, consider the graphic or any tag lines you use carefully. Make them consistent with your branding in other media and make sure they are protected. Be very careful that you do not inadvertently infringe upon the intellectual property of others. Twitter, for example, has an "impersonation" policy, and also has a policy against "name squatting." Along the same lines, you may wish to perform periodic searches to monitor against third parties improperly imitating your brand in social media.
Multi-State Promotions Require Multi-State Legal Analysis
When planning an alcohol promotion, consider whether it is the type of promotion which would be regulated in traditional media. For example, is it a sweepstakes, contest, coupon, happy hour deal, or similar? Does it have elements of these things? If so, remember that multi-state laws and regulations on promotions will still be relevant in the social media world. Social media websites may be a completely new way to market, but promotional rules will still apply. When planning advertising, sweepstakes, coupons, or other consumer premium offers, make sure that your campaigns comply with all applicable state laws and regulations. If you operate a chain of hotels or restaurants, bear in mind that even though offers you plan to run through social media are national, they may need to be tweaked for consumers in different states if the same offers are not legal for all due to state law variations. For example, if you intend to offer your restaurant's Facebook fans happy hour specials at the bar between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m., you need to recognize that some of the fans live in states where this activity is legal, and some live in states where it is not. As a result, you may need to consider technical tweaks to your social media campaign to create different legal offers for different consumers, i.e., appetizer specials only for some. Alternatively, you may wish to tailor your offers so as to be consistent with the legal analysis, resulting in a "one size fits all" approach.