Advertisers have been quick to embrace media opportunities on social networking sites such as Facebook however they may be overlooking the dangers of user generated content.

In the days before user generated content, advertisers took it for granted the fact that they knew where their placements would appear, and alongside what content. Only occasionally would this cause any problems e.g. an airline advert appearing on a news website and then a story like Sept-11 occurs.

However, it seems that every website now has user generated content facilities. Everything from food recipe websites inviting users to post their comments about the recipes, to people setting up groups on Facebook promoting their hobbies, interests and beliefs.

Unless care is taken during the media planning, there is a now a stronger possibility of brands being affiliated with user generated content that may not be appropriate.

Journalists hungry for a scandal have contacted me in the past to say they have seen my client advertising alongside inappropriate content; however I believe most internet users are now mature enough to make a distinction between advertising and content, and not to believe the advertiser is specifically endorsing the exact text on the website or vice versa. In the press and TV there are often news stories about healthy eating, but this does not stop fast food or confectioners using these channels successfully. Usually these kinds of “scandals” end up just being storms in a teacup.

So what is the answer? Obviously not to advertise within these environments is an option; however as more and more sites add UGC functionality to their content this may become more difficult in the future. Many of these sites have very attractive young affluent audiences and offer good advertising opportunities with plenty of targeting options as well as cost-effective direct-response placements. So buying media from these sites is generally a worthy investment.

In the UK there is a trade body called IASH (Internet Advertising Sales House) that advertising networks can sign-up to which gives assurances that adverts wont be displayed alongside inappropriate content. And when the media-buyer is signing the Insertion Order they’re able to choose various levels of the IASH standard (e.g. full compliance, full compliance & user generated content etc).

The key is education. Making sure advertisers are aware of the potential dangers and that there is always a 1% chance of appearing next to inappropriate content, however the benefits usually outweigh the potential pitfalls.