Regulated professional, is social media considered advertising?

In my past corporate life at a telecomm giant, I spent countless hours doing one of the things I hate most: confirming city, state and federal regulations on specific types of advertising on client projects that reached across the nation. I often found advertising that was considered either unethical or illegal in one city, but not the next. As a telecommunications company, it was one of the first that had a national print yellow page, local regional guides, television, cellular and internet product.

This combination brought an unique asset: you could get an advertisement on fifteen types of distribution channel with one phone call.

You could also break about 100 regulatory policies and ten-fold your cost in punitive damages with the same phone call.

Looking around the world, a fellow social media comrade in arms (Karthik S, the head of digital strategy for Edelman in India) asked a question specific to the health care field:

Doctors using social media, would it be considered advertising?

Regardless of laws governing advertising by doctors or hospitals, would doctors engaging about their profession on social networks amount to advertising? Read more

Worthwhile and interesting article, especially considering global food-for-thought.

The worldwide perspective comes to a bigger legal question: the actual condition of whether or not we (as social media professionals) consider it advertising. When working with 1000’s of medical ads around the world when I was in telecommunications, each territory was held to completely different sets of rules and regulations around print and broadcast.

When dealing with regulation: city, state, country and industry groups all bring different legal requirements to play and have existing definitions of advertising. The key is really understanding that web media is both print and broadcast, but have not been clarified under most legislatures.

Another core issue of social media is that consumers, supporters and critics are all publishing on doctors information. In the U.S. and many other countries, you have Superpages, CitySearch, WebMD, etc publishing medical/doctor information as a third party with and without the doctor’s permission.


As a business professional, understanding that the legal and regulatory parameters of whether or not social media is advertising is critical. In most countries, the precedence for like-minded advertising provides the legal groundwork for what will exist in the social media space. The core problem is that the social media space is ALWAYS two to five years ahead of the written legislature.

An example of this legal/policy delay: In October 2009  the United States FTC placed a policy into affect regarding advertising testimonials, bloggers and celebrity endorsements. The unfortunate side conversation of the FTCs policy work is that it condemns almost everyone into the category of “advertising testimonials, bloggers and celebrity endorsements”

Why? Everyone is becoming a Celebrity

In the web world, everyone with an internet connection is becoming a celebrity. If we compare a professional from ten years ago with a communication network of 200 contacts (once considered a tremendous asset) and the average person online via Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook with a communication network of 5000+ …. at what number of communication and adoption numbers do we consider ourselves a celebrity?

If we take that question and apply it to a highly regulated field such as legal, medical or finance….. are these new regulations and policies forbidding regulated professionals from interacting online with the rest of the world