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Feds put new rules on wineries' use of social media

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 7:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 10:38 a.m.

Beverage makers selling wine, beer and spirits using the freewheeling world of social media are being gently reined in by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

In new guidelines, the federal government declared that sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are essentially new forms of advertising. As a result, companies selling adult beverages on those sites are subject to advertising rules, according to regulators.

“Social media just exploded in the last few years, and it seems like every week there's a new way to get your message out there,” said Sara Mann, attorney with Hinman & Carmichael, a San Francisco law firm specializing in the beverage industry. “I think wineries and other suppliers have been confused and a little unsure about what they can and can't do.”

Now, companies that advertise beverages on social networking sites, blogs, mobile applications and video sharing sites like YouTube will have to include mandatory statements on their profile or brand pages and refrain from making prohibited statements, such as false health claims.

Should a winery claim in its Twitter feed that a new study proves wine is good for your health? That's probably not a good idea, Mann said.

Essentially, the mandatory statements amount to listing the name and address of the advertiser, Mann said.

“You can't expect them to put their name and address in every Tweet, because it would take up the whole thing,” Mann said. “They say 'instead of that, put it into your profile section, or your 'About' section.'”

Lisa Mattson, communications director at Jordan, was mulling whether the winery would have to add mandatory statements to each of the 200 videos it has posted on YouTube.

“The big question is, is it just moving forward with (new) content ... or is it going to be required for us to add mandatory statements to every single video we've ever made?” Mattson asked.

Jackson Family Wines, which is hosting a happy hour party on Twitter today, requests age verification from people who RSVP for online parties, spokesman Jason Hunke said in an email.

“The updated TTB guidance only reaffirms how seriously we take these issues — from including responsible advertising language on our social media profile, to age-gating our websites,” Hunke said.

Foley Family Wines also aims to follow regulations, but for social media, there weren't any to follow, said Andrea Smalling, chief marketing officer.

“It's kind of the wild, wild West,” Smalling said. “And I think we're all following our gut for what's appropriate for wine ... but it's nice to have more specifics.”

Like other government agencies, the TTB has limited funds and may not have the resources to track compliance, said Andrew Healy, a social media consultant based in Napa.

“But you don't want to be the winery that they happen upon and want to make an example of,” Healy said.

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