Safety is everyone’s business. Brand safety, that is.

A recent study found that 75% of brands have been exposed to a brand safety incident within the past year. Nearly half of those companies received some sort of fallout on social media because of these incidents.

In this new world of social advertising, brand safety issues aren’t an “if”—they’re a “when”.

Protecting your brand strategy in this evolving landscape requires collaboration, foresight and planning. To help, we’ve gathered everything you need to know to create brand safety guidelines for a social-first world.

Keep reading to learn how you can limit brand safety risk on social.

What is brand safety?

Brand safety is all about risk mitigation. In advertising, brand safety refers to the measures that protect a brand from mishaps that might question its online reputation.

For the most part, these measures focus on preventing ads from appearing alongside inappropriate or offensive content. For example, a company can create brand safety measures that prevent their paid advertising efforts from popping up in content that promotes hate speech or violence.

If this happens, the average consumer might misunderstand the placement as an endorsement of the content itself. A recent study found that 49% of consumers say their perception of a brand is negatively affected when it appears alongside offensive content.

Why is brand safety important?

It’s like the old saying goes: when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

A proactive brand safety plan is the only way to mitigate risk on social. While most social networks have standards in place to prevent ads from showing up within harmful content, these standards are usually developed after a brand safety blunder makes a threat clear.

For example: In March 2017, several advertisers had to pause or pull their YouTube ad spend after being called out for appearing alongside homophobic and racist content. The controversy, while unfortunate, did illuminate the need for improved safeguards in programmatic social advertising.

Risk is a natural part of adopting a new social network, feature or tool. If you let that stop your brand from hopping on the latest social media marketing advancements, you risk falling behind your competitors and out of favor with your target audience. That’s a major risk in itself.

The only real way to protect your business online is to create brand safety guidelines that understand and address the social media landscape.

Brand safety and social media

Social media advertising is projected to grow by 25% in 2022, reaching $137 billion in ad spend.

As the paid social game grows, potential risks grow alongside it. Communication and marketing professionals have to account for a slew of potential brand safety threats, including:

  • Paid social ads appearing alongside harmful or damaging content
  • User-generated content featuring false claims about a product or brand
  • Scandals involving creator or influencer marketing partners

Thankfully, social also doubles as a powerful risk detection and prevention tool. One of the many benefits of social listening is that you can use it to monitor the larger conversation around your brand, illuminating any sources of potential controversy before they spin out of control.

Brand safety statistics to pay attention to

Senior leaders are also increasingly invested in the new world of brand safety. A recent study from Weber Shandwick found that:

  • 75% of global executives have experienced a recent reputational crisis that could have been prevented.
  • 39% of global executives have experienced a crisis that impacted their company’s brand reputation within the last two to three years.
  • 87% of executives say customers are the most important stakeholder when it comes to perceptions of a company’s reputation.

Social media is a center point in consumers’ daily lives. It’s the first place they turn to for information, entertainment or an outlet to voice their thoughts and opinions.

If companies want to stay in the good graces of this priority stakeholder, they’ll need to rethink their brand safety guidelines from a social-first point of view.

How to limit brand safety risk on social media

The easiest way to limit brand safety risk on social media is to create comprehensive brand safety guidelines. But, before you can do that, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the existing brand safety controls across popular networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and TikTok.

Brand safety on Meta platforms

Meta offers several brand safety controls that work across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. These features allow you to choose the level of control over where your ad appears. Placements can be restricted by content topic, format and even source.

Brand safety on Twitter

Twitter’s Brand Safety Marketing Collection offers both technical and general advice on how to keep your brand safe on the network. Their efforts to keep Twitter a safe place for brands and communities include various content moderation features and ongoing partnerships with independent expert organizations.

Brand safety on YouTube

In 2021, YouTube became the first digital platform to receive content-level brand safety accreditation from the Media Rating Council. Their continued accreditation speaks to the many initiatives Google has taken to ensure advertisers get the most out of their investments in the network.

YouTube’s brand safety features recently went through an overhaul to make them consistent with those available through Google search and display ads.

Brand safety on TikTok

Earlier this year, TikTok launched its Brand Safety Center to provide marketers with up-to-date news and recommendations on brand suitability within the network.

As its footprint in the social media landscape grows, the TikTok team has been hard at work creating brand safety solutions within their ad platform. As of today, those features include the TikTok Inventory Filter, plus some pre- and post-bid safety tools.

Building brand safety guidelines into your social media strategy

Documented brand safety guidelines can empower others to take part in risk prevention strategies. Here’s how you can create and distribute your guidelines with maximum efficiency:

Define brand standards

What is “inappropriate content”?

The answer might seem straightforward but the more you dig into it, the more nebulous it becomes. For example, one might assume all content involving illegal drugs is inappropriate. In reality, that would end up filtering ads from sources that share news features, educational content or preventative resources on the topic.

To figure out where your company falls on the many different types of inappropriate content, you need to talk about it. Host a roundtable to talk through these resources from the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Outline the amount of risk you’re comfortable with and build an exclusion list for paid advertising efforts.

Identify a point person for brand safety issues

Brand safety is everyone’s responsibility. Still, when it comes time to launch a crisis response strategy, you’ll want to limit it to one or two people calling the shots.

Decide which parties will be responsible for assessing incoming risks and response needs. Once it’s been decided, socialize the role within your company. That way, when an employee notices a potential brand safety risk, they’ll know just who to call.

Outline a response strategy

Even the most preventable crisis can feel random when it strikes. An actionable response strategy will enable your team to work quickly and efficiently as they address stakeholder concerns.

Create a crisis management plan that outlines what steps to take in the event of a brand safety incident. People will likely turn to your social pages for updates on how your company is responding, so be sure to include guidelines on sharing public apologies as well.

Set up a social listening topic

Use a social listening tool to set up a brand health topic so you can monitor the ongoing conversations around your brand.

A screenshot of the sentiment analysis table in Sprout Social's listening tool.

Sprout’s Listening tool has three features that can help you proactively address budding brand health crises:

  • Spike Alerts to notify you of shifts in conversation activity around your Listening Topics.
  • Sentiment Analysis to understand trends in audience perception around your brand.
  • Word Cloud to quickly observe what topics are driving the conversations around your brand.

Create onboarding training

The world wide web is a big place. It’s nearly impossible for a single team to stay on top of every potential brand safety threat that may arise. To maintain a positive reputation, you need to equip everyone with the resources they need to help stop a threat in its tracks.

Ask that managers include links to brand safety guidelines and protocols in all onboarding materials. Include quick primers on why these materials matter and what teams can do to help.

Brand safety first

Protecting a brand’s reputation isn’t any single team’s responsibility. Everyone in your company should be equipped to stop a potential brand safety mishap in its tracks.

Fill out this corporate communications plan template and share it with your team so they know what to keep an eye out for on the brand safety front. The more prepared you are today, the less you’ll have to worry about a crisis damaging your brand reputation tomorrow.