Advice: The social media minefield

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Advice: The social media minefield

Related tags Social media

New apps and social networks could land a licensee in trouble, if not navigated appropriately.

Drunkmode. The name of a mobile phone app that promotes ‘the ability to track down your drunk friends via GPS so you don’t lose them when you’re out partying’.

The app also shows where the user went the previous night (in case they can’t remember) and offers the ability to share that information on Twitter and Facebook.

Drunkmode is currently only available in the US and, for the sake of your premises licence, that might be a good thing. If your customers are telling the online world that they were drunk in your premises, there is a chance that it’s not just their friends who might be interested.

PR battles

Recently, there has been a significant rise in the number of police, licensing authorities and other responsible authorities joining and posting content onto social media sites. Twitter, Facebook and other similar platforms are now regularly used to debate the merits of licensing applications. Public relations battles are being fought online — especially where the reputation of premises is at stake. The potential closure of a London nightclub by police recently drew an online petition supporting the club running into thousands.

Gone are the days when a review of a premises licence would simply mean a blue notice in the window of your premises. Now, it is a common occurrence for police and even licensing authorities to tweet the fact that they have commenced review proceedings, sometimes combined with a picture of the premises. Hardly an advert for your business, is it?

With the general election campaign in full swing, what do you think are the odds of a politician making a faux pas or downright blunder on social media before 7 May? In gambling parlance, the
book has already been closed. While such an error of judgment might prove to be embarrassing, it rarely (but not exclusively) proves to be career threatening.


The same cannot be said for the content posted by the owners and operators of licenced premises and their customers. The ever-shifting world of online and social media presents opportunities and pitfalls in equal measure to those in the hospitality sector.

Many of today’s increasingly internet aware operators rely heavily on their social media campaigns to drive footfall. At an industry event in January, for example, a successful multiple bar operator claimed that almost 50% of their new business was driven by social media campaigns.

But posting on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms can be a minefield. Distinctions can be drawn between the content you post for your business, posts by employees, and those of your customers.


One area within the control of an operator is drinks promotions. 

In October, the coalition Government tightened the Home Office guidance surrounding irresponsible drinks promotions.

The revised guidance (as at March 2015) provides chapter and verse on such promotions, together with examples. In terms of social media campaigns, a familiar topic for many operators is happy hours. The guidance specifically states that happy hours are not prohibited ‘as long as these are not designed to encourage individuals to drink excessively or rapidly’. Obviously, any promotion would be viewed on its own merits and whether there is encouragement to drink ‘excessively’ will be a question of fact and degree.

Grey area

To give you an example of this grey area, there was recently a tweet from a bar in London advertising £1.50 drinks on a Saturday night. In London, at those prices, that is positively giving it away!

As with those in the US who post via Drunkmode, the online posts of your customers will be broadly outside your control. As most operators will know, there has been considerable growth in mobile video content and picture messaging. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are no doubt popular with many of your customers, but could the pictures and video they are taking and uploading ultimately be used as evidence against you? Pictures of drunkenness and under-age drinking are obvious dangers, but even pictures of customers behaving normally could present problems.

We have known of contested hearings where local residents have produced pictures posted on Twitter showing packed outside areas allegedly outside the times permitted by the licence, and Facebook postings showing clearly inebriated young women ‘having a great night’.

So, continue to be vigilant about your online presence and reputation. We don’t know how the licensing landscape will change after the general election, but few would place any bets on the next regime becoming less restrictive. And, if you host an election-night party, make sure there is no footage of a drunk politician in your premises. After all, it is not only his reputation at stake.

Related topics Licensing law

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