The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States recently issued new guidelines for responsible alcohol advertising and marketing on social networking sites and other digital platforms.

The guidelines, which became effective September 30, apply to all branded digital marketing communications – both paid and unpaid – of DISCUS member companies, including Web sites, blogs, mobile communications, and apps.

Under the guidelines, participating entities are required to have consumers confirm their ages before marketers can engage them in direct dialogue (a process known as “age-gating”) and to regularly monitor brand pages and sites, removing inappropriate user-generated content when needed. In addition, the guidelines instruct that companies should clearly identify their brand marketing as such in digital marketing communications or product promotions, such as blogs, and utilize visible instructions “urging” consumers to forward downloadable digital content only to those over age 21.

Companies must also update their privacy policies to improve data collection practices and the use of personal information, according to the guidelines, and consumers are required to affirm they are of legal purchase age before the company collects any information from them. Such information cannot be sold or shared with third parties unrelated to the brand advertisers, the guidelines state. And consumers must affirmatively “opt in” prior to receiving a direct digital marketing communication as well as have the ability to then “opt out” of such communications.

The guidelines, developed in coordination with the European Forum for Responsible Drinking, will be applicable to marketing on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Under the preexisting DISCUS Code, advertising and marketing for alcoholic beverages should be placed in media only where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be of legal purchase age. DISCUS noted that the most recent Nielsen online syndicated data from August 2011 found that all three sites met the threshold for alcoholic beverage marketing, with 82.22 percent of Facebook’s audience over 21, 86.86 percent for Twitter, and 80.96 percent for YouTube.

To read the guidelines, click here.

Why it matters: DISCUS said that in light of “constantly evolving” technology, the guidelines will be regularly reviewed and updated as needed. “Social media has become an increasingly important marketing channel to reach adult consumers of legal purchase age,” Peter Cressy, DISCUS president, said in a statement. “These new digital guidelines reflect our companies’ strong commitment to extend their responsible marketing practices to these emerging media platforms.” A spokesperson for DISCUS told The Wall Street Journal that the organization plans to investigate companies that are reportedly not in compliance with the guidelines and will publish the results of the inquiries on its Web site.