Seriously. Don’t join a fake web industry body to get a membership badge. Here’s why.

There was a bit of chatter yesterday regarding yet another dubious outfit, promoting itself as an “official” web design and development industry body, phoning around looking for membership signups.

This organisation, and the people behind it, have history, and not in a good way. If these people showed up at a networking event, you would think less of the networking group. They’re that kind of outfit.

On a comment thread about this particular organisation, one person approached by them said:

“I am looking to join and agree, the badge seems appealing and will be useful.”

This is a common assumption for web professionals to make. After all, your clients and prospects will be impressed by a little badge in your footer noting an affiliation with an “official” web industry body, right?

Here’s why joining a dubious “web design and development organisation” to get a membership badge is an incredibly stupid idea that will come back to bite you.

Those badges are supposed to mean something. They imply that you have the backing of an organisation that has evaluated you against a set of professionally determined standards and principles. They imply that the organisation is also a fallback for clients of yours who are dissatisfied with your services.

Membership badges are not meant to be cosmetic, self-promotional sales tools that you get simply for handing over a few hundred quid to someone who cold called you pretending to have legal authority over an unorganised global profession.

Under UK trading standards law, promoting yourself as member of a business body which is not actually a business body is a form of false advertising:

It is also a breach of the Regulations generally to provide false or deceptive information that leads consumers to enter into contracts they would not otherwise have entered into – for example, a consumer contracting with a business only because he saw the logo of a trade association and therefore thought he would have additional protection if something went wrong.

In other words, let’s say a client relationship goes south. The client chose you because they thought that badge on your web site meant that you are the member of a professional standards body which they can now complain to regarding your service provision. They look them up and discover – as you should have done – that you’ve paid a back-room outfit run by someone who uses multiple false names to give you a meaningless graphic for your footer.

Now you’re part of the scam too, and your legal woes just got a hell of a lot worse.

That badge ain’t worth it.

Illegal associations, illegal names

One more comment on these organisations: the one discussed yesterday uses a business name which implies not just official status within the web industry, but authoritative powers within the UK government.

They’re so on top of the ball, this lot, that they don’t realise that in itself is doubly illegal.

Organisations promoting themselves as trade bodies for the web industry often use words in their names which UK law refers to as a “sensitive expressions”, meaning you cannot just use them in a business’s name. As with membership badges, those names are supposed to mean something.

if you are going to claim official status over an industry, you need to have the legal documents proving it. Those documents have to have the voice of that industry, not the gormless lawyer you paid to draft them. An organisation claiming to be representative of a group of professionals, or even a part of the UK government, has a lot of explaining to do.

On the subject of gormless lawyers. One of these organisations has posted their business terms and conditions on their web site. These terms refer to their business structure and company registration. They aren’t cut and pasted from a boilerplate: a lawyer has drafted them at the time the company was incorporated.

That lawyer set up the company and signed the documents without questioning their business name or realising that it is a sensitive expression.

There’s one born every minute. Don’t make it you.

About the author

Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.