Sunday, May 23, 2010

Social Media Marketing Ethics

                                    Image by Wonderlane

In the "good old days," marketers and public relations professionals could have "ethical lapses," and employee less than the most scrupulous methods in obtaining results for their companies, clients, and themselves, with little chance of getting caught. No longer... 

The advent of the social Web has made dishonest marketing and PR practices difficult, if not impossible, to perpetrate--without eventual detection. For example, a 2006 Osterman Research report (commissioned by BoldMouth) found that it was commonplace for companies to “incentivize” bloggers and influential discussion forum users to post positive reviews about a product or service. These incentives often took the form of giving the blogger the product or service for free in exchange for a glowing assessment. 

However, in today's online world, where Google records almost every scrape of information, including social news and gossip, such deceptions are usually uncovered, resulting in massive condemnation by online communities that not only cancel out any gains made by the unethical behavior, but likely cause irreparable harm to the reputation of the perpetrator. When an individual garners this level of mistrust and negative publicity, it is almost always guarantees a detrimental financial impact.

Moreover in October 2009, a WSJ article revealed that, "New guidelines released by the Federal Trade Commission say bloggers must disclose any money or freebies they receive in exchange for writing product reviews." The rules extend to Facebook, Twitter and other social media portals. Bloggers who choose to continue to take payola for favorable reviews risk not only being ostracized by the very communities they need to survive, but now face running a foul of FTC rules and the consequent legal repercussions.

So, it turns out that in social media marketing, mom was right, "Honesty is the best policy." By creating authentic and genuine content, disclosing who are in online conversations, and being transparent (revealing any interest you have in products or services), you will gain the respect of the community where you operate and eventually the members will trust your opinions, which vastly improves your odds of influencing people into making purchase, subscribing to a newsletter, and so on (i.e., conversions).

The resources below provide further tips on how to be a successful social media marketer by following ethical behavioral guidelines:


  1. This is really good. I definitely go by the saying "Honesty is the best policy." It really is. If you aren't honest it will in the end catch up with you, and people will not be able to trust you or your word.

    I like that companies are being caught or found out of their wrong doing because it shouldn't be tolerated. Cheating should not be tolerated and cheated does not get you ahead.

  2. Thank you for calling attention to this recent shift in blogosphere dynamics. I am an avid follower of a variety of blogs, many of which offer lifetstyle themed content. This includes reviews of cosmetics and products. More than once, a blogger will suddenly decide to use a drugstore brand, and say it's the best thing shes ever tried. Now that Im more aware, posts like these (that do not disclose how the blogger recieved the product) seem unfair.

    In the blog world, word and opinions travel fast. If a blogger were to take advantage of her readers by pushing a product that the did not honestly endorse, she risks losing the trust of her following. If a blogger is sent a product to review, she certainly should post her honest opinions, as long as she clearly explains the nature of the review.
    Julia Zurcher

  3. Kaitlyn and Julia--thank you for the kind comments about the post. It does seem that the quickest way to ruin your reputation online is to be less entirely honest.


  4. It's about time companies are forced to be transparent and honest in their marketing. I am so tired of purchasing products that have gotten "rave reviews" and finding that they do nothing. Health and fitness products are notorious for false advertising.

    I support any advances in social media that create accountability for products and services. If the web continues to progress, it should be possible to find out the truth about any product with just a little research. All I ask from a product or service is that it does what it says. Really, is that so much to ask?
    Tasha Gulack

  5. The growing use of social media networks has resulted in increased availability of information. If a company produces an inferior or unpopular product, bad reviews will appear on the social media sites & it will difficult for that company to win back the consumer. Therefore, it is in the company's best interests to market a high-quality product and not hide any inferior aspects of the merchandise.

    There is very little privacy anymore on the Internet. Companies must show that they are honest and willing to disclose information about their products. Any negative comments about a company will quickly spread throughout the Internet & media networks. As a result, the best approach, from a business and ethical perspective, is for the company to produce the best products possible. In this respect, the Internet has functioned to improve quality control for various products.

    Wendy L. Rosen

  6. I think "Honesty is the best policy." as well. It really is.If you aren't honest and try and cheat, it'll probably catch up with you and than no one will trust you. A lot of people might not want to use a product if a company bribed customers to write good reviews because other cumsomers would feel uneasy about the product and might not want to by it because they aren't sure if the product is good or not of if the company just lied to look good.

    The internet makes it very easy for people to try to do anything. You can become a different person online because no one can truly see the real you, so it can be really easy for some body to bribe someone just so there product can sell more because of the good reviews. But the internet is also cracking down and making it easier for companies to get caught in there wrong ways.

    Ladell Nohaert Malm

  7. Wendy and Ladell--glad you found the post thought provoking. People tend to trust other people's opinions on the social Web because they don't have commercial interest in the product or service under discussion. If a company is going to participate, they must clearly identify their potential conflict of interest and try to provide information of interest, not just baltant advertisements.


  8. I liked your post a lot! I have thought about this situation and how people could theoretically say whatever they want even if it is not true. I have read a lot of reviews on products that I did not like, however other people raved about how amazing they were.
    I had issues trusting certain websites or reviews if they seemed a bit off just because I did not want to be getting bad or faulty information. Honesty definitely is the best policy. If more people were honest we would have an easier time believing one another and we could get more done faster.
    Good post.

    Carlyn Boyle

  9. If I was the customer I would have to say I would definitely want the company that I am purchasing anything from to be honest. I am glad that there are rules and restrictions on what a business can say or report about their products. Honesty is the best policy!
    Allowing others to review products is great I feel. I do a lot of research before I purchase anything. This entails reading the reviews of each product and even comparing products. I am sure there are a few out there still who will fudge the truth so that they can sell their product, but I feel for the most part if people are watchful and selective they can be avoided.

    Nicky Bolt

  10. I feel you are right that in a virtual world, people have the power of anonymity, this causes them merge and grow in numbers. There is a consequence free speech environment online. And this is good because when presented with unethical business, people should be allowed to speak out against it. But sadly, the internet's greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness.

    In a sea of names, and ideas, not only people fall by the way side, but entire groups. People who band together and speak up are sometimes ostracized with the rest of their virtual communities. Sometimes it is not the content of posts but those affiliated with the post. For instance: My space, and facebook. Some reviewers have been discredited by the companies competition only by the information on their personal accounts. In some cases a facebook account can discredit an entire group.

    There have also been certain companies who write their own reviews to get around the FTC. They use surnames and alter egos to inflate the trends to benefit the pockets of the manufacturers. Many times I have read the reviews of one of my companies “clients” and after searching for a while discovered the review was written by a person who works for the very company that they are reviewing. It’s not an incentive- It’s a bonus because it’s work related. In fact I have heard of companies with entire teams that do nothing but this. I am sure there are laws against it, but I still find posts out there.

    When online, it is always a good idea to use discretion.

    John Bockmier

  11. Ethics are extremely important! It is crazy how little ethics are even concidered anymore. It is also very sad, making it hard for other comapnies, consumers, and people working for you to trust what you are doing for them. It should not be this way. I am glad you made the effort to point this out, but sad that it had to be done.

    Everything you posted was very important and great ideas. Really brought an easy way to just kinda recap what needs to be done and how. It is not something that can be over looked. If you lack ethics you will get caught sooner or later and it won't be fun!

    Caitlin R. DeFord

  12. I have always believed that honesty is the best policy in every aspect of life. Lies just create more problems in the long run. I love the fact that dishonest marketing cannot survive now that these corrupt marketers are being found out by the simple act of blogging.

    Social Media Marketing is wonderful by the fact that it allows for information to be received quickly and now that the information’s honesty is in check it makes the information that much more reliable and trustworthy. There is now a punishment for dishonest behavior in marketing and word-of-mouth is leading the crusade.

    Kristina Sink

  13. Kristina--quite right, getting with dishonesty on the social Web is quite unlikely. Thank you for the kind words about the post.


  14. Fabulous post! I believe that as long as there are humans they will try to pull the wool over the publics eyes when it come to promoting products or sevices. As the internet and blogging increases in bredth and scope you will see more transparancy in marketing.
    If someone has an alterior motive to "sell" a product such as receiving free samples their opinion will alway skew toward the product. It is an old ploy that has been around as long as people have been selling stuff.

    Bill Meredith

  15. Interesting that as easy as the Web makes it for people to (think) they can get away with dishonesty, the Web makes it just as easy for them to get caught. Mother is right. Honesty is the best policy and dishonesty will always catch up with you sooner or later, somehow or another. Probalby sooner with Social Media Marketing.

    It's good to be honest and not believe everything you see or hear. Do a little more research if it seem too good to be true and if your considering investing.

    Yolanda K. Bowman

  16. Yolanda--great point about how taking things with a grain of salt (where did that saying come from anyway?! ;-). Glad you found the resources of value.


  17. Melissa, great article about social media marketing ethics. Today, business ethics are key to success in any trade. Social marketing ethics are no different. As a consumer, I want to know that the opinions I am reading are unbiased and relate to the product/service 100%. It almost is disheartening to know that some posts may be tainted with consumers that are being paid and not owning up to it like they should be. It is good that there are rules in place to govern what goes on, but how strictly are they enforced and what is the penalty of bad ethics in social networking?
    Thank You Melissa

  18. The transparency in posting motive is essential for readers to trust the posters intentions. I believe unbiased perspectives are not required by readers but people do expect authentic content. If someone has paid for your posting then let people know, but to keep this hidden is a direct and purposeful manipulation. The new guidelines by the Federal Trade Commission has attempted to get a handle on paid postings and post bargaining but I hope these actions will dissipate into the future as the Internets anonymity becomes extinct.
    (PS. In posting this I hope to get a good grade in a online course ;-) )

  19. I really think that this is a really good thing. Honesty is the best thing. I always live by being honest. Companies think that people will only by there product if there is a good reviews when most people will buy the product with good review or bad. Because most people know that the reviews are fake. But I really think it is good that they are being caught with their cheating cause it is wrong.

    Cheating and lying shouldn’t ever happen. But seems like there are liars and cheaters everywhere these days. But lying will never get anyone ahead cause no matter what the truth will always pop up!
    Jennifer Baker

  20. Melissa this is an interesting posting that you have. to be honest with you I never really thought about people being paid for their reviews. I use product reviews all the time to buy things on line or off, I never noticed anything on them that said this person would be paid but I will be looking for that from now on.

    The saying on the bench is very true to word "you must be the change you want to see in the world". It's good to know that we are being protected as much as possible through the FTC rules. Thank you for your post I can honestly say I have learned something new today.

    Lecia Tallman

  21. Hello,
    From being a mere avenue for data processing and connectivity, it has quickly gained a knack for being socially oriented, creating a multi community rather than just simply being a data transfer protocol.

    Social Media Marketing Company

  22. Thanks for the comment! Could you clarify what you mean by "creating a multi community rather than just simply being a data transfer protocol" - I think I know what you're getting at, but wanted to clarify.