Social Media Ethics: Resources to Help You Stay Out of Trouble

Here’s a BlogWell presentation by GasPedal CEO Andy Sernovitz that recaps the latest FTC regulations on disclosure and social media. He teaches Word of Mouth Marketing at Northwestern, taught Entrepreneurship at the Wharton School of Business, ran a business incubator, and has started half a dozen companies. GasPedal is his consulting company, where he advises great brands like TiVo, Dell, Ralph Lauren, Sprint, and Kimberly-Clark on best practices.

Sernovitz covers the 10 magic words of proper online disclosure, his specific steps for keeping your brand safe under the latest FTC regulations, and his personal tips for staying ethical and legal. He always puts ethics and dis­clo­sure front and cen­ter when he speaks on this topic: “The num­ber one issue around ethics comes down to dis­clo­sure — being hon­est about your true iden­tity.” Dis­clo­sure is essen­tial and easy but requires edu­ca­tion: “You don’t tack on a dis­clo­sure state­ment later, you start with that. You start with ethics and that’s how you lead.” It’s not only the right thing to do, but “it’s essen­tial as a way to stay out of trou­ble. Almost every social media scan­dal involv­ing brands boils down to a lack of dis­clo­sure. The blo­gos­phere expects to know your motivations.”

Takeaways

  • This isn’t a debate among experts, it’s the law. The rules are clear, and the FTC will be cracking down. If you recruit people to blog about you, you’re responsible for the content.
  • Everything begins with ethics. Ethics is the foundation of a social media program. It’s not what you add later; it’s what everything else is built on.
  • Your biggest risk is a failure to properly train your team. Most companies don’t set out to launch a stealth marketing campaign. The scandals happen again and again from well-meaning employees who just don’t know it’s wrong.
  • The “10 magic words” for employ­ees ven­tur­ing onto the social Web: “I work for X, and this is my per­sonal opin­ion.” That dis­claimer goes a long way in help­ing to sep­a­rate offi­cial com­pany pol­icy from an employee’s per­sonal views.
  • Grab a copy of the Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit below. You could use it as the basis for a full-blown pol­icy that comes out of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions, make it part of your company’s employee hand­book, or use it as a set of infor­mal guide­lines for your depart­ment or team.

Watch the presentation and follow along with the slides below:

Dis­clo­sure Best Prac­tices Toolkit

The Social Media Busi­ness Coun­cil, of which Ser­novitz is CEO,  has cre­ated a Dis­clo­sure Best Prac­tices Toolkit — a handy and essen­tial resource for any com­pany involved in social media. This is not an impe­ri­ous one-size-fits-all list of must-dos — “we’re not a stan­dards body or trade asso­ci­a­tion,” as Ser­novitz says. Instead, it’s an open source toolkit to help you build your social media policy. “Adapt it to your com­pany, teach your team, improve, and share,” he adds.

Down­load the 10-page tookit as a single document (Word docx) or view each section individually online:

What steps has your company or organization taken to embrace disclosure?


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Amazon Turns to Twitter to Boost Affiliate Marketing. Is it Spam?

The U.S.’s dominant e-tailer is trying to do something that even Twitter hasn’t figured out how to do: Make money on Twitter.

Last week, Amazon contacted members of the Amazon Associates program to announce a new feature: Integration with Twitter. When Associates log into their accounts, they now see a “Share on Twitter” button on their Site Stripe (a  toolbar at the top of the page). Clicking the button creates a tweet that includes a  shortened URL to send out of all of their followers. The monetization angle is that the shortened link includes the associate’s Amazon referral code, enabling the Associate to earn as much as 15% from any resulting sales.

amazon-twitter

Twitter users love to click on links, so this feature could boost the earnings of popular Tweeters with large lists of active followers.

The tweet text can be posted as-is or edited. If the tweet is edited, there really is no way to tell that the Twitter status update is an actual ad.

Here’s something to think about in light of the FTC’s recent efforts to crack down on sponsored blog endorsements: Many blogs (not all) disclose that they will earn money when they offer you a referral link. Even if they want to, this will be difficult for Associates to do on Twitter because of its 140-character limit. Will the folks at the FTC attempt to track the hidden advertising explosion-in-the-making on Twitter?

Before editing:

unedited-tweet

After editing:

edited-tweet

Is it spam or hidden advertising or both?

It’s product placement, Internet-style. Subliminal advertising is rampant on TV (Don Draper in his London Fog coat on Mad Men, anyone?), and now it’s going to show up in Twitter streams.

As to the spam characterization, it’s easy to stop following someone who goes too “commercial” for your taste. But if you follow a lot of people, you might have to wade through a high volume of self-serving, deceptive tweets about any of the millions of products available on Amazon. And the commercial tweets will be difficult to differentiate from the usual flow of status updates on Twitter — you might not be sure until you click on the link — and you may not know definitively if it was really an ad or if the poster was trying to be helpful and point out something interesting.

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