With the rise of content marketing, brand marketers and advertisers have found a gold mine of opportunities for reaching and engaging their audiences. What’s more, consumers enjoy the power to invite their potential suitors.
But with this newly discovered consumer freedom to select what they read and who they befriend comes some new ethical challenges. No longer is the information vetted through high journalistic standards. Internet users now have to adopt their own filters for information. In addition, temptations still exist for advertisers to fake their endorsements and literally purchase favorable commentary.
A growing list of ethical dilemmas continues with violations of misrepresentation, privacy, cyber bullying and general “creepiness.” With the arrival of broad reaching and relatively unrestricted social channel communications comes the price of consumer vulnerable to new scams and deception. This is why ethics in social media is now receiving a great deal of attention. At the heart of consumer protectionism in this arena is a concern for trustworthy advice and protection of privacy as it relates to the protection of an individual’s own credibility.
The following are several common ethical dilemmas faced when sales personnel and marketers engage in social media:
Invasion of Privacy
Actions that unknowingly infringe on the privacy of social networking participants should be considered unethical if it potentially harms an individual’s personal and professional credibility. This would include any non-permissive approaches taken by a marketer to disclose profile information as well as the sharing of sensitive personal information through channels that could exploit or otherwise harm the individual’s standing.
A questionable area to consider when evaluating social media ethics is the role of behavioral targeting. Consider the ways advertisers track where you shop and browse from “click-through” behaviors used in retargeting campaigns. An assumption here is that ad viewers will appreciate the the improvement in message relevance.
A similar question should be raised in the use of Custom Audience features that permit marketers to pass on their email lists to Facebook, who then matches these lists with their own user log-in IDs for further targeting.
Over-promoting unsolicited messages is often viewed as unethical given the manner in which messages are broadcasted. Users are often deceived through a trail of spamming Twitter and Facebook links. The unwanted messages often clutter up opportunities for more useful information.
Publicly disparaging others (e.g., your competition) in your social media dialogs is typically considered unethical. Such negative sentiment can quickly go viral without permitting fair rebuttals. These defenseless attacks will not only damage your reputation, they run the risk of libelous lawsuits if not properly founded.
Dishonesty and Distortions
At the core of social media intentions is transparent communication. Dishonest claims or untruthful derogatory comments can jeopardize the long-term reputation of your company with an uncontrollable number of message recipients.
This issue has become especially contentious with the trend towards native ads. Although the FCC is likely to step into the arena, brand publishers have essentially been given a green light on disguising their ad content as publishing content.
Distorted Endorsements and Improper Anonymity
A similar ethical violation involves the misrepresentation of your credential, affiliations and expertise. Many once reputable companies have been severely damaged with fake stories of consumers using their products. i.e., What may appear to be an anonymous testimony is instead backed by a voice with a vested interest in the sponsor.
Any practice of hiring folks to comment favorable or fabricate a story about your company’s offerings should be considered unethical. In a similar vein, overly aggressive employees have been found guilty of exaggerating competitive shortcomings. This activity is especially harmful if it catches the parent company off guard.
Misuse of Free Expertise and Contests
With the growing use of Facebook contests and crowdsourcing for soliciting design ideas, contest participants run the risk of divulging their secrets with no reward. Oftentimes, design ideas are rewarded to the most profitable partners of the social network sponsor leaving many with unrewarded work. This abuse is especially unethical if the sponsor knowingly gathers superior design ideas from contestants they have no intention of compensating.
In the spirit of providing social networking communities with contributions to their cause or business challenges, social media marketers are discouraged from providing content that subliminally heads readers down a self-serving path. Whether these actions are unethical or just plain “unprofessional” depends on the situation and degree of deception.
So which of these deadly sins concern you the most?