7 Ethical Dilemmas Faced in Content Marketing

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.

Social Media Ethics

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.

Public Bashing

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?

21 thoughts on “7 Ethical Dilemmas Faced in Content Marketing

  1. I think the deadliest sin in Social Media Marketing is, invasion of privacy. On a daily basis, we are constantly on social media whether it is Instagram, Facebook or Twitter sharing what we’re doing. Often times when I’m scrolling down my timeline on Facebook, I look to the side and I see an ad from a website that I just finished searching. In my mind, I’m thinking how they knew that I was just searching a pair of shoes on Nike.com. That’s where I think Facebook invades my privacy. In addition, when we block certain features on these Facebook yet businesses can still see it.

    Another way social media marketing uses trickery on us is by allowing us to sign-in with our Facebook or Twitter accounts to order or search certain items. This gives them the power to view your information without you even knowing it. They can also track your location on places where you’ve visited. That’s why when you go to movies, never “check-in” because that’s another way for your information to reach the World Wide Web.

    I just look at it this way, anything you do on the internet can be tracked by advertising agencies even if you try to delete your search history. The only way to avoid this is to give up the internet or social media, but I highly doubt that can happen.

  2. The ethical dilemma that concerns me the most is distorted endorsements and improper anonymity. In order for companies to gain and maintain the trust of consumers, it is essential that their affiliations, credentials, and expertise are true representations of the business, and the products and services that they offer. Any intentional misrepresentations and fabrications of any of these elements can result in irreparable damage to a company’s reputation. As a consumer who purchases many commodities online, I rely heavily on product reviews and service testimonies when making purchasing decisions. Therefore, it is important that the companies that I purchase products from that I am unable to see or touch in person, and provide sensitive information to such as credit/debit card information, are transparent and honest in every aspect, including the capabilities of the products and services, to ensure customer satisfaction. Should a company participate in any dishonest practices that skew the quality of the company and their offerings, consumers will feel that the business may be untrustworthy in other aspects, which can lead to negative viral marketing, the inability to recuperate from damages to their reputation, a decrease in their customer base, as well as the potential for the business to go under as a result.

  3. All 7 of the deadly sins can kill a business. The marketing and advertising industry is about as trendy as high school, but the one that concern me the most would be Invasion of privacy. It’s no secret that technology is becoming more integrated in our work lives, and since we’re getting more comfortable with it we’re allowing technology to become more involved with our personal lives too. So many people own one or more mobile devices. These devices are becoming more interactive in our personal lives. Personal information about us is constantly being stored on these devices. Your device probably knows more about you than your close friend or maybe you family.
    Technology has become a part of us. It carries our contacts, calendar, personal messages to friends and colleagues, and other important information. It is becoming easy for hackers to get in to if not protected. Most people don’t even think about that. If you store your personal information on you mobile devices, then you’re putting your personal information at risk for strangers, hackers, and even identity thieves to gain access to all your information. Every time you download an app, search for a website, send a text, or drive by a store with your GPS on, you are being tracked. Smart marketers and advertisers are using that to their advantage. They’re taking that information and using it to reach out to their target audience. At the sometime their invading your privacy, with that being said how you real feel about the 7 deadly sins? The one that real should concern you should be the invasion of privacy.

  4. From the 7 ethical dilemmas in social media today, the deadly one that I concern the most is the ‘Invasion Privacy’. In this one mostly on Facebook, people trend to invade our privacy without permission. They share our profile, display private information of other people. In fact, I don’t display my picture on Facebook yet. The fact that there is no respect with Facebook users, they should have certain regulation in the social media to protect people privacy for the years to come.

  5. The use of Distorted Endorsements and Improper Anonymity by companies. As an online shopper, I rely on reviews and facts before i make my purchases. The most helpful are the user generated reviews, becuase they tend to be blunt and honest. Also they’re relatable from a consumer perspective. It’s dissapointing to find out that companies have been hiring the services of businesses and individuals to artificially inflate their follower numbers and distorting their reviews. Whether it’s on Twitter,Facebook, and e commerce websites. Paid spammers or commenters often work for firms or competitive companies. They actively visit popular social media websites, forums and micro-blogs to influence public opinion. These paid posters often post favorable comments about their employers’ product/services and negative comments on their competitors’. Most live under many fake names, and some even use automated tools to accelerate the dissemination of misinformation. Fake reviews are not good for anyone other than those who are paying for them. They’re not good for consumers, and they’re not good for honest businesses who fall victim to shady competitors.

  6. One of the deadly sins that concern me the most is spamming. It was once common to go on a social media site and actually be able to socialize without being spammed. However, now it’s common to see an inbox full of “click here for a free car” links that lead you to a webpage asking for your credit card or social security number. Many people, including myself, have a big problem with the constant overload of spamming on social media sites, because they sometimes deceive users into thinking they’re actually about to win a car or watch a funny video, when really they’ll be led to a page where someone is going to try to sell them something.

    Another deadly sin that worries me is distorted endorsements and improper anonymity. This is very unethical, because it usually deceives the consumer and makes them think that the endorser actually uses their product. For example, if a Beyonce Knowles look-a-like started to appear on ads for a skin care product, many of her fans would begin to use it. It would be horrible if they all found out that she never uses the skin care (and that she did not endorse it), because they were all under a false impression. This is immoral, because people trust the opinions of the people they think are endorsing the products, and they buy it because of that; while the company sits back and collects fraudulent and unethical profits.

  7. All of the 7 “deadly sins” are harmful to consumers and can definitely jeopardize the reputation and loyalty to a company. Considering the rapid development of technology, devices, and the social media world, the way of things has drastically changed. Nowadays, it is about who can make the most money the quickest, by any means necessary. This can include lying to the consumer, producing and providing false advertisements, scoping “private” information to place certain ads to target certain audiences, and more.

    Of the 7, I would have to say that invasion of privacy concerns me the most. Obviously privacy settings are available and offered to protect your information from creepy people, stalkers, and even future employers. The fact that companies and marketers think it is okay to invade the privacy of consumers and customers, is very wrong to me. Everyone has a life, and people choose live it differently, and even express it differently. At this rate, there is no reason to even have your social networks set up to the “highest” degree of privacy.

    Companies are now utilizing external groups to obtain all the information they can on a consumer, potential customer, even employer. For instance, we all keep hearing how we should be careful what we post to our social media sites because more schools and businesses are going beyond their scope of duty to figure out what you do in your personal time. As a matter of fact, my coach just sent out a mass text on how we should be more careful of what we post because people are out there to hate or get us. I have a bit of a difficult time with this because, essentially, we are grown adults and have lives outside of school and extracurricular activity. We should not have to be scared of what we post. We took the initiative to even create the account; it is in our name, and rightfully, we can enjoy our lives too without having to worry that someone is looking over our shoulder.

    It is getting out of hand and it needs to stop!

  8. Out of the 7 ethical dilemmas on this list, the one that resonates the most with me is Invasion of Privacy. We all know that signing up for a profile on any of the social media sites, will clearly mean that your information is out in the public for all to see.
    And we’ve probably all heard the controversy over the last couple of years with the Facebook privacy policy basically saying that if you post your pictures on their site, they in turn own those pictures and can do whatever they please with them.

    And typically I would not be bothered by any of this because you have to as a consumer know and accept that if you put your private information out there to the public, you risk the chance of getting negative publicity out of it.

    But what I did not know was that marketers have been using “custom audience” lists, which is basically sharing with Facebook your information on where you shop and browse through ‘click-thru’ behaviors to basically target you more on Facebook. This to me is an invasion of privacy. First, marketing companies or advertisers should NOT be allowed to compile this information and sell it to a social media site like Facebook.

  9. Ethical dilemmas in marketing is something that has been an issue for a significant amount of time not only domestically but internationally as well. While visiting India, I learned that the marketing techniques and tactics used by many companies are not nearly as stringent as they are here in the US. For example, it is not okay for a company to make false promises and advertise for products that do not work as said. However, in India many things are advertised in a manner that showcases the product to be better than they are. I find this to be unfair and unethical and that there should be more stringent international rules as well.

  10. With every good comes some bad… And while we all will agree that social media has opened up new doors which allow marketers to reach their target audiences in a less expensive yet more effective way, we cannot neglect to mention that there are definitely ethical issues which can arise. All the issues outlined in this blog cause me some dismay but the one which can cause the most harm is, without a doubt, is distorted endorsements and improper anonymity.

    Our generation is plugged in and connected at all times and the creation of the Internet has made us all victims of information overload. On social media, or anywhere on the Internet really, anyone can be a doctor, a physical trainer, a health coach, a therapist, psychologist, professor, etc. The fact that some companies pay people (or do it themselves) to review their products and services definitely worries me. Why are you putting products on the market if a real person will not think they are of quality? The Internet creates a mask and reduces the amount of actual face time consumers have with actual employees, products, and services.

    Companies which commit such unethical acts of fakes reviews deserve to have their reputations ruined. Misrepresentation of the quality of your goods and services can cause consumers real harm, physically and emotionally. Marketers can reach an unlimited number of consumers through social media. It is very important that industry professionals as well as consumers educate themselves on ethical practices for online engagement. It is extremely discomforting to recognize that this list will only get larger as time progresses.

  11. After reading this blog on the 7 deadly sins, the one that concerns me the most is dishonestly and distortions. I believe that honesty is the best way to build a long lasting relationship with your customers. If a company is genuinely interested in giving you something that will satisfy your need or want then most likely the customer is going to feel comfortable with coming back and buying again. On the other hand, if a company is dishonest about their intentions and giving misleading ideas or benefits about a product the customer is most likely to find out and spread the word. This will cause the company to have a terrible reputation that will not only scare away customer, but potential business partners as well. Scams and misleading products are a very big problem with social media or internet transactions in general. Craigslist is a very good example of dishonest and distorted products and services being sold. People and companies post pictures that are deceiving and when the product arrives with damages or is completely different from the pictures they do not want to be held responsible. My advice to the public is to do business face to face when it comes to buying products, pictures can be very deceiving!

  12. After reading this blog on the seven deadly sins I personally find dishonesty to be the worst and most frustrating of the seven. I truly believe dishonesty to be the worst ethical dilemma because it can puncture someone or a companies reputation, things done dishonestly are also very hurtful on a personal and business level. Tarnishing an individuals reputation can play a big role in the future success of that person, organization, or company. & can even cut off the lifeline in terms of financial support from customers. In the modern world news and information fly fast and it is harder for companies and individuals to bounce back from comments about themselves if it is all over for everyone to see publicly. Social media plays a large role in this with individuals, especially when it comes to bullying in schools and dishonesty with rumors. I feel these same situations can happen with companies and really hurt a business. Something that comes along with competitors is dishonesty about their opponent and if one company bashes another with untruthful comments and the public finds out that at the end of the day the comments were not true that could backfire and also hurt the company who started it and the victim. I do believe it is out of hand on an individual basis and with organizations who are pitted against each other. I find social media does not help lessen these types of issues either, and in fact makes them grandeur

  13. I personally think the spamming and public bashing is getting out of hand. Recently Facebook announced that they have updated their algorithms to change what appears on Newsfeeds. They have made an effort to reducing spamming and especially “Like Baiting”. They will monitor the content of posts, boosting, advertisements and promotions. In an effort to clean up Newsfeeds they have also reduced organic posts which are user generated advertisements which is somewhat of a bad thing but has its positives. Public bashing has grown as companies and people seek to have social media wars between their products or services. There is nothing wrong with friendly competition and an occasional witty jab, but influencing your followers to denounce a company is wrong in my eyes. Email blast, phone calls, posting to social media with spam is more prominent today as Google, Facebook, Twitter, ETC. are collecting so much data on users they can pinpoint our location and interests in a moments notice. Sometimes I wish to be left alone and would like to stumble across new products or services in my own times or by my own means instead of having things forced onto my screens.

  14. Out of these seven deadly sins, dishonesty and distortions concern me the most. To me, dishonest claims and untruthful derogatory comments are not worth jeopardizing the long-term reputation of my company. If consumers buy your product because the dishonest claims have led them to do so, they will eventually be disappointed by the product and will therefore have complaints about the product. I would rather be honest upfront so 1) my company is reputable and 2) the consumer knows that they are going to get.

    If a company paints a negative and dishonest picture of itself, people are going to see them as that and never want to buy their products. The negative picture that the company paints itself will most likely stick with them forever.

    Honesty is one of the most crucial parts of a company and being dishonest can just corrupt a company.

  15. After reviewing all of these “seven deadly sins” of marketing, I feel as though dishonesty and distortions concern me the most. As far as being ethical, I think that being honest and true is one of the main aspects of that; therefore, when a company is not being honest or is somehow distorting information to their target market, I feel as though that is a major ethical issue. Successful companies strive towards building long-term relationships with their customers, which this relationship is based on reliability and trust. If a customer cannot trust the company that they are buying from, then they will most likely look for that product or service somewhere else. Also, for example, if a customer sees an add for a certain product on the television, goes out of their way to order it, and the product comes to them and is not nearly what is advertised on the commercial, it builds a significant bad name for that company. This could then cause the customer to write bad reviews about the company, essentially turning other possible customers away due to the companies distorted advertisement about the product. Therefore, I feel as though a display of dishonesty and distortion is one of the worst the worst things a company can do for itself. There is no reason to lie or try to trick your customers into thinking something that is untrue, because eventually the truth will come out in the wash. Essentially, to be ethical, you must be honest; not only with your customers, but with your employees, your partners, and your company as a whole.

  16. Dishonesty and Distortions in my view is the most unethical practice that can occur in a company. As mentioned in your blog, this type of behavior can quickly tarnish the reputation of a company for a very long time. Some companies, faced with a loss of reputation may even try to distort the truth even more in order to better the company image in the public. This is very bad practice and never leads to good things.

    Now-a-days, in the age of the internet and immediate information, companies that have been down this route may find it hard to reestablish their good reputation. No matter how hard they try, the incident will always be out there and someone will remember it. Organizations have become so protective of their brands reputation that many do not allow access to social media at the offices. Taking it even further other companies even have their employees sign a confidentiality statement saying that they will not misrepresent the products or brand in any way whether they are at work or during personal time. Imagine this scenario; a disgruntled former employee has his new place of employment listed in Facebook, he then proceeds to badmouth and tell lies about his old job. This individual may be seen as representing the feelings of his new company which causes them to look bad in the public’s eye.

    There are so many reasons why and how a company can be dishonest….for instance I have seen companies that advertise items that they don’t sell. They will send you an email or have an ad on Facebook clearly showing a brand name item for an unbelievable price. However when you go there, the product is actually an inferior item. Another dishonest practice is tricking people to opt-in to things they really do not want. A business may advertise a useful app and you click on it and install the trial on your device. You thought you were agreeing to the app installation only but without knowing you have given the app access to you contacts. It can then send social media message to your friends as if it is from you inviting them to try the product.

    Organizations are always looking for ways to reach out to a wider audience and sell their products. They must be careful that their need to grow their brand does not degrade the products being sold.

  17. My biggest worry with social media would be Public Bashing. Although social media platforms are outlets to get on the consumers level and be more personable, companies need to always keep in mind the professionalism with which they use the sites. Publicly bashing or embarrassing competitors would look horrible on the company who is doing so. When a corporation acts unprofessionally it brings unwanted negative attention the company and could affect the amount of consumers who choose to buy their products or services.

    Companies must also be ready to handle any public bashing thrown their way and respond with respect and dignity. Always maintaining composure, posting professionally, and keeping things relevant to their products and services is the best way to go with social media. Consumers want to know what makes your company and product different and special, not how competitors are getting it wrong. Shaming others is a no no and could lead to detrimental repercussions. Law suits for things such as slander could be possible in extreme cases.

    I see public bashing very much like bullying in the corporate world. No one wants to be online to have to deal with someone harassing them. They want to enter a safe space where they can highlight themselves and scope the net for new things and information. The same should go for corporations who should be focused on making a name for themselves, bring more traffic to their website, and getting new customers to buy from them.

  18. There is no doubt that invasion of privacy is the ethical dilemma which concerns me the most. This comes at a time when big Internet companies like Google which owns YouTube are creating user profiles, which includes websites visited, search typed, and possibly e-mails received. This data is sold to marketers, so they can target proper audiences. When I browse YouTube, the website often suggests me to watch videos based on previous searches I have made on YouTube or even Google. My area of interest is very wide, so I find it annoying to be categorized by such websites based on searches I have made possible once. I find it ethically wrong to categorize users, track their activity, and sell this information to reach targeted audiences. I find it very difficult for these agencies to create a accurate user profile based on online activities, so the problem is that the profile created might be wrong.

    Furthermore, since the booming of Social Medias, it exists this fear that big companies want to keep your personal information, photos, as well as that they may resell this information to potential employers. So not only my privacy is being violated, but the information generated might create a false profile for myself. I have conducted a research on Medical Marijuana for a project, now YouTube suggests me to watch videos on how to grow the plant. Will my future employer think I am a drug-addict? If this ethical issue is not quickly resolved, we might face huge negative repercussions from this type of profiling.

    The evolution of the Internet platform as well as the ethical issues it generates should be monitored. Not enough efforts have been made against social medias to prevent invasion of privacy, eventually this may lead users to be wary of the information they share, which would negatively impact the marketing industry.

  19. People have to deal with ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. It is not an easy task, but something every person has to learn. With so many new technological advances in the world, there are many controversial things that people may think are right but many disagree. To me, something to be concerned about is privacy. Social networking has become the place where people not only post personal things, but also businesses take advantage of marketing and many other benefits of reaching the public. Now all this is very useful but many companies are giving away information and data about people in order for businesses to have insight into what consumers want. Such as Facebook and how ads always know what type of banners to put in front of each individual user. It is good in some ways but there has to be a limit as to how much information about a person can be used for business purposes. People should be able to control how much information can be used about them. The internet is a great innovation but people need to learn to control their privacy settings better. This is why people have to be aware of social networking usage such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Once people become aware of everything they post and how that information can be used, they will have a better understanding of their information and trust that it will not be used in wrong ways. Businesses have to be careful with ethics and the internet because no one really knows the boundaries anymore.

  20. There are many things regarding ethical dilemmas through social media/marketing that concern me, I think the one that concerns me the most is privacy. Google (search engines in general but you usually Google everything anyway), marketing companies, and your ISP record everything you do. Put it this way…they have your IP address which tells them where you are. Then they record and analyze your search history, websites visited, etc. Soon after they can build a profile about you, without even knowing your name. They know your location and IP and have all this information about you. They can send you links and things that they know you would have an interest in looking at. Little by little you put in an e-mail address here, a password there, a birthdate, etc. and they have everything they need to know about you.

  21. Reading though the blog I found myself recalling all of these examples of unethical behaviors online somewhere at some time. Above all dishonesty and distortions concern me the most. This alarms me the most because it has the worst overall impact on society. Distrust will eventually spread greatly which will make for an agitated market that is no longer open to change or authentic mistakes. I think it is sad how unprofessional and unethical marketers can be, which unfortunately give honest marketers a bad rap. Building customer trust is not easy and restoring customer trust is even harder. I personally do not like deception, I think that it is unnecessary. Integrity is always worth it in the long run.

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