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

by Pam Dyer

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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  • thevictorchen

    Awesome, but what makes for bad ethics? If I run a simple personal blog, could I be running into any trouble?

  • http://www.pamorama.net/ Pam Dyer

    The FTC is cracking down on bloggers vis a vis disclosure. In your case: if you write a glowing review for XYZ product on your blog and you're paid by the company that produces it to write that review, you have to make it very clear that it's a paid review. If you don't do this and/or you include an affiliate like without identifying it as such, the FTC won't be pleased. So it's about being upfront and open about disclosure.

  • thevictorchen

    Gotcha! Sounds like the key is disclosing the partnerships. So if I have no relationship (and just use a plain non-affiliated link) with the review I am writing about, then I am all clear?

  • http://www.pamorama.net/ Pam Dyer

    Yes! An example of needing to disclose would be if, for example, Chris Brogan paid me a fee to review his new book. I write a glowing review, urging readers to buy it, but I don't divulge the fact that Chris paid me. (And/or I provide an affiliate link which isn't identified as an affiliate link.) These things would put me on a slippery slope as far as the FTC is concerned. But in your case, it doesn't sound like you're doing anything like this — you're writing a review of something that you think is valuable for your readers and there aren't any strings attached. Make sense?

  • thevictorchen

    Perfect! Thanks for the feedback!

  • http://www.pamorama.net/ Pam Dyer

    The FTC is cracking down on bloggers vis a vis disclosure. In your case: if you write a glowing review for XYZ product on your blog and you’re paid by the company that produces it to write that review, you have to make it very clear that it’s a paid review. If you don’t do this and/or you include an affiliate like without identifying it as such, the FTC won’t be pleased. So it’s about being upfront and open about disclosure.

  • http://www.pinkishblue.com/ Victor

    Gotcha! Sounds like the key is disclosing the partnerships. So if I have no relationship (and just use a plain non-affiliated link) with the review I am writing about, then I am all clear?

  • http://www.pamorama.net/ Pam Dyer

    Yes! An example of needing to disclose would be if, for example, Chris Brogan paid me a fee to review his new book. I write a glowing review, urging readers to buy it, but I don’t divulge the fact that Chris paid me. (And/or I provide an affiliate link which isn’t identified as an affiliate link.) These things would put me on a slippery slope as far as the FTC is concerned. But in your case, it doesn’t sound like you’re doing anything like this — you’re writing a review of something that you think is valuable for your readers and there aren’t any strings attached. Make sense?

  • http://www.pinkishblue.com/ Victor

    Perfect! Thanks for the feedback!

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