Areas of Caution: Ethics, Pitfalls, Social Implications
Few thing in this life are without their downsides. Technology is especially tricky in this regard as technology moves faster than our societies' ability to completely understand all the consequences, legal and ethical issues. Social Media has been around long enough that some of the issues have been identified, but not all.
It is prudent then, for us studying the use of Social Media for Marketing reasons to consider these issues, and discuss how they can be addressed.
Issues facing Businesses
Why should a business care about ethics? While the ethical positions of individuals and organizations may vary, I would expect most would agree that organizations have a responsibility to act ethically. In my opinion, that is the most compelling reason for a business to act ethically. Many professional organizations have codified rules of ethics for their members, including how they market their services.
If one is not swayed by the "responsibility" reason for acting ethically, another argument can be made - namely, that acting ethically is good for business (or perhaps acting unethically is bad for business.) One could say this is a sort of a form of karma - an organization's actions influence how it is treated.
The perception of many is that often, marketing efforts sit on the edge of ethical behavior. The public is skeptical about marketing claims, with good reason. Young people today have been subjected to ads since they have been children. The promise of social media marketing is that it can reach those that are cynical about traditional marketing methods. With that, however, comes some ethical challenges. One of the statements made most often about social media marketing is to be effective, it requires a personal connection between the organization and the customer. The basis of any personal relationship is trust. As such, I believe social media marketing raises the bar with regards to ethics. For it to be successful, social media cannot be business as usual with regards to marketing.
Here are some ethical issues surrounding the use of social media:
- Is it ethical for a CEO of a company to post a blog post someone else actually wrote?
- Is it ethical to delete a negative comment someone wrote? What about an abusive comment?
- Is it ethical to pay someone outside your organization to blog or tweet about your company?
- Is it ethical to give influential bloggers free goods to review? If I posted on my blog a review of the iPad 2, would it matter if I purchased it, or if it was given to me by Apple?
- If an organization claims it is "transparent and authentic" (see discussion of these topics under Addressing the Issues, what does that mean? To what degree do they need to live up to this?
When organizations employees social media as part of their marketing efforts, it is a double edge sword. It gives a way for their fans to help spread the word, in effect, to provide free assistance spreading the word - viral marketing
Of course, when an organization employs social media, it opens the door not just for its fans, but also for its detractors. For some, this loss of control is difficult. Trying to hard to keep control can alienate even an organization's supporters. In fact, even if an organization does not employ social media, it can be vulnerable to such attacks.
Here are some examples of issues organizations/individuals have faced or could face related to Social Media. This is a mixed list - in some cases, social media was used against organizations, in other cases, the organization's social media strategy is being attacked.
- Nivea "Recivilize" Ad
- DB Breweries
- News of the World (Huge scandal in the UK)
- Guy Kawasaki - Ghostwriting
Addressing the Issues
There are several concepts relating to social media that address such issues. Two of them are: transparency and authenticity. If social media marketing is not business as usual and, as many have stated, requires a personal touch, and interactivity to be successful, then trust is critical. being transparent and authentic is a key to this. Of course, there are those that would argue that transparency in social media is an illusion. Can one be "somewhat" transparent? Can a line be drawn and a balance struck?
Many organizations create a Social Media Policy. These are designed to address potential ethical and other business issues relating to social media. Here are Intel's Social Media Guidelines, which, in the spirit of transparency, are published and available on the web.
Issues facing Society as a whole
Speculating on the long term impact of the use of internet use, social media and social media marketing is McLuhan-esque territory. There is speculation concerning how computer/internet use could reshape our brains. The impact of advertising on children and adolescents has been studied. Many now are constantly connected - always on. The best description I've heard about how many of us live our lives is Continuous Partial Attention. Key in understanding facebook is recognizing that "We are its product, not its customers". What will be the impact when children and adolescents when the advertising becomes ubiquitous, following them around via their mobile phones and butting in during interactions with friends? What will be the impact of children and adolescents spending so much time on a site, where they are viewed as a "product"? It can be chilling to consider.
I don't want to end on a pessimistic note. This week is the "issues" week, where we begin to examine some of the negatives of Social Media. To quote McLuhan "We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us." While no one has a crystal ball to predict the precise impact of technological changes, we must consider potential issues and develop/use tools with awareness.
This week, instead of a blog post, you will post to two discussion forums on Angel(LCCC's CMS - the discussion forums will be in the week 5 folder). One forum will be "Describe what should be contained in LCCC Business Division's Policy on Social Media Marketing for its employees." and "Discuss your views of some of the problem issues discussed in this post". Each forum is worth 5 points. Every post or reply will be awared some points. After you have earned your five points, you are welcome to continue discussing, but will likely not be awarded more points (on the other hand, I may award extra credit points for outstanding contributions). In both forums, support what you say with examples. I will make every effort to stay up to date on grading and award points within 24-48 hours of the post.