|The Key is to Follow Basic Ethical Principles
Social media presents organizations with both ethical challenges and opportunities. As it blurs the boundaries between our personal lives and work, it can be a difficult balance for companies to protect their reputations, uphold their responsibilities to stakeholders, and empower employees to use social media ethically and effectively.
The use of social media has come under increased scrutiny in marketing, especially regarding transparency and influencer partnerships. Digital marketing professionals are increasingly aware of the ethical implications of online work as customers want to do business with responsible, honest companies. Social media marketing directly affects your brand and customer behavior; thus, the ethics employed in this type of advertising are vital to your company’s immediate and long-term success.
Understanding Social Media Trends
Ethically utilizing social media can help your brand build stronger relationships with customers. New trends in social media marketing are influencing the way brands interact with online consumers, from influencer marketing partnerships to data and analytics to user-generated content. When marketers choose to use these techniques, they must tread carefully to remain ethical in all their social media interactions.
Influencers have extensive followings on their social media platforms and often engage with audiences through short-form video content. Some businesses choose to work with influencers to promote their services or products.
If your company is unclear about its relationship with the influencer, you’re hiding something from the public, a clear ethical violation. Some influencers also promote a product using misleading or unethical advertising, damaging a company’s reputation.
Data and Analytics
While companies have purchased consumer data for decades, purchasing that information through social media without customers’ knowledge and consent is an ethical landmine. Your company will win more customers and support by gaining followers and building an audience organically.
People are skeptical about how companies track their online behaviors and use their personal information. You must ensure that third-party vendors are not misusing the data you gather.
Many brands use user-generated content (UGC) to promote their products or services. UGCs include posts on social networking sites and online forums. The ethical issues with this social media content focus on ownership: people, rather than professionals, develop the content, and there may be issues with who owns the material and who can use it.
Consent is another grey area with UGCs, as it may contain the creator’s personal information. Your business must ensure the privacy of the creator and anyone else featured in the content. Companies should also not use UGC without obtaining permission from the creator.
Ethical Considerations in Social Media Marketing
When anyone in your company uses social media, they need to be mindful of the business's reputation, conflicts of interest, the trust customers have in your brand, and people’s right to privacy,
Information posted online becomes accessible worldwide and is also available for sharing and republishing permanently — which is why it must be done from an ethical standpoint. For example, one of the common social media trends that many companies are embracing is called employee advocacy. Employee advocacy tactics include:
- Encouraging employees to share news and content from the company.
- Posting and resharing the business’ social media posts.
- Allowing employees to use their social media networks to share company content.
Done correctly, employee advocacy spreads brand awareness and makes the brand more personable; the content comes from actual people rather than a faceless company account. Unfortunately, if even one employee misuses the business’s social media platforms, it poses a significant risk to the company, your colleagues, and your customers.
Employees need to use transparency when advertising on social media by clearly stating they represent the company. This clarity will prevent customers from being misled by the advertising.
When mistakes happen, have a policy to keep work-related issues internal. Give employees ways to voice concerns about ethical situations quickly, as that will prevent your company’s private matters from being discussed publicly on social media platforms.
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Creating an Ethical Framework
The fluctuation of social media marketing means that companies must find ways to address changes in this medium quickly. Here are steps to take to create an ethical framework for your business:
- Establish your brand’s ethical values
Determine and define the ethical values and principles that align with your company’s social media marketing philosophy. What values do you want your business associated with? How do you want your brand recognized by consumers? Use your answers to these questions to establish clear objectives for your brand reputation, positive social impact, and consumer trust.
- Create clear guidelines and policies
Every workplace should have set policies and guidelines for social media marketing. These policies should state each employee's ethical standards and any necessary disclosures in preferences or content. Educating employees on these policies is vital for proper ethical conduct online. Create a culture that relies on ethics by abiding by the four pillars of e-commerce ethics: accountability, responsibility, liability, and due process.
- Commit to authenticity and transparency
Authenticity builds trust between customers and a brand, and transparency sets the tone of ethical social media marketing. Your marketing team should be clear about using influencers, endorsements, and user-generated content.
- Prioritize consumer data privacy
Protecting the rights of your customers is essential. Clearly explain to consumers how you intend to use their data and always obtain their consent before doing so. One method of showing care for your audience is using Voice of the Customer (VoC) research. Through VoC, you learn about your audience’s perception of your brand and any services or products you offer. Here is the type of information you can glean from VoC research:
- Identifying areas for branding improvement.
- Discovering where any disconnect from customers occurs.
- Determining what your customers want from your business.
If your marketing team uses VoC research, they must comply with all relevant privacy laws. Protecting your customers’ information will enhance your business’s image.
The stakes are high in social media because your content will be shown to hundreds of people or more within seconds. Getting your content right the first time is essential to establishing your ethical values as a business. Here are 12 basic principles to consider as you develop a social media marketing plan.
Here are 12 basic principles of ethical social media marketing:
- Be truthful and honest:
Do not lie or stretch the truth in your social media marketing, Your followers are unlikely to trust you if you post outrageously inaccurate information.
- Cite your sources:
Give credit where credit is due. Cite content, facts, and images within your post.
- Be transparent:
Disclose all the information that a user has a right or need to know to evaluate your products.
- Don’t Exploit Emotions:
Key your marketing to the value of your product without trying to stir one’s emotions.
- Don’t compromise privacy or data:
Be careful when you make or share memes where people are asked to provide information that isn’t publicly available on their profile.
- Don’t spread misinformation:
The #FakeNews hashtag has been trending for years. If your business is caught spreading misinformation, you could lose followers and customers or potentially face legal action in the most extreme cases.
- Be inclusive in language and imagery:
Inclusivity and diversity are another ethical consideration in social media and in your business as a whole. People expect your language and imagery to be inclusive, so look for ways to show this through your posts.
- Don’t fearmonger:
It’s unethical to post something with the intent to instill unnecessary fear in the reader. When you sell with negative (or fear-based) emotions, those emotions become attached to the product.
- Don’t spam:
Spam on social media goes beyond content. Having your brand associated with spammy content or activities is bad for business.
- Don’t overpromise or under-deliver:
This is more of an ethical marketing practice in general, but it also applies to social media. Essentially if you promise something, always follow through or be transparent as to why not.
- Read before you share others’ content:
Have you ever reshared an article after just skimming the content, then you realize you disagree with the content or it doesn’t align with your business? If you reshare another business post or article, always be sure you’re sharing content that aligns with your brand and is actually on the topic you expected.
- Share value:
Social media is a great place to sell your products and services, but it’s also an excellent ethical practice to provide valuable content rather than just sell-sell-sell in every post. Mix in 80% value-based posts that educate, share tips, or share engaging content and 20% directed towards your own content and sales.
Prioritize Ethical Social Media Marketing
Through a better understanding of the ethics of social media marketing and emphasizing transparency, marketing teams can protect consumer privacy while laying the groundwork for a workplace culture that prizes ethical decision-making. Create and support a company culture where social media is used responsibly, and brands will retain their realism while building stronger bonds of trust with their customers.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 1, 2024. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/steven-mintz-aka-ethics-sage-98268126/recent-activity/all/