How Often Do Ethical Questions Impact Your Social Media Efforts?

Over the course of the last week, while working on social media initiatives for several clients, the following questions or situations came up:

  • A client missing an opportunity to engage in a conversation (coupled with desire of agency team members to respond)
  • A situation that would require disclosing my (or my agency’s) role in working with a client who wishes to keep the work and our relationship secret
  • Working with customer data within social networks, privacy concerns about using the data for targeting
  • Agency employees interested in engaging in conversation for a client initiative (on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere) without disclosing relationships
  • A friend, knowing a client relationship, asking if it’s OK to “vent” about that client in social (of course I said yes, and I can hope my client responds and does the “right thing” to help.)

I could share my responses to these issues, but I’d rather hear from you.  So my question is to you: If you work in social media or even work for a company that is leveraging social channels for various purposes, how often do you come across ethical concerns?  What types of issues are your seeing?  Who do you turn to for guidance?

By the way, Todd Defren has a great series called Real World Ethical Dilemmas in Social Media that explore situations in greater detail.  I’m curious how often these come up for you – please describe your role too and thanks in advance.

Photo credit: swiv via flickr

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  • Ellen Rossano

    Hi Adam – Great post about a hot topic. You and I have had this discussion, and you know I stand squarely in the corner of full disclosure. As a crisis management consultant, there is no risk/benefit analysis that would ever convince me that not disclosing these relationships is a good strategy. Not being honest opens the company to the possibility, and in this transparent age, the probability, that the relationship would be uncovered. The result of the deception is the loss of social capital and trust – the very assets companies try to grow in the social space. I advise people to listen to their gut – if you have to ask how it's going to look if “people find out,” the answer should be apparent.

  • So the grey area I've come across lately is initiatives that have a “pseudo” voice – a character that isn't necessarily a corporate brand or person from the company, but a persona. If done within guidance from the client, Ellen, do you think there are still issues with that? I like your recommendation on “how it's going to look if people find out.”

  • Great question Adam. Thankfully I've not come across this too much and from the outset I've always told clients that I apply a full disclosure model. So far I've not had to change this and if I was asked to, I may have to politely decline to work with that client. For me this would question my brand values, and as these include integrity and transparency, it would be hypocritical of me to allow any shift from this. On the client side, I agree with Ellen, people invariably find out and this would reflect badly on the client, which is surely something I should be protecting anyway, right?

  • Couldn't agree more Gemma – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am curious how many other agency or folks in a social media advisory role share the same experiences – I would handle them the same way.

  • Hi Adam,

    I don't come across ethical concerns too often but they are bound to occur now and again. I would say having good traning, having someone in the organisation you can talk to about the issue and having a really clear policy are the best ways of avoiding such issues.

    The biggest peice of advice I could give to avoid problems in this area is to drill the following message into staff using social media: If in doubt, don't post.



  • …”how it's going to look if people find out.” thats exactly how i judge those situations, if i feel uncomfortable if people find out, i leave it…

  • ok Cohen, I'm going to stalk you on your blog now 🙂

    so let's talk about the grey area you touched upon, when the agency folks that are posting are posting because they are our target audience and the cause/campaign is something that directly effects them, so there posting/commenting because they want to help/be involved with the campaign/cause. Isn't that different? No one is lying or misleading anyone, they are the people the campaign is for, they just happen to work for the same company they was involved with the campaign

  • Hey Doug – I swear, this comment was marked as spam for some reason and I just figured it out. You are right, it is different when it's a cause or fictional character (think Burger King), but it becomes a slippery slope. When the brand itself suddenly wants to be recommended or face of the “campaign,” but roles haven't changed, it becomes uncomfortable at best. I always prefer to disclose up front, otherwise it could appear that I am trying to artificially push something the agency created. Does that help?