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Failures as spectacular as the much-publicized Fyre Festival and as small as little fibs told by paid nano-influencers on Instagram are drawing spotlights to the ethical challenges of social-media marketing.
The ethical problems aren’t new. Shady merchants have lied about products ever since goats first were sold in Babylonian marketplaces. And although the term “influencer” has sort of a cool modern sound to it, today’s influencer isn’t all that much different from the baseball star who endorsed his favorite brand of unfiltered cigarettes in the 1940s.
All that’s changed is the technology.
More: Master social media with psychology | NCET Biz Tips
Ethical behavior in social-media marketing is rooted in exactly the same practices as any ethical behavior in life. Ethical people tell the truth. Ethical people make good on their promises. Ethical people don’t seek to deceive. Ethical people value their reputations above all else.
The problems that arose with the Fyre Festival, for instance, weren’t caused by social media. They were caused by people who acted in ways that were unethical, no matter what technology carried their message.
While there’s no substitute for a strong, embedded sense of ethics, some straightforward practices will help marketers and companies who worry about the ethics of the new tools:
1. Take responsibility. Federal Trade Commission requires that influencers and marketers clearly disclose when influencers are paid to endorse a product. The brand gets in trouble when the rule is violated — and the FTC has, in fact, cracked down on some marketers — but the influencer needs to take some responsibility, too.
2. Learn to type the word “sponsored.” Whenever a post appears as the result of an exchange of money, goods or services, be sure that the post includes the word “sponsored.” Make sure, too, the disclosure can be plainly seen.
3. Don’t assume that influencers know the rules. Don’t assume that they will follow the rules. In your contract with an influencer, include requirements for disclosure.
4. Use the digital tools that are available. Instagram, Facebook and YouTube all provide tools that allow brands to make sure that influencers are following the FTC guidelines on disclosure.
5. Audit the posts for which you paid. Maybe once a quarter, go back and take a look the posts from your company’s paid influencers. If they didn’t do the proper disclosure, remind them.
Most important: Do the right thing when problems arise. Don’t be afraid to walk away — whether you are an influencer who questions a product or a marketer who wonders about the honesty of the paid influencer. Your reputation never is worth whatever benefits result from an ethically dubious social media campaign.
Learn about marketing ethics and professional responsibility at NCET’s luncheon on May 22. NCET is a member-supported nonprofit organization that produces educational and networking events to help people explore business and technology. Register for the event and get more info at www.NCETspecial.org.
Abbi Whitaker is co-founder and president at The Abbi Agency (www.theabbiagency.com) and a nationally recognized communications strategist.