Are Ethics and Etiquette Outdated in 2024? An Updated Look at My 2016 Social Media Etiquette & Ethics Guide.

It’s a great time for reflection as we look back on last year and forward to 2024. A colleague recently shared on LinkedIn Pew Research Center’s “Striking findings from 2023.” What stood out to me was the significant increase in calls for restricting false information on social media – 55% believe government and 65% believe tech companies should (up from just 39% and 56% in 2018).

In 2022 Pew Research found 65% believe social media makes us more informed on current events, but 85% were concerned with how easily social media can manipulate people with false information.

In 2015, the year the first edition of Social Media Strategy was published social was fairly new. I didn’t have a chapter on law or ethics. A professor asked that I cover law, ethics, and etiquette in the next edition.

I created a Social Media Ethics & Etiquette Guide on this blog in 2016.

In creating the guide I found social media needs a unique approach as it brings our personal, professional, and working lives together in ways mass media could not. Social media is highly interactive, easily scalable, nearly real-time, and blurs the lines between personal and professional.

This is where ethics and etiquette become important. Ethics studies ideas about good and bad behavior and Etiquette is the proper way to behave. Both are important in Professionalism, or the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior expected from a person trained to do a job.

I found it useful to look at actions from three perspectives: Personal (as an individual), Professional (as an employee or perspective employee), and Brand (as a social media manager). I created questions to consider for each category in the 2016 Social Media Etiquette and Ethics Guide.

What to Consider for Personal Posting.

  • Is it all about me? No one likes someone who only talks about themselves.
  • Am I stalking someone? Be driven and persistent but not too aggressive.
  • Am I spamming them? Don’t make everything self-serving.
  • Am I venting or ranting? Don’t post negative comments or gossip. It doesn’t look or feel good.
  • Did I ask before I tagged? People have different comfort levels so check before you tag.
  • Did I read before commenting or sharing? Don’t assume – fully review posts, people, and articles.
  • Am I grateful and respectful? Respond and thank those who engage with you.
  • Is this the right medium for the message? Consider people’s feelings before saying it on social.
  • Am I on the right account? Don’t post personal information on brand accounts.

What To Consider For Professional Posting.

  • Does it meet the social media policy? Know and follow employer or client policy requirements.
  • Does it hurt my company’s reputation? Certain content/behavior may have a negative impact.
  • Does it help my company’s marketing? Have a positive impact and consider employee advocacy.
  • Would my boss/client be happy to see it? Even private accounts are never fully private and could be shared.
  • Am I being open about who I work for? Be transparent about financial connections when sharing opinions.
  • Am I being fair and accurate? Constructive criticism is best and so is opinion backed by evidence.
  • Am I being respectful and not malicious? Don’t post what you wouldn’t say to someone in person.
  • Does it respect intellectual property? Not everything on the internet or social media is free.
  • Is this confidential information? Ensure you don’t disclose nonpublic company or client information.

What to Consider for Brand Posting.

  • Does it speak to my target market? Focus on your target audience’s wants and needs, not yours.
  • Does it add value? Make your content educational, insightful, or entertaining to grab audience interest.
  • Does it fit the social channel? Don’t post content ideal for Twitter/X on Instagram, Reddit or Pinterest.
  • Is it authentic and transparent? Don’t trick people into clicking or hide important relevant information.
  • Is it real and unique? Don’t use canned responses, create spam, or pass off AI content as your own.
  • Is it positive and respectful? Don’t belittle competitors or customers (unless you’re Wendy’s and roasting is your brand).
  • Does it meet codes of conduct? Consider AMA’s, AAAA’s, or PRSA’s Code of Ethics.
  • Does it meet all laws and regulations? See the FTC and other government guides on social media requirements.
  • Does it meet the social media policy? Ensure you follow company and client policy standards.

Do I listen twice as much as I talk? Make sure you fully understand what you’re commenting and posting about.

(Click on the template image to download a PDF)

Are social media ethics and etiquette outdated today?

Much has changed in 7 years, and I sometimes wonder if some of these questions may appear naïve or outdated. After all, clients want results and increasingly studies tell us lies and negativity raise engagement which typically leads to sales.

Research in the journal Science on Twitter/X found falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted/reposted than the truth. Verified truth posts took 6 times longer to reach 1,500 people than verified false posts.

In the journal Nature research found negative words in headlines increased consumption. Each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%.

The Wall Street Journal reports companies frequently use fake reviews to sell more products fooling even seasoned shoppers. And it looks like Sports Illustrated may have been publishing AI-generated articles by fake writers to keep up with content and engagement demands.

Are lies and negativity simply the way you do business on social media?

I believe Advertising Hall of Fame member Bill Bernbach would disagree. He understood the power of media and the responsibility of those who create it.

Bernbach said, “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

Social media marketing only works if it’s seen as credible.

When we abuse our professions by not following the law, by being unethical, or by not following good etiquette, credibility is lost. Once you lose credibility, people stop listening. If people stop listening, we won’t have a profession.

This past semester a colleague wrote about an ethical situation a student faced. An internship employer wanted social media customer questions and responses to highlight company products as solutions, but they didn’t have any real customer questions.

The possible future employer asked the student to create the questions and fake customers to ask them. The solutions would be real, but the customers and questions would be lies. Is this okay?

Unfortunately, ethical dilemmas aren’t rare. A 2020 survey published in Harvard Business Review found 23% of U.S. employees feel pressure to do things they know are wrong. More witness unethical behavior like rule violations (29%) and lying (27%). Employees describe ethically questionable actions as being specifically demanded of them or implied to meet time pressures, productivity goals, or make the company look better.

Perhaps we need a “we’re lying” disclaimer on social media.

I used to teach a law and ethics course required for students in an advertising program. An example I used in class was the famous Joe Isuzu ads from the late 1980’s and early 2000’s. The brand spokesperson gave false claims about Isuzu’s car and trucks.

The false information was okay because everyone knew he was lying. It was done as a joke with outlandish claims such as the Impulse Turbo was as fast as a speeding bullet (915 mph). The ads even told you in big bold type “Sounds like a lie,” and “He’s lying.” No one truly believed it.

Should we add “we’re lying” to some of our social media content like the Joe Isuzu ads?

Just because you can or because others are doesn’t mean you should.

As a social media professional, we can’t restrict false information on social media. We also don’t control the algorithms that may emphasize negative posts. But we do have a choice to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

What are our professional responsibilities in using social media? If current incentives are to vulgarize and brutalize it, should we follow? Or should we follow Bernbach’s advice and strive to lift it onto a higher level?

Visualize Your Marketing Strategy To Form A Solid Foundation For All Marketing Communication.

Social media actions and even plans can exist on their own, but without having an understanding of the marketing and business behind them, they could be acting in vain. Even communication focused disciplines such as advertising and public relations now acknowledge the need for broader marketing and business knowledge. Incite’s State of Corporate Social Media report of global corporate social media professionals found that 90% say social media is an important part of their marketing strategy and 80% say that social media is an important part of their business strategy.

To help understand how social media fits into the bigger picture of marketing and business I have created a visual template for a basic marketing strategy that emphasizes the consumer perspective. This template can help improve social media efforts by providing an understanding of the larger marketing and business perspective. It can help you speak the language of business.

To be honest most C-Suite executives probably don’t care about followers and engagement rates. To get approval and funding for social strategies you need to translate social media action into broader business goals such as sales, market share, awareness, customer retention, leads, etc. The template can also help create a new marketing plan or help plan the marketing piece for a startup. See below, but also download a free PDF here.visualmarketingstrategytemplate-blankVision/Mission: Why do you exist? To make money is not a sustainable answer for employees or customers. What does the company behind the product/service stand for and where are you headed? Think: solving a greater problem, spreading a bigger message, supporting a cause, community, the environment or being the absolute best at something specific.

Back Story: People buy for rational and emotional reasons that can come from your origin story. Show your human side of starting in a garage, using your last $5, making a childhood dream come true, an event that put the cause on your heart, something you couldn’t get as a customer, happy accident, etc. Even big companies showcase their humble roots.

Business Objectives: All marketing action must help support business needs such as sales, average spend, market share, leads, contracts, awareness, customer satisfaction, retention, referrals, volunteers, donations, etc. To do this a marketing plan must start with those specific objectives clearly defined. Make sure they are SMART: Specific (quantified such as XX% or $XX), Measurable (data you can access), Achievable (not too high), Relevant (support vision/mission), Timely (due date like X months or X years).

Products/Services: List product and service offerings, lines and versions. Describe them from the consumer’s perspective turning product/service features into consumer benefits. Look for gaps in product lines and offerings from your company, but also competitors. You may need to return to this section after industry, target market and competitor analysis.

The next section focuses on situation analysis, with important areas such as industry, competitors and target market plus elements of the marketing mix or Four Ps. The important part is converting everything to the consumer’s perspective and summarize by answering the customer centric question in each section.

Industry Overview: Is the industry/category growing or declining? What innovations and trends are important? Are there gaps in offerings? What do consumers care about most? What are their pain points? Threats? Opportunities? Sum this up by answering the question, “What is their unmet need?”

Target Market: Clearly define the group most likely to have this need with demographic (gender, age, income, education), psychographic (attitudes, values, lifestyle) and behavioral (products used, brand loyalty, usage) bases. From this answer the question, “Who needs it the most?”

Key Competitors: Identify several top competitors by market share/sales in same industry and/or by replacement products/services outside the category. What do you offer that is different? With this understanding summarize, “Why should they pick you?”

Distribution Channels: What are the convenient ways the consumer can get the product/service: A single channel or multiple channels; Your own or through partners like retailers or brokers; Online or physical store? Try to determine, “Where do they want it?”

Pricing Strategy: Will the consumer pay a premium or look for the lowest price? Do they want to pay per month for access or all at once? Do they need a free version or trial? What forms of payment do they prefer? From this answer, “What will they pay for it?”

Main Message: Try to summarize all the information above into a positioning statement written to the target market. You can follow a template like this, “For the <target consumer> who <state need>, the <product/category> provides <state benefit>, unlike <primary competitor>, the <product> <state difference>.” Boil it all down to answer, “How would you say all this to them in one sentence?”

From here the decision is what consumer touchpoints need to be used to communicate or promote this message to the target consumers. Or from the consumer perspective, “How will they experience this message?”

Advertising: Do paid messages in traditional media such as TV, print, radio, outdoor, newspaper, or local school programs, stadium signs, FSIs, etc. fit your target’s media use and your budget?

Public Relations: Can you make it newsworthy? Earn media coverage from journalist/bloggers, create events, conferences, speeches and publish brand newsletters/magazines for consumer, employee, and community relations.

Digital Marketing: How will they find it online? Start with a user centered website optimized for search (SEO), then consider search ads, content marketing, blogging, email, online ads, video, affiliate and mobile marketing.

Social Media: Where is the target audience active in social media? Look at social networks, blogs/forums, apps, ratings/reviews and podcasts. Look for ways to leverage geo-location, crowdsourcing, influencer marketing, social care, user generated content and native ads.

Direct Response: Consider direct to consumer calls to action in postcards, letters, fliers, catalogs, email, texts (SMS), TV (infomercials), radio and newspaper. Collect or purchase databases of email and/or physical addresses.

Sales Promotion: What special offers could get your target to buy, try or rebuy? Consider discounts, samples, gifts/premiums, coupons, vouchers, competitions, sweepstakes, joint promotions and special financing.

Personal Sales: High involvement products/services may require a salesperson for prospecting, customization of offerings to meet specific needs, demonstration/trial and after sale service to maintain lasting relationships.

Customer Relationship Management: CRM uses databases/software to build long-term relationships with customers for retention, extension and acquisition with special communication, services/offers and rewards often through loyalty programs.

When the forms of communication come together you want to ensure all marketing communication is integrated in message, tone and look (IMC). The final considerations have to do with time and money.

Time Table: Provide a time frame for implementation of marketing recommendations. Some functions must happen before others such as product development, pricing and distribution then promotion. Types of promotion such as Digital, PR, Social Media, Sales and Advertising must happen in a specific order.

Budget: The marketing budget can be determined by one of the following methods: All You Can Afford (what’s left over), Percentage of Sales (% of projected/past sales, consider industry standards), Match the Competition (spend what main competitors spend), Objective/Task (calculate what it will take to meet objectives).

As Philip Kotler says, “You should never go to battle before you’ve won the war on paper.” Whether you are a marketer creating a new marketing strategy for an existing company, an entrepreneur planning the marketing function for a startup or a social pro improving your business intelligence to have a greater understanding of the marketing and business behind an organization this visual marketing strategy should serve as a useful guide.