The other day I came across this Gallup poll on honesty/ethics in professional fields. Personally this strikes home because my wife is a nurse (the top slot with 82% honesty) and my advertising profession ranks at the very bottom (14% honesty with only car salespeople, Congress members and lobbyist ranking lower).
Besides personal embarrassment for my profession, why is consumer lack of trust important for social media marketers? As marketers we have something very good going with social media – 92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising. Since it is so new, we haven’t messed it up yet, but this advantage goes away if in our social activities we act like we have in traditional advertising. Essentially, Social Media Marketing is the intersection of advertising and social media.
How do we bridge this huge trust gap between advertising and social media? Start with ethical standards. I worked in advertising as a copywriter and creative director for nearly 20 years and didn’t even know my advertising profession had a Code of Ethics. In fact, it wasn’t until I started teaching an Advertising Law & Ethics class that I discovered these standards.
The American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) first adopted their code of ethics in 1924. The AAAA Standards of Practice were developed from “the belief that sound and ethical practice is good business. Confidence and respect are indispensable to success in a business.” Further, unethical practices “tend to weaken public confidence both in advertisements and in the institution of advertising.” With our very low honesty scores, apparently a lot of advertisers are not following these standards.
In the area of social media marketing honesty and ethics are even more important. While not nearly as old as AAAA, the WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) just celebrated their 10th anniversary, they are the official trade association dedicated to word of mouth and social media marketing and a central mission of WOMMA is to create an environment of trust between consumers and marketers. The WOMMA Code of Ethics can be found on their website, but below are my highlights.
Engage in practices/policies that promote trust between the consumer and marketer through:
Integrity: Comply with laws, regulations, and rules concerning the prevention of unfair, deceptive or misleading advertising/marketing. Reject consumer manipulation and deception to promote honesty and transparency in practices/methods so consumers can make better informed purchasing decisions. This is what advertisers are supposed to be doing. At a mere 14% percent honesty and ethical rating, you can see where not following a code of ethics has lead us.
Respect: Promote and abide by practices that focus on consumer welfare. The industry is best served by recognizing the consumer, not the marketer, is in charge and in control (Post Control Marketing). The consumer defines the terms of this consumer-marketer relationship. Respect them! They are not a target. They are partners in building your brand.
Honesty: Consumers should be free to form their own opinions and share them in their own words. We should not tell others what to say or how to say it. The best way to control what people say about your brand is to deliver an excellent brand/product experience.
Responsibility: Working with minors in marketing programs requires sensitivity and care, given their particular vulnerability to manipulation and deception. This is a no brainer. Kids are different and there are a lot on social media. Don’t take advantage of them.
Privacy: Respect the privacy of consumers and promote the most effective means to promote privacy, such as opt-in and permission standards. This is very important. 88% consumers are concerned about the privacy of their personal data, half are changing online habits because of privacy fears, and 80% feel the government should implement more regulations. Wouldn’t we rather control ourselves?
There have been plenty of examples that ethics in business is important to ROI (Enron, MCI WorldCom, Lehman Brothers, etc.). Social media marketing is no different. In fact, social media can help make your brand more trustworthy. 82% of consumers trust a company more if they are involved with social media. But we will lose that trust if we go the way of the advertising industry and not hold ourselves accountable to ethical standards.
How honest are you in your social media practices and what standards do you follow? Or do you honestly believe that honesty doesn’t matter in marketing?