social media ethics

An interesting survey from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has found that consumers want more regulation when it comes to social media marketing. I can’t say I am that surprised because in my opinion legislation needs to be reviewed on everything associated with the internet because it simply cannot keep up – just take music and copyright for instance. The CIM survey found the following:

  1. One in five consumers have experienced brands behaving unethically online
  2. Almost half of consumers threaten to boycott businesses that manipulate social media

Despite acknowledging the value of social media to businesses, more than half (54%) of consumers don’t think there is enough regulation governing communications, advertising and branded content across these platforms, and only one in five report having high levels of confidence in what they read on social media. Interestingly, a greater proportion of marketers (64%) questioned the relevance of ‘old media’ regulations in relation to the prevalence of the new world of social media today. The good thing about this research is that they questioned more than 3,000 consumers and 1,000 marketers, and looked at the differences. social media ethicsThe bit that I was really interested in was the creation of fake accounts for business benefits. If you are actively out there writing fake reviews for your clients you must have a very sad life to lead and I think you should be giving your client better advice as this is not the solution to receiving a few bad reviews. The internet and peer recommendation is there to get a feel for how good a brand actually is. The survey found that the creation of fake accounts for leaving positive reviews or comments was considered the most ethically questionable for users, with nine out of ten marketers (91%) and seven out of ten consumers (71%) considering this practice misleading. I would go further than that misleading it should be criminal now. Yes there are trolls out there ready to leave even the best brands a negative response but this isn’t the answer. The use of techniques to hide negative content within search results emerged as an additional concern, with two-thirds (67%) of consumers viewing this as unethical, significantly more than marketers, of whom just over a third (38%) share this view. This point is very interesting following the recent ruling against Google in the EU and I will be honest and say I have been asked before about getting rid of nasty links for a client as part of my work in crisis management. The survey also found that two thirds (66%) of marketers think it’s acceptable to give products away for free to encourage positive reviews online, but less than half (48%) of consumers agree. I think this is questionable because if you work in PR or word-of-mouth marketing you know that you aren’t giving away a product for review in exchange for a positive review unless you are doing the PR for the Brit Awards that is. Sure you hope it is going to be a positive review but I have sent lots of products out before, which have received neutral reviews, and I couldn’t do much about it because  blogging is about opinions after all and I cannot make people love something just because I say they should. Over a third (41%) of consumers said they find it misleading for businesses to encourage their employees to like and share positive brand messages on social media, whereas only 15% of marketers share the same opinion. I think this is going to happen – people want their staff to encourage positive messages online but I don’t know many companies that force people to do it. If you don’t want to do it – fine. Almost half (47%) of consumers said if they found out a brand or business had been manipulating social media to appear more popular than they are that they’d be very likely to change their purchase behaviour and boycott that brand or organisation. This is very interesting but I think it’s an empty threat. Do I think people will stop buying iPhones if someone finds out the leaked designs for the iPhone 6s were leaked on purpose – no I do not. The research also states:

Encouragingly, businesses aren’t ignorant to consumers’ concerns: more than half of marketers (52%) felt that dishonest or unethical behavior by brands is putting the value of social media as a marketing tool at risk, and an overwhelming four out of five (82%) agreed that without the threat of punitive fines or legal action, there will always be businesses employing questionable tactics on social media. Overall, consumers recognise the role that brands play on social media, with over half (59%) saying they agree that advertising increases brand visibility, and 52% agreeing that companies increase their sales by using social media for marketing.

I think it’s terrible there are brands out there misleading consumers into buying their products but this is what advertising has been doing for years. When I worked in pharmaceutical PR I remember the difference in styles as you cannot market a product in pharma without strong fact based research and celebrity endorsement is out of the question. Advertising has been telling us porkies for years about big brands lasting longer than the competitors or being better than the competitors but often they aren’t it’s just advertising. I think the average person on the street can tell bullshit when they see it and that is what makes us Brits great the ability to quickly cut through the crap. Photo Credit: linkedmediagrp via Compfight cc

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.