3 Steps to Ethical Social Media Marketing

social media viewpointsMarketers know the most effective advertising is word of mouth marketing. The smartest marketers know word of mouth works best when it’s credible.

Unfortunately, trust is on the decline.   The percentage of people who view their friends as credible sources of information about a brand has fallen from 45% in 2008 to 25% in 2010, according to Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer study.

That’s an alarming statistic for marketers wanting to tap into the power of word of mouth through social media marketing.  This article will provide three simple steps you can take to ethically market with social media.

What’s The Problem

Some marketers have cited this decline in credibility as a result of “friends” becoming defined more loosely because of social media. Sure, we’re Facebook friends with someone and we’re Twitter followers of someone, but are we really friends with them? Do we trust the word of mouth recommendations of people we’re Facebook friends with and Twitter followers of?

It’s become a common tactic for marketers to send influential social media types free products, hoping they endorse the brand/product on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and anywhere else online.

Perhaps consumers have become skeptical from seeing one too many upbeat tweets and blog posts from someone they’ve friended sharing their love for a brand or product.

The Solution

Consumer skepticism of endorsements in social media can be reversed when marketers diligently and deliberately follow these three actions:

  1. It’s vital for marketers to ask the online influentials they’ve pitched to disclose when they’ve received product samples or any other incentive.
  2. It’s also vital for marketers to disclose their relationship with people they’ve targeted to spark word of mouth online.
  3. Honesty of the relationship between a business and a person is non-negotiable. It’s best to disclose relationships early and often in all social media venues.

On blogs, disclosure is easy. Bloggers simply need to clearly mention somewhere in a post that they were approached to write about a company’s product or service. Such a line could read, “I received [product name] from [company name] and here’s my opinion…”

On Twitter and Facebook, disclosure isn’t as easy due to space limitations. Using special hashtags is one way to disclose relationships. For example, #samp is being used by influential twitterers to denote when they’ve received a free sample from a company. Another disclosure tool gaining popularity is one of the six Twitter-friendly disclosure statements from cmp.ly. (For detailed guidance on disclosure in social media, read the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Guide to Social Media Disclosure.)

#1: Demand Disclosure

"Full disclosure assures consumers that testimonials are truthful and trustworthy." Paul Rand

Honesty of opinion is vital. As marketers, we can only provide online influentials with information and encourage them to tell others. What they tell others is up to the individual and not the marketer.

The instant marketers begin trying to manipulate what people say online, we lose. We lose by allowing word of mouth to lose its place as the most credible form of marketing.

#2: Encourage Honesty

"...the reason word of mouth is so effective is that it is understood to be authentic." Robert Weissman

It’s the responsibility of marketers to ensure disclosure happens. As marketers, we must educate and inform the online influentials we work about the importance of disclosing relationships.

Furthermore, we must monitor compliance and if disclosure doesn’t occur, marketers must take appropriate action. Such action may range from re-educating online influentials about disclosure needs to no longer working with influentials who show a pattern of not disclosing relationships.

#3: Monitor Compliance

"Checking to see if one of our influencers posted proper disclosure is easy. We know who we reached out." John Bell

What are your thoughts? How can word of mouth remain credible in social media marketing?

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About the Author, John Moore

John Moore is a marketing strategist who works with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. John has spent ten years designing and implementing marketing programs for both Starbucks Coffee and Whole Foods Market. Other posts by »




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