Social Media Ethics: not That Hard, Really

Most of us in the PR industry are familiar with stories of well known companies using online media to deceive consumers and investors. Last year, Wal-Mart and Edelman received lots of attention for the “Wal-Marting Across America” flog (fake blog) which featured a couple traveling around the country in an RV, visiting Wal-Mart parking lots and rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi. Unfortunately, the couple were a professional journalist and photojournalist hired by Wal-Mart and Edelman.

And later in the year, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, attracted the attention of the SEC and the FTC when it was discovered that he was anonymously posting negative comments in Yahoo Finance forums in an alleged attempt to drive down the valuation of a company Whole Foods was in negotiations to acquire.

Unfortunately, many companies have been slow to learn from these examples, and we’ve already heard several stories of corporate social media deception in 2008.

So why do large, ostensibly responsible corporations persist in trying to “game the system?”

The film The Corporation, analyzes the publicly held company as if it were a psychiatric patient, and renders the diagnosis:

“the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a ‘psychopath.’”

In other words, our capitalist system encourages deception because the pressures to achieve revenue and growth are institutionalized, while moral behavior is not. So don’t hate the player, hate the game. OK, hate some of the players.

Some in our profession claim to be confused about the rules for using blogs and other social media in marketing and public relations. “This is unfamiliar territory. We’re on the frontier of communications. The rules are being written as we speak.” Nice Try. New media does not require new morality. Most of us know right from wrong, and just because we’re using a blog or an online forum doesn’t release us from our responsibility for ethical behavior.

Nearly everyone can agree that stealing is wrong. (I say nearly, because I will allow that there are those who don’t recognize the right to own property). The Koran, the Bible and the Torah, for example, all have specific injunctions against stealing that are thousands of years old.

Is it reasonable then to conclude that it’s OK to take someone else’s iPhone, as these ancient laws could not possibly have foreseen the introduction of this product?

Of course that’s ludicrous. And it is no less ludicrous to say that social media is so new and mysterious that of course there will be missteps. When you deceive consumers, when you lie to inflate the worth of your company or its products, that’s wrong.

And it’s not like this area is unregulated either. OK, so there are some people who will do immoral things as long as they aren’t illegal. (Think stock option backdating here.) But the Federal Trade Commission regulates unfair business and competitive practices. And the European Union’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive bars companies from “falsely claiming or creating the impression that the trader is not acting for purposes relating to his trade, business, craft or profession, or falsely representing oneself as a consumer.”

Why wouldn’t these rules apply to social media? Were John Mackey and the Wal-Mart bloggers falsely claiming that they were not acting for purposes of their trade? Yes.

The risks of pursuing these deceptive strategies are great. In Mackey’s case, he invoked the ire of the SEC, not a good thing to do as the CEO of a publicly held company. In the Wal-Mart case, the retailer’s reputation, not very good to begin with, suffered an additional hit. And while so far most penalties have been non-financial, the shroud of mystery surrounding social media is starting to lift, so you can expect 2008 to be the year legislators start going after companies who try to play the “wild wild west” card.

So how do you avoid the ethical pitfalls presented by emerging communications channels? Behave ethically. Hire ethical people. Make ethical decisions. And the next time you’re in a meeting and someone proposes some bonehead marketing or public relations initiative that is deceptive, protect the interests of your client and your company and take an ethical stand.

Joel Postman is the principal of Socialized, a consultancy that helps companies make effective use of social media in corporate communications, marketing, and public relations. His background includes a decade of Fortune 500 corporate communications leadership, four years as the speechwriter to the CEO of Sun Microsystems, and experience in print and broadcast news. He is currently working on a book, titled SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate, to be published in November.

You may also find articles by Joel at the website under Very Public Relations.

Fighting Recession With Social Media – Part 2

Are more companies turning to social media in this economy? They should if they want to improve their marketing efficiencies, enhance their customer service experience, or develop their research techniques. Social media allows companies to engage with the customers instead of shouting about their own wonderfulness.

Ramp up your marketing

Companies ranging small and large are increasingly turning to outside blogs, viral videos and websites such as Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed and Digg — and their tens of millions of users — to reach consumers. Instead of cringing at the idea of relinquishing control to social media outlets, smart executives realize that there is more benefit in joining the conversation than fighting it. Instead of controlling information about your brand, your social media strategy should be about engagement.

Advertising as we know it is expensive; social media is cheap. For this reason, the recession is bad news for traditional marketers, while the same environment is full of opportunities for social media marketers. Setting up a company blog or a Facebook page is significantly less expensive than traditional marketing. Even creating your own community web site can be significantly cheaper than traditional advertising campaigns.

Social media marketing is not without risk. While every company wants to generate buzz, online backlash can be vicious. Recently a Motrin commercial aimed at moms created quite a stir. You can view the ad on YouTube as did another 210,000 people. The ad makes the apparently condescending claim that carrying babies in a sling is a painful experience for moms. According to moms, the ad was wrong and they made it loud and clear through social media applications such as Twitter. Some moms found the Motrin ad outright offensive, and they were quite vocal about it. You can catch them on YouTube. Of course, the disaster doesn’t end there. It continues on a myriad of blogs, and carries on in a Facebook page dedicated to boycotting Motrin. The backlash ad on YouTube can be viewed.

What to do when your target rejects your ad? Turn to social media. Instead of rejecting the market reaction Johnson & Johnson could have used social media applications to learn about their market prior to creating and publishing the controversial ad. There could have been a Facebook page created to learn about young moms and pain. There could have been a blog inviting moms to provide video testimonials on YouTube. The lesson learned in this case is to use social media to learn about your market, or be prepared to be taught very quickly and painfully.

Reduce your expenses

Save time and money on travel and use LinkedIn to network. Instead of driving to the other end of town fighting your way through traffic use the largest business social network to build new connections and to nurture existing ones. Only attend your most valuable networking events, and transfer as much of your networking as you can to the web. LinkedIn, Plaxo, and Facebook are some of the best social networking applications.

Reduce your legal fees through a fairly new social media site called Docstoc. It is a place to find and share professional documents such as contracts, confidentiality agreements, intellectual property documents and more. Docstoc is a social community resource that enables anyone to find and share professional documents. The site provides an opportunity for individuals and organizations to share their professional documents. Documents available on Docstoc can be easily searched, previewed and downloaded for free.

Decrease your recruiting costs as you hire your employees though Craigslist, which has quietly become one of the most visited websites in cyberspace. It offers a much cheaper way to recruit online, and your company can expect excellent response rates for your job posts.

Putting it all together

Are more companies turning to social media in this economy? They should if they want to improve their marketing efficiencies, enhance their customer service experience, or develop their research techniques. Social media allows companies to engage with the customers instead of shouting about their own wonderfulness. It offers ways to business to partner with the community in an effort to develop a better product. In the end everybody wins because both the company and the consumer end up with a better product.

Virtually all companies can benefit from using social media not just to create awareness, but also to become part of the conversation. Managing your corporate reputation is impossible without social media, and ignoring it can be outright devastating. Instead if fighting against it, embrace it as it rockets your business forward as it deepens your relationship with the only reason you are in business for, your customer.

Social Media And The Book Publishing Industry ? Doom Or Salvation?

Social Media has a stronger impact to books than the movable type had, launched six centuries ago. Social Media makes information producible, accessible and spreads it easily, quickly and without barriers of entry. Is Social Media the paradigm shift which will the publishing industry alive? In any case changes will come. Big changes.

The Publishing industry provides the creative with resources not available to them, namely: production of books, the distribution, the pricing, marketing and sales.

Book Production

Looking at the emerging landscape of online publishing all of the mentioned contribution is available to authors online and seems much more economic by nature than the capital-intense publishing industry – it seems digital content makes production a commodity. Making use of online collaboration and web 2.0 technology lots of crowd-sourced book sites like FastPencil allow authors to skip the traditional publishing route entirely (and control their own promotion) to self-publish their eBooks. FastPencil claims this allows authors to have access to the broadest distribution possible as well as the promise that the digital files will be able to adapt to any eReader that is introduced in the future. Another company called Blio is intending to offer publishers/authors the opportunity to create digital files at no cost that can preserve the format of previously tough-to-digitize tomes such as cookbooks. On top of that as a author you can:

Embedded multimedia – inserts web pages, videos, and other interactive content into selected areas of text toenhance meaning.
3D book view which includes realistic page turning
Reading out loud: TTS (text-to-speech) or a synchronized audio track
Translate to or from English in an imbedded translation window

This is all pretty impressive stuff and can create a user experience much more enhanced and engaging than paper books. Presumably this in the next years to come this will put some traditional offline publisher under pressure.

As part of the digital publishing revolution the way a story of a book is told even is about to change; transmedia is the buzzword here. Readers and writers engage and connect with each other to create the stories which are delivered then in systematically dispersed junks across multiple delivery channels. You can choose between chunks of text, watch a video story update or even, as in Girl Number 9, catch up on Twitter, where you can interact with characters and receive clues and updates. This means basically books are changing from being content sandwiched between two covers and organized by chapter to a many-to-many interactive storytelling. I like that.

Book Distribution

A trend noticeable is distributors or retailers are becoming book producers the same time. AmazonEncore for instance is not just a huge book store and recommendation engine to unearth exceptional books but they also partner with authors through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store,, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers. So if you can produce you eBook for free and get marketing and distribution support by your retailer, who needs publishers?

Having mentioned the Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, obviously the upcoming launch of the new iPad (any future mobile device really will turn into an eReader) and the trend to eBook distribution/consumption in general (in Dec 09 the number of digital books sold on Amazon surpassed the paper editions) shines a brand new light on the traditional publishing industry. New technological capabilities enable companies like Wired Magazine (see the video of the iPad version of the magazine below) to raise the bar of publishing (multimedia) content to a new unmatched form. This will certainly provide the users with a new level of experience of information consumption and will make the switch from print to digital media consumption easier, more tantalizing and much more readers will use it. Especially if you compare this approach to the content you get by using some clunky black and white eReader.

Book Sales and Marketing

No doubt publishers are facing are tough time with pressure coming from authors, distributer/retailers as well as readers. To me it seems the current value chain for publishers is breaking. The landscape of content/books will get a lot more crowded and there’ll be a lot more competition for eyeballs. Authors can self-publish books and utilise social media  and word of mouth marketing to sell their books. Distributors are beginning to dictate pricing and thread the availability of books on their platforms as seen in the case of Amazon vs. Apple vs. Macmillan (seeApple vs. Amazon: The Great E-book War Has Already Begun). Also they have a huge information head start when it comes to customer needs or buying behaviour (they collect and utilise all the buying behaviour data online). Not to mention the ever demanding hunger of readers for  new authors, different formats and sophisticated multimedia content. This is true especially for next generation of book buyers won’t understand why they can’t access any information they want in a digital format.

Social Media and Book Publishers

Book publishers are at an enormous advantage to corporate or consumer brands. They have a vast amount of content, they have an existing, passionate community who want and love their products. On top of that, book fans are author/brand loyal groups of people. Books raise discussions and bring people together…and online can help augment the book experience by bringing the readers into the inner workings of the publishers and authors on a daily basis.

So what to do here are some simple social media ideas to think about if you’re a book publisher:

Become a social brand

Set up social monitoring systems around the places your customers (readers, authors) hang out. Listen what they talk about, find topics which would make a good book and find emerging authors.

Using social media channels effectively

Engage with communities and leverage the influencers. Books are an emotional topic and readers trust the recommendation of peers much more than ay advertising. When it comes to book there are countless vibrant online communities, forums and bloggers consisting of deeply engaged readers and authors. So for new books for example find the bloggers opinion leaders and reach out to them. Do the same thing on Twitter and LinkedIn to create buzz and word of mouth campaigns. Make use of facebook fanpages for each author and create facebook groups around topics and feed them with your content arsenal. Leverage live streaming – now within facebook – and provide weekly live readings of new books/authors. Have your authors interviewed on a regular basis and publish the content on internet radios or video portals.

Create platforms  and a social media hub

The re-thinking of becoming a social brand as well as providing the authors with resources requires undoubtedly social media platforms. The publishers website needs to become a social hub where the authors will be promoted and can execute their own social media marketing. Obviously the authors can use their expertise in their field to produce excellent content for their publisher site inherent blogs for any kind of inbound marketing and/or SEO strategy. Create forums covering topics or authors – readers are very much interested in authors, they want to interact with them and authors have much more to say then what is published in their books. Enable the offline interaction – let your fans know where your authors are, where to speak to meet them in flesh!

Involve the reader into book development process

Monitor the social web to find hot topics for books. Enable authors to produce transmedia content or ask your community what to publish next to help developing ideas.

Create new formats and test them

Utilise technology to empower production of books in different formats and for different channels. Paper books, eBooks, mobile apps, multimedia, etc. and test what works best for which topic or audience. Not all will work the same way but publishers must have the flexibility to quickly produce and disseminate content/books to emerging upcoming distribution channels.

Define the niche

You’ll need for the different content/book topics of your authors different social media strategies. Since you’ll have completely different audiences with corresponding different user/reader behaviour you’ll need to adjust the strategy accordingly.

And then?

When you got your head around that, you can begin engaging in the communities in earnest. Invite your authors into the discussions. Invite other passionate folks at the company. Stay friendly, and stay passionate and you can be sure your audience and community will grow over time.

For more information about social media and the book publishing industry please visit my site.

I am a social media strategy/technology consultant and trainer who helps companies to engage with their online customers through a compelling social media or personalisation strategy.

Social Media Strategy, Keeping Your Brand Alive

Your business can grow in leaps and bounds through the help of the social media strategies that your company will implement. Through the views posted by your network, you can informally brainstorm for new ideas, new products and new brands. Your consumers will be able to come up with new ideas wherein you could use for your brand.

Social media strategy does not totally veer away from what has been the usual practice when it comes to traditional media strategy. Traditionally, corporations, businesses and organizations need to hire an entire department to handle marketing concerns. This department will need a considerably substantial financial support and of course, a much longer time frame to come up with their marketing strategies. Of course you will still spend money when it comes to paying the people who will do all your social media campaign but it will not be as much as what you would spend for its counterpart in the traditional media.

With the tightening, cut-throat competition between businesses, companies and organizations are finding better and creative ways to tap its potential market making it wider and more accessible. Selling is the process by which one person persuades or convinces another person or group of people, to think or act in accordance to his wishes.  But beyond selling, there is a greater need to keep the market hooked on your advocacies, products and services.

Even upon conceptualizing the product, you can make use of social media to conduct a feasibility study or any survey that will help you custom-fit your product to suit the choosy and critical taste of the public. Just create a survey and send it via email or post it at all social networking sites for people to answer and give back to you.  It is imperative to note that the social media’s greatest advantage is that it is public. Meaning, everybody embraces it as if their own. You will also readily obtain the result of the survey from a wider coverage, at faster speed, and possibly at lowest cost.

Keeping track of your brand’s performance on the market can also be done through the social media strategies that your company has planned to do. Another social media benefit is that it is interactive.  Once you start a conversation, others may join and talk back.  You can really get the pulse of your customers first hand because you can get to interact with them. And because social media sites value the importance of privacy, users feel free to talk especially in the network that they trust, giving honest feedback, opinions and suggestions.

Your business can grow in leaps and bounds through the help of the social media strategies that your company will implement.  Through the views posted by your network, you can informally brainstorm for new ideas, new products and new brands. Your consumers will be able to come up with new ideas wherein you could use for your brand. In doing such, they will embrace the brand as their own because they will feel that their voices and opinions matter to the brand owner.  This will provide you the arms to battle another market with either a better brand or a totally new product.

Involvement breeds loyalty.  If you keep your consumers involved in your business employing the social media strategy, you will keep them, not only loyal to your brand, but also to your name – all of these you can do through the help of a social media strategy.

Vizeum, part of Aegis Media launched in Australia through a major partnership venture with FRANk and we have happily rebranded as FRANkVizeum in our Melbourne office. In Sydney the brand remains as Vizeum.

Similar to FRANk, Vizeum was set up as a challenger brand, to help clients interrogate the way their brands are perceived in the marketplace. Its thrust, first and foremost, is to understand what stimulates people and drives motivation to consider and engage with the brands they buy.