Unethical practices and manipulation of social media by businesses continues to pose the threat of a brand boycott by consumers. It’s time to ‘Keep Social Honest’. The following article provides insights on how businesses can protect the integrity of their social media and consumer engagement.

A decade ago, reviews, recommendations and endorsements came in just three forms: advertising, where you know who footed the bill; press, where we could judge positions of different media and friends and family, who by default we trust as they tell you of the merits of one product over another.

Fast-forward to 2014, and today’s modern world presents a daily barrage of complex messages via multiple platforms; few more so than social media which has become embedded in our day-to-day lives; brands claiming control over your Twitter feed, Facebook telling you what your friends like before they do and Tesco giving you coupons in exchange for your comments.

However this rise of social networking which saw a fifth of the world’s population pile onto Facebook, also saw brands and businesses presented with a new battle in the fight for our affection, our advocacy – and ultimately - our money.

Social media has undoubtedly empowered and liberated consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions – however, the consumer’s ability to do so is currently threatened by unethical practices from businesses. The worst offenders will use Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques, for example, to hide negative content, delete negative reviews, posts and comments, will create fake accounts and positive reviews or comments, pay for ‘likes’ on Facebook, or leverage ‘click farms’ – schemes where low paid workers in poor countries are paid to ‘click’ links in order to inflate social media numbers (and in turn, influence audiences). But how do consumers know that what they are being exposed to and influenced by online is honest and genuine?

Earlier this year, as part of a national campaign called ‘Keep Social Honest’, CIM and YouGov undertook a major and unique study to understand how to maintain the integrity of social media for consumers, and the effectiveness of these platforms for brands and businesses. One of the findings revealed that nearly half of consumers would boycott a brand or change their purchasing behaviour if they discovered the brand was found to be manipulating or behaving dishonestly or unethically through their social media engagement.

To coincide with the launch, CIM unveiled ‘Ten Commandments’ of Keeping Social Honest to encourage best practice within business, and drive awareness about the importance of integrity in social media engagement,

1. Define and put a policy in place – Evaluate the kind of behaviours on social media that reflect your organisation and your values – and capture it in writing to be shared and adopted company-wide

2. Appoint an ambassador – Identify a company representative to be a champion of social media compliance with a view to extending this into a bigger network

3. Embed your policies internally – Social media representation extends company-wide, so ensure your policies go beyond the marketing team to encompass the wider business – including internal communications and HR processes

4. Signpost employee affiliation – Employees contributing to your brand’s voice on social media should have their employment clearly identified in their profile – their voice should be ‘encouraged’ but not ‘forced’

5. Promote shared ‘good behaviours’ – Pressure of social targets and metrics can lead to bad behaviour. Work to shared standards with your client-side marketers on balancing activity-based targets with a ‘responsible contract’

6. Join the debate – Social media is ever-evolving and the debate is far from over. Get involved in helping shape the right regulatory and responsibility frameworks

7. Review policies regularly – The dynamic nature of social media must be reflected in how policies and standards are agreed. Be sure to formally review and iterate policies and standards at least annually

8. Abolish the bad – Of all the practices undertaken by organisations on social media, there is a handful by which the intent is to mislead the customer or consumer. We call on marketers to abolish these by committing to neither undertake them, commission or enable their use

9. Share your social media position – Once you’ve articulated a ‘code’ for your business – make it available externally so important audiences can see what you are committed to

10. Adopt compliance as a professional development priority – The current regulatory landscape can be confusing. Take responsibility for building compliance into personal development for staff to ensure you’re up to date with latest regulatory changes

For more information about CIM’s ‘Keep Social Honest’ campaign, visit www.keepsocialhonest.com.

 

By Thomas Brown, Director of strategy and insights at The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). 


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