Social Media: Are We Disclosing Our Relationships?

I am starting to notice more and more friends in my social space marketing more and more products and services. Specifically, products and services some they represent either by contract or full time employment. Above is one of many updates that have been showing up in my Facebook feed after Christmas. I looked and looked, and there is no disclosure of her relationship to Visalus? Should I care? Does it matter? Do I like to get these updates in Facebook along with all the other advertisements?

Now…I know we all want to share when we are excited about a product or service. But, are we sharing because we are excited or are we marketing a product or service just to market to a sphere of influence? If it is the latter, are we disclosing the relationship (our material connection)?

I am not opposed to individuals using their sphere’s of influence to share products and services that they are excited about.

What speaks to me and calls me to question motives are a few things:
1) Individuals who have built a core sphere of influence online and have switched the sharing focus from personal to business updates. This is especially apparent in more private, closed social outlets like Facebook.

I have a few friends that have switched from complete personal posting on Facebook to a heavy mixture of pushing products and personal updating.

2) Individuals do not disclose their relationships with the products and services we are marketing in our social spaces.

We all should spend a few minutes and refresh our marketing memories with these simple guidelines shared by the FTC and WOMMA. Even I should go through and remind myself when I am sharing content from organizations I represent.

This guidelines are covered in the WOMMA Social Media Disclosure Guide as it relates to the FTC’s “material connections”:

Material Connections
The FTC explains “material connections” as any connection between a blogger and an advertiser/marketer that might materially affect the credibility consumers give to that blogger’s statements. Important examples of “material connections” include:
1) Consideration (benefits or incentives such as monetary compensation, loaner products, free services, in-kind gifts, special access privileges) provided by an advertiser/marketer to a blogger; and
2) A relationship between an advertiser/marketer and a blogger (such as an employment relationship).

Responsibility of Advocates
Advocates also have a responsibility to ensure their relationship to a marketer is adequately disclosed. An advocate must disclose his or her relationship to a marketer when making statements or providing reviews about that marketer’s product or service, or a competitor’s, as part of a marketing program or initiative in effect at the time of review or statement. Finally, an advocate must comply with stated social media or blogging policies.

Clear and Prominent Disclosure
No matter which platform is used, adequate disclosures must be clear and prominent. Language should be easily understood and unambiguous. Placement of the disclosure must be easily viewed and not hidden deep in the text or deep on the page. All disclosures should appear in a reasonable font size and color that is both readable and noticeable to consumers.

Does it bother you more and more people are using their social spaces to market products and services? Maybe or maybe not? Or maybe it is the same thing as marketing blogs like this in my status updates? Do people realize who I am representing or connected to virtually?

So in full disclosure…this is who I work with and represent professionally. Here is my client list…https://rettewcreative.com/clients

To download the WOMMA Social Media Disclosure Guide, CLICK HERE.

I used this link for information:

Fans or Lemmings…and ethics debate on status updates

Do we want fans or lemmings? Do we want to build a community where people follow and do what we tell them or empower them to have a voice of authenticity? Are we encouraging our fans and fan bases to not only drink the kool-aid but to share it as well…and do it in a manner that is not disclosed?

I have been watching numerous social feeds and noticed status updates and posts from individuals that seem to be canned, pre-scripted social updates created by organizations that they follow. What do I mean?

Have you watched your news feed and someone talks about a brand or organization that they are passionate about. You can tell they wrote it because they use their own, personalized vernacular when sharing. Sometimes they provide a link and with this update they might tell a personal story.

Recently I have noticed many individuals posting updates that seemed detached and use a marketing language that leads me to believe organizations are providing pre-scripted status updates for their fans to share as their own updates.

First of all, here are some reasons I have issue and debate this practice:

1) Transparency – Who is this status update coming from…the person or the organization? And if this update is coming from the organization, does the person that copied and pasted the “suggested” status update deem it authentic. Are they disclosing where this update originated?

2) Authenticity –  How do I know that the person truly shares the same opinions as the organization? Copy and pasting suggested status updates in our personal spaces suggests we are acting on behalf of the organization, thus actin in proxy. So who am I talking to if I respond?

3) Disclosure – If  a person is copying and pasting suggested status updates from a branded organization, they should disclose this relationship. It should be stated that this update is “quoted” and that person is acting on behalf of the organization. You can read Part 255.5 of the FTC’s Disclosure of Material Connections by CLICKING HERE.

4) Legitimacy – Is this person who they say they are….or representing an organization in their online social spaces. How do we know if this is a legitimate update from the person or the organization? How do we know if an organization has been using someones’ personal social outlet to share their branded messages? And if an organization is willing to speak via proxy through someone’s personal space, what else are they willing to do to share their message?

For this very reason I am discussing this topic, the people at Facebook and Twitter have made this easy. The organization should update their accounts, then their fans can “ReTweet”, “Share”, or “Like” these updates. This allows the organization to share then the fan re-share with their friends. To me…this is pretty simple. This also allows the fan base to add a personal message with this “ReTweet” or “Share”.

So how do I feel about organizations creating “Like” and “Share” campaigns…I think that is perfectly fine. Organizations are merely trying to solicit their fan base to “Like”, “Share”, and “ReTweet”. Organizations might even ask their fan base to solicit their friends to do the same, but I think the fan base should disclose their relationship to the organization.

I do not think individuals should grant organizations access to their personal, social outlets like Facebook and Twitter to solicit and update their statuses. Facebook and Twitter have both laid out strict rules and regulations on how to use these outlets:

Facebook Rules and Regulations – https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms

Twitter Terms of Service – https://twitter.com/tos

Look, I know it is tempting to have a big ole meeting, lunch, dinner, event with your fan base and pass out pre-scripted status updates for an upcoming event. In the world of marketing, sometimes we get to far into the trenches and our ethical scales slip and slide from one side to the next. But sometimes we have to remember we are dealing with real people.

There are some great resources to read and consider when creating social campaigns and how the FTC and leading trade organizations deem this practice:

Here are the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising – CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD PDF.

Here is WOMMA.org’s Ethics Code (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) – CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD PDF.

If you would like to read what predicated this blog post, you can read a discussion that happened on Facebook where me and my friends debated this every issue: CLICK HERE.

***Image is from Bama Escapes…thanks so much! 

Who is really telling the story, your story? Thinking Outside Disclosure and WikiLeaks.

So the other day, I posted this one Twitter. I wish I could find the Tweet that prompted this response, but you can read above. Yes, I have been thinking. My brain does work sometimes outside the online world of mindless 140 characters…my synapses are in full brain activity.

So I have been thinking…there is definitely a difference between the one who is telling your story and the one who is capturing that story that is being told. Big difference. So my friend Gregg Morris (@greggvm) askes:

Good question Gregg! And I responded with this Tweet:

We are just proxies…we are displaying what we see, hear, feel, smell, understand, and comprehend through our point of views!

Thanks Mike (Mike Bell @ProformaGuy)! You are talking about delivery and how people view those who are delivering.

So here is my real thought to this little Tweet and Blog combo explanation. Coming from a journalist background, I always felt that our views were skewed. Even though we were supposed to tell a story with an unbiased position, they are always going to be skewed. There was only hope that we could get closer and closer to the purest position in the way we tell stories, with each piece we produced or story we told. We were always looking through the lens, a bias based on news of the week, the politics of the organization, the financial potential from ratings/readership. So who can really tell our story from an unbiased position.

Storytellers are proxies, delivery mechanisms for the story we are telling…those we are trying to re-create for others to view. Now I am staying away from the advertising world, becuase here we can create the realities we want audiences to view. This is more of a PR position or even a journalistic/documentary position.

Each time I pick-up the camera and work with a client, I try to maintain the message of the story and organization. When I write a story, I stay away from supposition and try to stay as close to fact as I can…or interpretation of fact. So why should we care who is telling our story? Because it is important to understand the lens they are looking through. You have to see how they might perceive the story, even your story before they even begin the project. Do you want them to create a reality that does not properly represent your message…ultimately divesting time spent in a message.

These biases can be considered conflicts of interest. But is storytelling one of Fiction or Non-Fiction, and can we create that dichotomy so simply? And if we are paid to tell stories, document those stories, provide a proxy view-point of those stories…how should handle and disclose our view-point.

Now that Social Media has entered the picture…more and more individuals are providing view-points, telling stories, and using these outlets as means to reach audiences. As proxies of these stories, we should disclose our pre-dispositions, our conflicts, our view-points that are statement of fact.

In October of 2009, “FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials” where “Changes Affect Testimonial Advertisements, Bloggers, Celebrity Endorsements.” FTC states, “Under the revised Guides, advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect.”

Should we as storytellers be subject to these guidelines? Yes, I say. But to what capacity? Everytime I work with an organization to help tell a story, I should disclose to the organization my viewpoints and conflicts. Everytime I finish producing a story for an organization and post the link to my Facebook wall or even Tweet about it, I should have to disclose my relationship to the organization.

In an article by NPR, Laura Syndell looks at bloggers and disclosure of paid endorsements. Laura writes, “Kelly McBride, of the nonprofit Poynter Institute for journalism, says this is an important step: While many consumers can tell a commercial from a program on television, she says they can be naive when their Facebook friends say they’re a fan of McDonald’s.”

This is why when I work with organizations to create and establish a Social Media or New Media plan/strategy…it is my position that I do not Tweet, update a status, or communicate on behalf of the organization. I talked about this in a recent post. I typically do not follow those who are Tweeting, Blogging, Facebook”ing” on behalf of an organization without disclosure.

Social Media is such a progressive new area of digital publishing, should it held to the same professional standards as traditional marketing/pr/news outlets? Why, because it is “Social Media.” It is place for people to speak freely socially, to interact, and to build relationships. Why is this an issue, because organizations have been abusing this idea, acting on behalf of “a brand’s message” to influence a decision. Thus, de-socializing “Social Media(s)”.

So is the WikiLeaks idea/site privy to these types of ethics? The whole concept is that they are publishing information that typically not disclosed to the public in an open-source mentality. Many of the individuals providing information for WikiLeaks are not disclosing who they are and there relationships.

The Poynter Institute recently posted a link to their website that “Stars and Stripes Journalists are barred from viewing WikiLeaks documents.” In the article, Mark Prendergrast from Stars and Stripes writes, “Journalists are supposed to report before they write. That means gathering as much information as they can – in breadth and depth – and consulting primary sources whenever feasible. That might mean an editor clicking on Wikileaks to verify information in a wire story. Or an art director doing a screen grab to illustrate that story. Or a reporter reading a document in full for context in assessing a statement about it.”

Bottom-line, journalists need to know where the information came from, the source of the information. How do they know in this “public domain”? How do they know where the information has come from and if it is truly accurate.  This primal thought process should be the same as the we work we as “marketers do” for our clients everyday…we should disclose relationships, our predispositions, and why we are working with an organization when telling our stories.

I have recently joined WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Organization and been reading through lots of the resources offered not only to it’s membership but also to the public. I find this information a great guide for people like myself when navigating this world of client based work that leads us to tell stories on their behalf.

So where do we go from here? Well…I know that we must question our intentions each time we “Write” or “Produce” a story on behalf of a “client” or organization. We must also question or intentions when we distribute these “stories” and what message we are sending when we distribute. The intention of distribution is just as much a part of the storytelling process as is the actual story itself.

Bobby’s 5 Links of the Week | December 5, 2010

Hello friends, here are my links for the week. As you can see…they include doctors tweeting, social media, medical social media, ACC Basketball, and holiday fire safety. I hope you enjoy and let me know your thoughts about any of these articles!

Social Media and the Medical Profession
November 30, 2010
The professional standards of doctors and medical students – which are based on the expectations of the community and medical peers – form the cornerstone of quality patient care. They are taught and assessed from the first year of medical school, and are continually re-emphasised throughout medical training and practice. CLICK HERE to read more.

WOMMA 2010 – Every Picture Tells A Story – Make It Easy To Share

November 29, 2010 | via Twitter by Rod Brooks (@NW_Mktg_Guy)

The Legend Of Speedo Guy

February 9, 2009 | ESPN.com
The profile of Cameron Crazies’ legend Speedo Guy. This is for all of you crazy college basketball fans out there, especially those who love and understand ACC Basketball! This is just in time before the heart of the ACC Men’s Basketball schedule begins. Video courtesy of ESPN, Inc.

Phoenix Fire Department Fireplace Safety for the Holidays
City of Phoenix | Phoenix.gov & @TinaFightsFire

There’s nothing quite as cozy as a warm, crackling fire in the fireplace. But if you don’t take some simple safety precautions, that fire could turn deadly. More than 6,000 people end up in emergency rooms for injuries associated with fireplaces and fireplace equipment… and most of the injuries occured with children under five years old. CLICK HERE to read more.

Should Doctors Tweet Between Patients?
NOVEMBER 23, 2010 | Bryan Vartabedian, MD
Social media is just another form of professional communication. We should see it no differently than the telephone or email which, as we all know, are frequently misused.  To the uninformed, it’s assumed that social dialog is frivolous dialog.  But my social feeds are at the core of of my communication. CLICK HERE to read more from Doctor V.