As a business, it is important to operate within the boundaries of ethical and professional behaviour. As digital marketing takes center stage, knowing where to draw the line can be a bit blurred. Social media sites and platforms can be a bit risqué depending on the user. As an organisation that operates under a certain set of laws, how do you engage your audience while still maintaining distance from personal opinions?
What Exactly is Digital Marketing?
Digital marketing is the process of promoting a brand using a variety of online tactics. These tactics include having a website, blogs, social media, mobile marketing and more. Although similar to traditional advertising, the reach occurs almost instantaneously and is more engaged with the public. The advertising is more sophisticated and can be tailored to specific audiences.
There are a number of things to consider when dealing with ethics of digital marketing. There are a number of ethical traditions:
Personal character driven and decision driven
Considering the greatest good. This is making a decision that is judged as ethical or unethical based exclusively on outcomes or consequences.
Putting the consequences aside. This is when a decision is judged as ethical or unethical based solely on the intentions or reasons of the party making a decision.
When considering utilitarianism and digital marketing, the following apply:
- Digital and new media marketing use the utilitarian argument.
- Using egoism benefits one individual or organisation instead of all.
- There are a number of benefits, including targeted advertising, low search costs, more interesting and relevant websites.
- The costs include reduced privacy and fears of big brother.
In the bigger realm of things, it may be wise to follow standards of conduct based on the American Bar Association (ABA). They have specific guidelines that discuss advertising, rules for blogging, social media, and marketing activity. While the rules change based on state, having your general counsel develop a set of rules and regulations based on these documents can cover you in the event any legal matters come to light.
Here is a general overview:
- False statements
Don’t do it. When advertising and using social media, it is important to be as transparent and truthful as possible. Users appreciate brands that can own up to their flaws, missteps and mistakes.
- False promises
Don’t do it. You should be able to stand by every statement you make regarding promotions and advertising. If you are advertising a prize, make sure you stick to the terms and conditions. Any deviation could be a social nightmare.
There are a number of ethical issues in digital media, including:
- There are a number of vulnerable customers.
- Benefits vs. costs
- There is a lack of transparency.
- Ownership of information
- Concerns of trust and integrity
What are some Ethical Issues in Social Media?
Social media has a number of ethical issues that can harm the integrity of your digital marketing efforts:
- There is some confusion on what social media tools are. They are designed for content creation and communication. They are not specifically designed to be marketing tools.
- There is a lack of transparency of communicators
- Social media helps build relationships through real conversations. With social media, there tends to be a lack of trust.
- The benefits and costs of social media are sometimes skewed.
- Some people who use social media have aliases and are not authentic.
With so many ethical and legal issues present in the digital marketing space, how can companies successfully balance these issues in that space? There are a number of things that can be done to counteract ethical and legal issues for your organisation.
First, the company must be committed to being socially responsible for every move made through digital media. If not, the company faces legal implications. This could be as simple as having a disclaimer throughout your digital advertising pieces. Your marketing team should operate with the highest ethical standards, straying away from the risqué or questionable posts that could harm the brand.
In every promotion or contest, there needs to be a disclosure so your audiences will not feel as if they have been deceived. This is very simple. Either have a link that leads to the terms and conditions, or add a line at the bottom with pertinent information to make sure the organisation has operated with the best ethical judgement and the highest legal standards. Because brands are accountable for disclosing information to their audiences, it is wise to take the proper steps to remain protected. Here are a few suggestions:
This should be provided to all the influencers and bloggers the company employs. It should include the best practices you follow as an organisation, along with other facts about the company. This way, your company will have legal standing in the event a blogger or influencer misrepresents the brand.
Have an Authentic Network
This is key. If you have a strong network of influencers who are familiar with the brand and your ethical standing, you will not have to worry about whether or not they will misrepresent your brand.
Your marketing team should be tracking your social content on a quarterly basis to ensure your posts are clearly labeled. If you find some of those posts are not in compliance, you can track the influencers and have them make the fix.
Use the Word “Sponsored”
This is a quick and easy way to ensure your digital media is always covered. Using the word “sponsored” on all your digital campaigns and other media will alert your audiences it is a sponsored post from your brand.
Open the Lines of Communication
When using digital media, it is best to maintain an open door policy and communicate with your audiences on a consistent basis. This not only helps build brand integrity, but can help in the event of a mishap. When audiences trust you, it is easier for them to forgive a mistake, rather than having disgruntled customers that make things worse by sharing their experiences on social media.
On the legal side, there are three main issues affecting digital marketers:
Privacy and Data Collection
Cloud Storage and Security Methods
You must make sure all customers know you have protocols in place to secure their sensitive information. There should also be disclaimers on how this is done, and whether or not your information gathering process is SSL protected.
This is by far the most complicated issue facing digital marketing. Protecting your intellectual property through trademarks and copyright is crucial in this day and time. It is just as important to make sure you have not used anyone else’s trademark or copyright. How can you accomplish this?
- Register your trademark.
- Copyright your marketing language.
Under the FTC, all advertising and marketing must be above board with no elements of unfair or deceptive advertising. There is also an anti-spam law in effect in the US, which is called CAN-SPAM which could affect your global digital marketing efforts. There are a number of guidelines under the CAN-SPAM act that should be followed for compliance.
Having an attorney working with your marketing team will assist in drafting ethics and legal policies for your organisation that will protect you in every aspect of your digital marketing efforts. Understanding the ethics and legalities of digital marketing can help your company avoid litigation and questions about your ethical integrity now and in the future.
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