February 16, 2010

Ethical guidelines for talking with your customers


2 essential tools: Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit & Social Media Policies roundup

JD LasicaToday’s BlogWell event in San Diego offers a good time to post a summary of resources available for businesses and organizations beginning to dabble in social media. This is not the Wild, Wild West where anything goes. By now certain certain customs, ethical standards and unspoken social interactions are widely expected on the social Web.

First, a word about BlogWell: How Big Brands Use Social Media. reps from the U.S. Navy, Starbucks, Clorox, USAA, TurboTax and State Farm are talking openly about how they’re using social media in their companies or organizations. There’s a live blog of the event’s proceedings.

One reason BlogWell rises above some of the other social marketing events popping up everywhere is its association with the Social Media Business Council (formerly the Blog Council, a association of major brands that use social media. See a list of member companies — I just signed up for their newsletter. And socialmedia.org — someone shelled out a few dollars to buy that domain.

“Almost every social media scandal involving brands boils down to a lack of disclosure.”
— Andy Sernovitz

When I attended the first of two BlogWells, organizer Andy Sernovitz made a point of putting ethics and disclosure front and center. “The number one issue around ethics comes down to disclosure — being honest about your true identity,” he said.

Disclosure is essential, easy but requires education, Sernowitz said. “You don’t tack on a disclosure statement later, you start with that. You start with ethics and that’s how you lead.” It’s not only the right thing to do, but “it’s essential as a way to stay out of trouble. Almost every social media scandal involving brands boils down to a lack of disclosure. The blogosphere expects to know your motivations.”

The “10 magic words” for employees venturing onto the social Web, he said, are these: “I work for X, and this is my personal opinion.” That disclaimer goes a long way in helping to separate official company policy from an employee’s personal views.

Here’s my Disclosure and conflict of interest statement, which I posted in early 2008 and have updated repeatedly since then.

Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit

The Social Media Business Council has created a Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit — a handy and essential resource for any company involved in social media. This is not an imperious one-size-fits-all list of must-dos — “we’re not a standards body or trade association,” as Sernovitz says. Instead, it’s an open source toolkit to help you build your social media policy.

“Adapt it to your company, teach your team, improve ad share,” he adds. It could be a full-blown policy that comes out of corporate communications, it might be part of your company’s employee handbook, or it could be a set of informal guidelines for your department or team.

Download the 10-page tookit as a Word docx. Details:

This is an Open Source Document

  • This is a living document that will continually change.
  • This document will continue to evolve with community feedback and participation.
  • Share and change this document as much as you like. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License and attribute it to the Social Media Business Council and link to http://www.socialmedia.org/disclosure.

The next BlogWell gatherings are in Cincinnati on April 7 and Seattle on May 5.

Socialmedia.biz has put together a resource guide to Social Media Policies created by corporations, media organizations, nonprofits and other groups. The policies of Intel, HP, IBM, Wells Fargo, the Washington Post and Bread for the World are among those included. Here are some of our posts on ethics and best practices in the online arena: Continue reading