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

October 7, 2009

BlogHer, the FTC, ethics and conflicts of interest

How BlogHer deals with reviews and conflicts of interest from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaI‘ve been struck by the varying reactions to this week’s news that the Federal Trade Commission will now begin to regulate product endorsements not just in advertisements but also on blogs and other forms of social media. (PDF here; the regs don’t start until page 55.)

Two heavyweight bloggers and longtime free speech champions Jeff Jarvis and Dan Gillmor — bless them — have lambasted the FTC for its move into the online arena (here are Jeff‘s and Dan‘s posts, and reader comments). While I think skepticism is in order, and the specifics of the government’s involvement need to be more clearly defined, in the end I believe the FTC’s move is a healthy and welcome development for social media.

I’m coupling my thoughts on the FTC ruling with an interview (above) I did a while back with Jory Des Jardins, co-founder of BlogHer, which I’ve just gotten around to publishing today. In it, Jory describes how JCPenney approached BlogHer with the idea of having bloggers in its network of 2,500 blogs write about its new line of Linden Street furniture as part of BlogHer’s review program.

As in its past dealings with retailers, the BlogHer exec team decided on this approach: It would allow a dozen bloggers to accept $500 gift cards to purchase furniture from JCPenney, but only on the condition that the bloggers fully disclose the relationship with both Penney and BlogHer, that the bloggers be free to write reviews and produce videos telling about their experience — both positive and negative — and that the reviewers could not accept any advertising from JCPenney. Importantly, they were not paid to write product endorsements but to write reviews. BlogHer then assembled their posts into a widget, which they ran across their blog network.

JCPenney was “thrilled” with the program, and so were the bloggers. (You can judge for yourself about the quality of the reviews; this one was typical. The authenticity is what makes this valuable to marketers.) BlogHer has run several similar retailer partnerships — and in each case, Jory says, the key ingredient was disclosure.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo

Lisa Stone, another co-founder of BlogHer, evoked the same themes in her keynote address to the Online News Association conference on Saturday. One reason for BlogHer’s continued growth and success, she said, was they adhere to the same standards and practices that traditional journalism institutions have built up over the decades. By 2006, BlogHer “became the schoolmarms of the Internet,” Lisa said.

Every one of the 2,500 bloggers participating in the BlogHer network must fax in a signed agreement to abide by BlogHer’s community guidelines. BlogHer blogs must not contain “editorial content that has been commissioned and paid for by a third party, (either cash or goods in barter),” the guidelines say, and so I wish the guidelines page would address how reviews fall into a different category. (For the record, I think the way BlogHer has done this is absolutely fine, though this would violate many newspapers’ policies.)

Lisa also made clear that BlogHer has no desire to impose its guidelines on the entire Internet. “We don’t believe in a universal standard for the Internet,” she said.

Fair enough. It’s not BlogHer’s job to police the Internet. Nor mine. Nor the Media Bloggers Association’s. Two years ago I chaired a committee to write the association’s Statement of Principles, which includes this:

“Clearly disclose conflicts of interest including personal relationships, financial considerations or anything else that might influence or appear to influence your independence and integrity. If you accept payments from advertisers or sponsors, clearly demarcate advertorial from editorial content.” Continue reading