New Media Strategies: A Question Of Ethics

*A Question Of Ethics*
**By Rick Grant**

***So far in this column, we’ve talked about using social networking and blogging as tools that will not only advance your thought leadership within the industry but also help you build better business relationships. But I would be remiss if I did not take at least one column to talk about ethics.

****Every good journalist and marketer knows about ethics, and just because we’ve moved into the do-it-yourself online world doesn’t mean that we can ignore professionalism and ethical standards.

****By definition, a blog is a tool you use to publish your own thoughts—where you can share what you think, what you’ve found, and what you think about what you’ve found. By all means, go wild. That’s what the tool is for. But keep in mind that as you become recognized as a valuable and reputable voice in your industry, the chances that people are going to come knocking on your door asking for your endorsement will increase.

****Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, on the surface. People hire spokespeople all the time. If you use some discretion, there’s nothing wrong with building your business this way. After all, every business is built on relationships. In the case of social networking, these business relationships have become somewhat more important to some government agents.

****The government knows that your thoughts can be bought. If you’re a paid spokesman doing the Billy Mays in an advertisement, that’s one thing, but when you act as though you are just another consumer endorsing a product you use and love, the government has decided that this poses a risk to consumers. According to the government, consumers deserve to know whether what they’re reading in your blog is something you’ve thought up on your own or something you’ve been paid to think.

****To ensure that readers know what they’re in for, the Federal Trade Commission last year updated their Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, requiring the disclosure of “material connections” between the advertiser and those that endorse them. And this requirement absolutely extends to bloggers.

****So, if a company contacts you to provide an endorsement of their product in your blog and compensates you for it, you cannot keep that relationship a secret. Hiding that information from your readers is unethical and can result in serious trouble for you and your client.

****Relationships are what drive your business. There’s no way around that, and neither is there anything wrong with it. But as a matter of professionalism and integrity—and as a matter of regulatory compliance—you must be sure to disclose all of your relationships when you use social media to endorse a company or its products.

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