5 Ethics Tips to Remember for Your Brand’s Social Media

April 7, 2014

Technology is at our fingertips nearly every second of the day. More powerful than ever before, we are able to share, comment, like and follow postings with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. All are welcome, but plagiarism and inaccuracy is not. 

Though the platforms for communication have drastically changed over the last several decades, we need to remember that we can’t simply throw communication ethics out the window. Now I am certainly not crediting myself as the “Ethics Police,” but there are a few things you should keep in mind regardless of your avenue of communication.

1. Provide Credible, Accurate Information

You’ve heard the cliché, you can’t believe everything you read online. And the truth is, that is a very accurate statement. With today’s technology everyone is part of the media due to the low cost and availability of technology. Therefore, it is your responsibility to provide credible information to your audience. If you are an expert on the subject you are writing about, providing reliable information is simple – you don’t have to interview or search for information online, you can simply draw from your own experience. If, on the other hand, you are interviewing a client or searching online, check that your sources are reliable before including them in your own communications.

2. Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

In simpler terms, cite your sources. Just because something is found online doesn’t mean it is free intellectual property. This includes both text and graphics. Remember that communication ethics course you took in college? Those are still important lessons to utilize today. While Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest make it easy to share and give credit at the same time, you may need to reevaluate your organization’s online publications. Remember to reference your company’s style guide and stay consistent. Whether you decide to go with the Modern Language Association (MLA) guidelines or Associated Press (AP), make sure you offer up your sources of information. In addition to being required, it also makes you a reliable source.

3. Create an Ethics Platform for Each Online Channel

This creates consistency among you and your coworkers and sets a clear standard for communication. For example, Facebook and Twitter should be treated differently than an online product review. If you display ethics in your communication, this can only evolve and spread into other aspects of your business. Here are a few principles established through the Public Relations Society of America that I found to be helpful when establishing my own ethics platform:

  • Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
  • Foster informed decision making through open communication.
  • Protect confidential and private information.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.
  • Reveal sponsors for represented causes and interests.
  • Act in the best interest of clients or employers.
  • Disclose financial interests in a client’s organization.

Though many of these seem obvious, it is easy to unintentionally overlook these areas when trying to keep up with the speed of communication in today’s environment. What better way to gain your clients’ trust than by providing an ethics platform for communication?

4. Be Transparent

Part of providing accurate information is revealing which team you are playing for. If you have sponsors or partners in particular areas of your business or if you have a financial interest in another organization, you should not leave this up to the public to judge – and chances are, they already know. By not being forthcoming, you only hinder your credibility as an honest source of information. The same goes for promotion. If the raving review your company posts online came out of your marketing department, more than likely the public will discover the incongruence. Instead, go to one of your loyal customers and gather genuine feedback.

5. Be Respectful

This goes back to the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With the fast pace of today’s technology, it is easy to quickly make up a quote for someone or tag a photo online. When doing so, remember to know and understand the online boundaries within your organization and with your clientele. Ask for their permission regarding quotes and adding photos online, perhaps you need to have them sign a photo release form. While this may seem time consuming, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Keep in mind, with the click of a button you have the power to publish an article, photo, or quote to the entire world – be respectful.

We are undergoing a communication revolution and the nature of it is constantly changing. As professionals, we share communication platforms with all kinds of writers – tweeters, bloggers, citizen journalists and social media users, and each and every one of us has the responsibility to uphold these basic communication standards.

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.