BlogWell Philadelphia Social Media Ethics Briefing, presented by Andy Sernovitz


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In his BlogWell Philadelphia presentation, "Social Media Ethics Briefing: Staying Out of Trouble," GasPedal CEO Andy Sernovitz recapped a simple outline to stay in compliance with the latest FTC regulations on disclosure and social media.

Andy's presentation covered the 10 magic words of proper online disclosure, his specific steps for keeping your brand safe under new FTC regulations, and his personal tips for staying ethical and legal.

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  • If you know us at all, you know that all of our events include a lesson in word of mouth ethics.In 10 min … we’re going to talk about the most common ways to get in trouble – and how to be totally safeWe’re in a business that is based on trust. The trust of our community, the trust of our readers, trust in our brand. Blogging and social media isn’t really about what you say. Any marketer can write great copy – and pay to get it out there. But great marketing – combined with the love and trust of fans who respect you – is forwarded, quoted, and passed along to the ends of the earth.But you’ll never have a viral success, or a social media success, if you don’t build and protect that trust first.You can’t start a program of open, authentic communications by lying to peopleWhen we violate that trust, word of mouth ends  The people we wanted to reach turn on us – and rightfully so. That means that ethics isn’t an optional part of your social media program. It’s not something you think about later. It’s the first step.It’s the right thing to do. It’s the only way to stay out of trouble. Only way to be truly welcome and successful in the blogosphere.
  • The difference between lying to people and honest outreach comes down to Disclosure.All the other scandals – pay-per-post, shilling, fake reviews – are all disclosure issues.Good news: It’s easy to do disclosure the right way, and it won’t interfere with your marketing effectivenessFor 300 years, from the very first newspapers, all media have mixed editorial with advertising. That’s OK.But the difference between sleazery and honesty – is clearly identifying which is which. It all comes down to saying “and now… a word from our sponsors”This is a principle that has long been held sacrosanct: separation of ADVERTISING and EDITORIAL
  • This is the law.This is not a matter of opinion: This is the lawFTC is cracking downNY fined first company $300,000 and theirs more to comeThis has been the law for decades. It is not a new rule. It has always been illegal to solicit false endorsements. That’s why we have words for it, like payola in radio, and the VNR scandals in PRJust because it’s now social media, doesn’t make it right.If you walked to your boss’s office and said we’re going to pay reporters for coverage, or pay consumers for fake testimonials in our print ads – you’d be fired. What makes you think it’s ok to do it sometimes or a little bit just because it’s a blog. It’s dirty, and you’re going to get caught. Your company is going to get prosecuted and you’re going to get fired.
  • Never Pay: It walks you into the worst kind of trouble. You pay someone to write a review. They’ve never used the productYou’ve just paid for false endorsement  and the FTC will get youYou’ve just paid for fake reviews -> and that’s illegalNow we’re not talking about samples, or inviting bloggers to an event, or anything like that. In those cases, it’s what we call “self-disclosing” -- the relationship between the blogger and the advertiser is obvious to the average user.The problem is when you pay for coverage without the product experience.Protect yourself now:- At big companies, I guarantee you’ve got junior staff or different offices that are doing this sort of illegal campaign. Audit your campaigns and clarify your policies.- Grill your ageinces – I guarantee your agencies are doing this, their subcontractors are doing this – but it will be your brand that gets busted
  • Good news: Disclosure is easy.Starts with the 10 Magic words. I work for ____, and this is my personal opinion.If everyone who works for you starts with some version of this when they blog or post, it covers 90% of the risk – to them, to the company. It’s pretty simple!
  • Three things to disclose: Who you are, if you were paid, and if you believe what you are saying.1. Disclosure #1: Your true identity. Do you work for the marketer or their agency?Are you part of a word of mouth program2. Disclosure #2:Were you paid in any way?Cash, Samples, Trips ... anythingNot saying it’s bad to be paid – but you have to tell your readers No fudging: Not hidden disclosure, or general disclosure, or “some of these posts were paid for”. If it’s an ad, say it’s an ad.My recommendation: Never pay for posts3. Disclosure #3: Is this your real opinion?One thing is always wrong: A fake review where you never actually used the product.These three things are not a matter of opinion. It’s the law – clear and simple FTC regulations.
  • The biggest risk of all: Failure to train your team.Most companies don’t set out to do stealth marketing – But most scandals come well-meaning executives who don’t know that it’s wrong.We see the same situations again and again:A junior executive pays for fake reviews or fails to disclose... because they don’t know how to tell the difference.Someone on your team hires an agency – and doesn’t know that what the agency is pitching is a stealth campaign.It only takes one person to put you in a national scandalWe train a waiter or a call-center operator for a month. But we put the kid in the office with the most twitter followers in charge.Remember – we’ve been told for years that “social media is easy – just do it”but that just do it doesn’t come with a deeper lesson how to do it rightMost of your company isn’t part of this high-level social media policy discussion. They just know that they use Facebook every day, and don’t consider that it’s different when you use it for work.What to do:1. Create a training program – make it part of your employee handbook2. Hold your agencies to the same standard – and put it in writing.
  • Of course, there are many complex situations where what to isn’t clear.So the Blog Council created the Disclosure Best Practices ToolkitA series of checklists to help you create your own disclosure policyWalk through the lists, ask the tough questions, and then create something that works for you company.Make it part of your formal training program.Not standards: We’re not an association or enforcement body.We created a this as guide that we live by ...We hope you’ll take it and make it your own.How we built it:24 companies, working together for 4 months. Great thanks to all of them. Not only write something interesting - but something extendable, repeatable, usefulLawyer-proofing. One of the best things is get it vetted by some of the toughest attorneys in the world, and the biggest companies. If it works for them, it works for you.Six Checklists for Six situations.Disclosure of IdentityPersonal/Unofficial Blogging and OutreachBlogger RelationsCompensation and IncentivesAgency and Contractor DisclosureCreative Flexibility
  • The FTC made something else clear: You, the brand, are 100% completely responsible if your agency does something sleazy.If you use a pay-per-post service and they don’t guarantee disclosure – or they get busted – you’re responsible.If you hire an agency, who puts junior folk on it – or hires an iffy subcontractor – you’re responsibleIf you can’t produce detailed reports of who an agency recruits and show that they are properly training bloggers on disclosure – you’re responsibleNothing in this presentation should be new to you.You should be concerned if your agency hasn’t already come to you with a social media safety plan.You should be concerned if they haven’t talked to you about disclosure. You should be concerned if they don’t have the commons sense not to do payola in your brand’s name.And I guarantee this: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If you hear rumors that an agency is pushing the ethics limits, run away.For your trusted partners:Insist that they meet or beat the FTC requirements and your own internal ethics codes. And get a contract that guarantees it.
  • Now is your chance to do something good.We’re at a special moment in history here – an new media, a special media.
  • Every day when you open your email and see this.Every time your daughter opens up an inbox full of pornographyDid you ever ask how it happened?It happened at a time like this 10 years ago.When spam was small.People like me stood up and said “we need to stop this now – we need to draw the line”And companies didn’t. And marketers just dabbled a little here and a little there.And everyone was nervous about a new communications technology, and took the shortcuts where they could.And the industry groups fought regulations and lowered their standards.And that’s how we got here.
  • You have a chance to make it better. This time we can hold the line.It’s time to raise our standards. It’s time to say – We know what the right thing is, we’re the first companies in the game – and we’re going to fight to keep the game clean.WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF EVIDENT:It is wrong to pay people to write fake reviews of our products. We don’t pay people to lie for usWe call and ad and ad, and never try to make it look like editorialWe don’t hide our marketing or pretend it’s consumer opinionI’m calling on you to:Say no fudging, no maybes, no “just trying a little bit and hope no one notices”I’m calling on you to:Think about the filth in your inbox every single time this comes up.I’m calling on you to:Say something when something is wrong. Say something when the line is being crossed. Raise your standards.I’m calling on you to hold the line.
  • Even you don’t buy all my high-principled philosophy – Know this:Mess with ethics and you will humiliate yourself and your company.You know it’s being investigated as a crimeGoogle has banned itFacebook is banning itEveryone knows it’s sleazyThis stuff is illegal. It’s not a debate within the blog community, it’s not a difference of opinion between social media experts.Are you the one who is going to tell your boss that you risked your priceless corporate reputation over some iffy blog spam experiment?Are you the one who is going to tell your client that you launched an illegal false advertising campaign for them?Somehow we’ve lost perspective. No one at your company would ever consider a fake testimonial in your TV or print ads ... so why would you risk your brand and reputation to do it on a blog? Just because it’s a new medium doesn’t make it right.If someone walked into your office with any other sleazy telemarketing or infomercial proposal, you’d throw them out. Don’t lose your good judgment with social media.Why go there? Why touch it?
  • Social Media is so much more than another marketing technique. It’s something that changes the world, that empower people, that frees countries. The stakes are worth it. Let’s defend it.I challenge you to Raise the bar: Teach your team ....Have a supplier seminarStart a community discussionInsist on the highest level of ethics. Only do business with those that do the same. Working together, we can keep social media clean and trusted.
  • It’s bigger than you an your company. When we lead by example, when we say something, we put a stop to stealth.
  • BlogWell Philadelphia Social Media Ethics Briefing, presented by Andy Sernovitz

    1. 1.
    2. 2. Ethics Best Practices<br />
    3. 3. IT’S ALL <br />ABOUT<br />TRUST<br />
    4. 4. The difference between <br />honesty and sleazery:<br />
    5. 5. THIS IS THE LAW<br />
    6. 6. Require disclosure and truthfulness in social media outreach.<br />Monitor the conversation and correct misstatements.<br />Create social media policies and training programs.<br />Three Guides for Safe Social Media Outreach<br />
    7. 7. Stay Safe<br />Never pay<br />Real disclosure<br />Don’t lie to your mom<br />
    8. 8. 10 Magic Words:<br />I work for ______, and this is my personal opinion.<br />
    9. 9. Who are you?<br />Were you paid?<br />Is it an honest opinion based on a real experience?<br />
    10. 10. Biggest Risk:<br />Training Failure<br />
    11. 11. Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit<br />Disclosure of Identity<br />Personal/Unofficial Blogging and Outreach<br />Blogger Relations<br />Compensation and Incentives<br />Agency and Contractor Disclosure<br />Creative Flexibility<br />Checklists for every situation<br />Customize for your team<br />
    12. 12. Be careful who you hire<br />
    13. 13. We have a chance to do something good<br />
    14. 14.
    15. 15. Raise Your Standards<br />
    16. 16. Save your brand<br />Save your reputation<br />Save your job<br />
    17. 17. SAVE<br />SOCIAL<br />MEDIA<br />
    18. 18. If you have to ask, the answer is no<br />It’s easier to be honest<br />Pass it on<br />