Member Article

Social media: Is your business ethical enough?

In less than a decade, digital marketing has completely revolutionised how we consume, interpret and share information, and enabled businesses to benefit from new platforms and channels providing real-time, cost-effective alternatives to traditional and expensive advertising. Emerging technologies has led to social media, in particular becoming embedded in our day-to-day lives, and increased access to information driven primarily by the internet is empowering consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions. The consumer’s ability to do so however, is currently under threat by unethical social media practices from businesses using tactics such as writing fake reviews for products and paying for Facebook ‘likes’ and LinkedIn followers in an attempt to inflate their social media numbers and influence their audiences.

Earlier this year, The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) undertook a major piece of research called ‘Keep Social Honest’, to better understand how businesses can maintain the integrity of social media for consumers, and to ascertain the effectiveness of these platforms for brands and businesses. The study found that nearly half of consumers would either boycott a brand or change their purchasing behaviour if they discovered the brand was found to be manipulating or behaving dishonestly or unethically through their social media engagement.

What this highlights is how important it is that businesses are compliant and has the right digital training in place to ensure that all their employees, third party marketers and stakeholder groups are not compromising the integrity of their brand or influencing consumer trust via their social engagement.

As part of the Keep Social Honest campaign, CIM has developed an online e-learning tutorial providing recommendations to businesses, along with Ten Commandments’ - designed to provide businesses with information on integrating ethical behaviours in all their digital marketing practices:

Create a social media policy – Evaluate the kind of behaviours on social media that reflect your organisation and your values – and capture it in writing to be shared and adopted company-wide

Appoint an ambassador – Identify an employee in your business who can be a champion of social media compliance with a view to extending this into a bigger network

Embed your policies internally – Social media representation extends company-wide, so ensure your policies are shared with everyone in a meeting or official communication

Signpost employee affiliation – Employees contributing to your brand’s voice on social media should have their employment clearly identified in their profile – their voice should be ‘encouraged’ but not ‘forced’

Promote shared ’good behaviours’ – Social targets and metrics can lead to bad behaviour so ensure that your marketers and any third parties know your standards and balance their activity with a ‘responsibility contract’

Join the debate – Social media is always evolving so help shape the right regulatory and responsibility frameworks

Review policies regularly – The dynamic nature of social media must be reflected in how policies and standards are agreed. Be sure to formally review and iterate policies and standards at least annually

Abolish bad practice – There is a handful of organisations that are intent to mislead the customer or consumer through social media. Ensure that their business does not commit to these practices so that digital marketing remains an ethical marketing tool.

Share your social media code of practice – Once you’ve articulated a ‘code’ for your business – make it available externally so important audiences can see what you are committed to.

Adopt compliance as a professional development priority – Regulations change all the time, so ensure that your business has a person who keeps up to date with latest regulatory changes.

We will see the emergence of even more social media platforms that will challenge the likes of well-known players such as Facebook and Twitter in the coming years. In the meantime, CIM offers a range of courses which inform employees how to use digital marketing responsibly, and for more information about CIM’s ‘Keep Social Honest’ campaign, visit

Thomas Brown is Director, Strategy and Insights at CIM.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Thomas Brown, Director, Strategy and Insights, CIM .

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