With the popularity and increased use of social and digital communications, marketers have also enhanced their ability to engage with, and as a result, sell to consumers. Regardless of the sites visited, a history of browsing, socializing, buying and viewing becomes available to marketers who can tailor-make ads to consumers based on their digital footprint. Sites like facebook, twitter and google tailor the information that is presented to the consumer based on several factors which include geographic location and web history. In many cases, these marketing tools can prove helpful, but in other situations internet ads and the process for collecting user information can be intrusive and unwanted. Companies can limit the information provided to the consumer in facebook newsfeeds, twitter feeds and google searches. Upon further investigation, the limiting of information can make the world wide web feel much less expansive and far reaching as it once was. Formerly used as a tool to connect people from across the globe, effectively shrinking the world has now aided in insolating consumers, relegating some to the familiar boundaries of their likes, retweets and searches.
The ethics of limiting information are in question but so too is the quality of information that is provided and how. Because there is no formal regulation to social and digital marketing, poor ethical standards of some companies can smear the reputation of others. In the article Social Responsibility and Ethical Marketing, five examples of unethical social marketing were provided which include: exploitation, spam, bad mouthing competition, misleading advertisement and information and philanthropic gestures for public relations. Attempts of bad companies to mislead and misinform customers is not the end goal of all social marketers, though. According to William Yates, Client Services Director of Novacom, “the majority of social media marketers,” including those at his company, “are rigorously trained on ethics and corporate and social responsibility.” Yates indicates that most companies have processes that ensure all members of the social media marketing teams maintain those ethical standards.
So what do those standards and processes of ethical behaviors employed by companies look like? The first step, especially for companies that outsource their marketing efforts, is accountability. Business should be accountable for knowing the exact information that is being distributed to their consumers and how that information is being used. In order to maintain positive interactions with their consumers, Yates suggests businesses have “rigorous in-house content development and approval processes to ensure consistent messaging, corporate compliance and communications quality.” Companies should take serious the responsibility of protecting their consumer from any unethical behavior employed by outsourced companies or external departments.
Once a company has a clear understanding of strategies that are being utilized to communicate to consumers and a formal and rigorous approval system has been established, businesses can then begin to establish trust between themselves and consumers. Gaurav Agnihotri, Head Sales and BD at Sulzer Ltd, indicates that once trust is established, consumers see companies as reliable and they gain credibility. Knowing and understanding what the company clearly sees as right and wrong will influence the practices used by social/digital marketing departments or outsourced companies.
Although our current social and digital marketing world seems a bit like the wild west with the lack of regulation, common sense business practices can act as a good tool to rein in the small number of companies that encourage the use of unethical behavior in consumer interactions. As the reported issues proliferate and more consumers become aware of lax regulation, the world of social and digital marketing could soon become far less wild.