At the School of WOM last month in Chicago I attended several presentations about ethics in social media. I also heard WOMMA Board members and staff talk about defining and upholding ethical conduct in the social media space.

While WOMMA’s role in this is important, it is also unusual. In other professions and disciplines, practices are usually clearly established first, and people who push the envelope know they are at risk of stepping out of bounds. For example, medicine has well-defined parameters of care and accepted practices. As these become the community standard, those who ignore them know they are in danger of ethical violations.

But because social media is so new and constantly evolving, sometimes it seems we are looking at what can be done first – and then worrying about the ethics later. This can do our profession a disservice because it can and make clients more wary of taking a risk and trying something viral or social. One of my clients at a Fortune 50 company remarked to me that the social media team was thought to be “the cowboys” of the company – exploring new things in a rough, rugged and sometime unsophisticated way without regard for the consequences.

Social Ethics

While social media teams might be innovators and risk takers – can’t they also be shepherds of ethical practice? Don’t we all know the difference between being transparent and a little foggy? Can’t we all see the difference between taking risks and being reckless?

It really is the basic difference between right and wrong. One non-profit client of mine summed it up best, “some social media firms are so interested in making a name for themselves or a splash with their campaign that they forget to make a contribution to the discipline.”

So, the next time you are developing a strategy or designing a campaign ask yourself: If this became our community standard would that be good for the profession and our clients? If the answer is no, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. In my mind the ethical advancement of my client’s business objectives is always the main dish – not a side order added as an afterthought. The real question is: What’s on your firm’s menu? Let me know – I’d love to hear your views and experiences.

Colleen Nolan
Colleen Nolan

Colleen is an advocate at heart who believes that with the right message and motivation anything is possible. A strategic campaign designer and communicator, she is skilled at defining and analyzing a desired result, and then developing the marketing and communications pathway to achieve success. Colleen quickly makes an intellectual and emotional connection with key audiences and uses these skills to craft communications programs that have strong resonance and dramatic impact.

Colleen has 20+ years experience in engagement, issue management, community building and mobilization.