I spent a few hours at the Blogwell conference yesterday. The Conference was sponsored by The Blog Council, a group of large companies that are establishing best practices for corporate blogging and other forms of social media.
Andy Sernowitz of Gas Pedal gave a presentation on the ethics of disclosure. Andy asserts that most Social Media efforts gone awry can be boiled down to lack of disclosure. By embracing disclosure you are in the position of leading with ethics.
Andy has prepared a disclosure best practices toolkit. Six checklists to help you create disclosure policies around six core disclosure scenarios.
1) Disclosure of identity – say who you are.
2) Personal unofficial blogging and outreach – identify your employer and make it clear that your opinions are not the opinions of your employer.
3) Blogger Relations – PR agency outreach should always identify the writer as an agency employee working on the behalf of a client.
4) Compensation and incentives – If you’re reviewing a product and it won’t be returned to the company that provided it, you have an obligation to say so. If you are an investor in a company you are blogging about, you have an obligation to say so. If you are paid to write….again, you have an obligation to say so.
5) Agency and Contractor disclosure – Any action taken by an agency on behalf of a client must disclose that relationship.
6) Creative flexibility – In some cases (scavenger hunts, impersonating fictional characters, contests) it may not be possible to exercise full disclosure without giving away the McGuffin. Use your best judgment.
In the end, Andy says it’s easier to be honest. If you have doubts about online tactics that skirt the disclosure issue, you shouldn’t implement the tactics until disclosure can be assured. This has implications for ghost writing blogs, pay per post schemes, profiles on social networks, microblogging formats and any other opportunity in which we are speaking (or writing) for others. It’s far better to say who you are up front than to be found out and castigated for it later.