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Social Media Ethics: How transparent should your social media marketing be?

Do you recognize this video?

Big Papi took a selfie with the President, which then became an internet sensation.

Big Papi took a selfie with the President, which then became an internet sensation.

Or this picture?

The famous Oscar selfie that became the most retweeted picture ever.

The famous Oscar selfie that became the most retweeted picture ever.

How about this picture?

Most likely, you’ve seen all of these more times than you can count, but what do they all have in common? They’re examples of content that companies have released on social media sites, using the momentum of the internet to advertise without explicitly presenting it as advertising.

All three of these examples were released, became viral, and then people began realizing they were actually part of marketing campaigns and not as spontaneous as they might have seemed. Some publications and people weren’t happy with the companies for planning what was made to seem spontaneous, making the customers feel like they had been lied to.

But is it unethical to present content to consumers without being clear about its purpose? Does it work in favor of the company?

Wren’s take on their social media marketing campaign

Melissa Coker, the founder of Wren, considered the video a huge success for the clothing business, including the backlash surrounding it. In an article on Business Insider she said, “Traffic to the Wren website is up 14,000%, and 96% of those visitors are new to the site.” Coker sited the subtlety of the video’s message as part of its success.

In fact, the video had originally been tweeted with the line, “We asked 20 strangers to kiss for the first time for our Fall14 collection,” clearly indicating it was a video to promote the clothing line. When the video was shared, it lost that context and began to make people feel duped when they discovered it was meant to advertise the clothes. People were also unhappy to discover the strangers were all models, actors or musicians, meaning their reactions may have been less genuine than you would initially expect. But was it unethical?

Coker indicates that making media like this – which is content-based, rather than heavily commercialized slogan-based advertising – is actually more ethical. There are no tricks or carefully calibrated marketing techniques meant to sway people to buy these products. If people are interested in the content, they’ll forward it, and if not, they won’t.

Samsung’s social media marketing campaigns

Samsung has been less upfront about these images than Wren was – in fact the company says they paid David Ortiz to use his Samsung phone and Ellen DeGeneres to use her Samsung phone during the Oscars, but that the selfies were spontaneous.

As a result from Ortiz’s selfie with President Obama, the White House has discussed banning all selfies with the President to avoid situations where it appears that he is endorsing one brand over another.

The Oscar selfie got so much attention, however, that it was responsible for Twitter crashing briefly. It has been retweeted more than 3 million times and became the most retweeted post ever. It has certainly gotten people talking about Samsung.

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, “Kontera [a company which tracks social media content] said that 23% of the online commentary around the ‘selfie’ on social media has been positive and about 69% of the comments have been neutral. Only 8% of the comments were negative, the company added.”

How should you employ this type of social media marketing?

There definitely are some benefits of using social media for marketing.

  • It’s less expensive than traditional advertising.
  • You can get direct response from potential customers.
  • Audience is actively involved when retweeting, sharing, blogging, etc.
  • You can use more memorable and creative outlets for marketing your brand.

What are the downsides?

  • If you aren’t clear enough about what you’re doing, you may get backlash online.
  • It is much harder than it seems to make things go viral – a large part of it is simply luck.

While it is largely up to the content maker to decide what is ethical when using social media marketing, it’s important to remember that customers want to feel like a brand is trustworthy. Feeling tricked or duped may not be the best strategy – but subtlety might work better, as in the case of Wren’s video.

Try to be upfront and honest with your potential customers, but use the internet and social media to your advantage, because, when done right, it could help put your brand’s name on the map.

Looking to further your engagement but not sure how?

New Media Education Experts Designated Editor offers customized courses from the convenience of your laptop or device. Contact Suzanne at Sue(at) now to  set a time that best suits your busy schedule.  

Suzanne McDonald discusses social media, women in business on the Dr. Pat Show

The Dr. Pat Show

Dr. Pat discusses social media and being a woman in business with President of Designated Editor Suzanne McDonald.




Are women too reluctant to seek deserved recognition?

Dr. Pat Baccili hosts an online radio talk show which focuses on positive transformation. Dr. Pat is a “coach, teacher, adviser, inspirational speaker, consultant, and internationally acclaimed radio personality,” and won the 2013 Stevie Award Winner for Women Helping Women in Business and Management Team of the Year. Through the Dr. Pat Show and her consultations she encourages others to rid their lives of the “Crust” that holds them back and instead push themselves to do what they would want to achieve if they were not afraid to fail.

President of Designated Editor Suzanne McDonald sat down with her to talk about many topics, including what it’s like to be women in innovative fields, like social media and internet radio. As two Stevie Award Winners, they discussed how it feels to be recognized as innovators in their fields.

Dr. Pat said, “Passion and purpose come before all the awards and the accolades,” and that women tend to not see what they’re doing as “award-worthy.” She laughed that she even feels too busy for awards. “Does that take more than five minutes?” she joked.

McDonald agreed that “This is one of the failings of many women. We’re very humble about what we do – it’s just what we do.”

Dr. Pat asked McDonald what makes Designated Editor different from other technology companies, and she answered that she doesn’t see herself as a technology person, but first and foremost as a communicator.

When asked what McDonald’s personal message is, she replied, “Give yourself time to develop a vision and think about what you want that reality to be in your future, or to help other people, and keep that at the forefront of what you do.”

McDonald showed she’s taken her own advice when she described her own work, including the TickSmart campaign that gained much traction online with the help of four student interns and two other social media experts and included the viral video, TickNado, and Newport Interactive Marketers, a series of events and guest speakers she organizes that teaches and discusses innovative and effective ways of using social media.

Listen to the podcast for more insights on social media, including how busy people can benefit from it most.

Stop the Ticks: Send Us to South by Southwest Interactive


TickEncounter Resource Center

Humans vs. Ticks and Internships

Are humans smarter than ticks? According to Dr. Tom Mather at University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center, not by a long shot.

But ticks don’t have social media.

Leading a team 4 social media interns and 2 other social media professionals, we’ve spent the past 6 months fighting off ticks one tweet at a time. How’s that? Come again?

@TheTickGuy Dr Tom MatherA decades-long leading tick researcher, Dr. Mather saw an opportunity to harness social media to save lives and well-being. According to the CDC, Lyme disease rates are actually 10 times higher than what has been reported. In these parts, it’s hard to find people who haven’t been affected.

CBS News reports: “This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States, and clearly highlights the urgent need for prevention.”

Are ticks zombies in our midst? Here’s where we start to fight back

I narrowed down URI’s Harrington School of Communication’s best and brightest to become TickSmart interns. Thanks to Newport Interactive Marketers, I knew just which social media pros would be ideal social media mentors. Once we settled on an initial strategy and goals for this first-of-its kind project, the pros trained and mentored the Journalism, Marketing, PR, and Environmental Science/Writing majors.

The first challenge was nailing the messaging. How to train an intern to speak the language of tick researchers? Everyone adapted, and we found successes.

TickSmart Social Media Team Successes

  • Blogger outreach and guest posting
  • Building Pinterest boards without strictly showing pictures of ticks
  • Developing media outreach lists
  • Creating segmented newsletter content
  • Developing a TickSmart pledge card tool to link in-person events with ongoing relationships
  • Testing and engaging and growing followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook
  • Repurposing email content into SEO-rich blog posts


Some Welcome Social Media Surprises

  • Developing memes and enticing the tick research teams to create dozens more
  • Videoing a riff of a cult movie trailer
  • Presenting at South by Southwest Interactive

South by Southwest is still a work-in-progress, and I’d like your help!

South by Southwest InteractiveIf you’re not familiar with SXSW Interactive, it is the premier conference for social media professionals. In 2012, Interactive had 24,569 attendees, up 27 percent from 2011.

Help spread the word about Lyme disease and tick prevention by engaging with these influential people!

Let’s use social media & SXSW influencers to beat back the ticks: Click on the thumbs up, or leave a comment. Simply follow this link,, sign in, and comment!

Thanks in advance, on behalf of the TickSmart Social Media team, the tireless TickEncounter researchers, and everyone who’s been or will be touched by ticks and may become infected.

Blogging, Web Content & Optimizing Profit Potential

Blogging, Web Content & Optimizing: What Do I Get?

By Suzanne McDonald

Blogging and developing web content are both time-consuming and/or expensive. An engaged audience at the Rhode Island Hospitality Association’s Marketing Seminar took notes and asked a number of great questions.

I explained how to save time and money with clear strategies and tactics I used with clients to ensure Designated Editor is as effective and efficient as we can be to boost clients’ bottom line. I focused on FREE resources and tactics to generate content and boost visibility via Google and other Search Engines.

Along the way I threw in some anecdotes about negativity, such as how to respond to gripey Yelpers, for example.  Take a look below and see what you missed at the Rhode Island Hospitality Association’s Marketing Summit.



Content and Social Media Marketing Webinar

By Suzanne McDonald

If content “is the only marketing left,” as a quote from entrepreneur Seth Godin goes, than businesses better make sure their content is attracting customers.


In a webinar by Smart Insights and Bright TALK, “Content and Social Media Marketing,” businesses can learn how to use content for marketing – and what to avoid so content doesn’t harm the brand’s image.


What exactly is content marketing? It’s “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined target audience,” content marketing authors Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett said in their 2009 book, “Get Content, Get Customers.”


Content marketing “barely registered as a concept” until a few years ago, according to Google search trends for the topic, as cited in the webinar. Not until early 2011 did searches for “content marketing” finally start to rise – and then they soared.


Common content formats:

  •  Facebook
  • Twitter
  • emails to subscriber base
  • A Wiki page
  • blog post
  • LinkedIn
  • press release
  • banner ads


Those are the most common formats, and they fall into four “quandrants,” or general styles:

  1. Entertain (example: quizzes or branded videos)
  2. Inspire (celebrity endorsements or community forums)
  3. Convince (case studies or interactive demonstrations)
  4. Educate (infographics or press relases)


A few formats fall in between, such as articles, which are on the line between entertain and educate, and ratings, which are between inspire and convince. Ideally, a business would find the right balance between the four quandrants, something that could be struck by having customer reviews or questionnaires.


The old saying “quality over quantity” applies to content marketing. If a business overloads its Twitter followers or Facebook fans with too many posts, they would, at minimum, lose effectiveness. At most, those followers and fans would unfollow or post negative remarks.


Interesting content is a top-three reason why people follow certain brands on social media, and there are trends to give hints on the best ways companies can utilize their content:

  •  3 in 4 marketers say compelling content is a factor in closing sales.
  •  70% prefer getting to know a company by reading articles rather than advertisements.
  • 60% feel more positive about a company after reading content on its website.


A tip to remember, as the webinar puts it: “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.” In other words, engage with customers instead of simply talking to them, and think like a publisher instead of an advertiser.


Travel review websites are a great example in the amount of influence they have, especially among younger people. Word-of-mouth marketing is the primary factor behind 20% to 50% of all purchasing decisions.


Other tips to consider:

  • Think of what your content will look like on mobile devices – or whether it will even work at all.
  • Most Facebook fans (83% in one study) do not see your posts because they don’t stay visible on newsfeeds for very long.
  • A high number of “likes” and comments on even a plain-text post will drive more reach, or influence, than another post that might seem more likely to attract buzz simply because it has a photo.


Facebook has an internal algorithm called EdgeRank that it uses to gauge a user’s influence. It is based on four factors:

  • Affinity, or your relationship with a brand; you are more likely to see a post if your friends engage with it.
  • Type of post. Simple status updates trump other content.
  • Time. The older a post is, the less likely it will be viewed.
  • Level of negative feedback a post and brand receives.


Finally, some social media networks are more effective than others, depending on whether your communication is business-to-business or business-to-customer:

  • LinkedIn – the most effective for B2B, but far less so for B2C.
  • Blogs and Twitter have the best balance between both B2B and B2C.
  • Facebook is far more effective for B2C than B2B.
  • Others are far less effective for both methods, including Slideshare, Delicious, Scribd and Flickr.

If  you’d like to listen to the Webinar yourself, check out the BrightTalk Website!