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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.