The Ethics Lesson from the Wal-Mart/Edelman flog fiasco
You know, we all learned pretty much everything we need to know to avoid a similar ethical foul up by the time we reached first grade.
Tell the truth.
And here's the truth. The failure in the Wal-Mart Edelman fiasco wasn't simply a lack of understanding of how blogs and social media worked. That may have been part of it, but it wasn't the root problem.
It was an ethical failure, full stop.
Here's the lesson, and let's be crystal clear. It is not okay to cloak your interests or advocate without honesty. Sure, people do it all the time. We call them liars. It doesn't matter whether it is explicit or by omission. It is still a lie.
And here's the other part of today's lesson: this mess does not mean that companies shouldn't blog, or sponsor blogs, or reach out to bloggers. The Wal-Gate mess was a lapse of ethics, not an indictment of social media. Social media can be excellent vehicles for reaching out to and talking with customers, but we have to do it honestly. Your customer knows you have an agenda. EVERYONE has an agenda of some sort. Be honest about your goals, disclose your interests, tell the truth,
It may not set you free, but when you tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you told the last person.
Words to live by.
Bye the bye, the latest word from Edelman on this --
He recently gave an interview to IT World (Japan). When asked what happened, he says: "We were insufficiently transparent about the identity of one of the two bloggers who went on that RV tour. And in a certain way, it's not a failure of new media; it was a failure in all media. Which is to say, if they were talking to you in your IDG mainstream media hat, you would want to know the name of the spokesperson and what his background was and what his credentials were and we failed that basic test." He goes on to once again accept full responsibility as the boss and reiterate what they intend to do to prevent future occurences. I wish them luck. Thanks to Shel Holtz for the link.
UPDATE 11/3/06: Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) puts Edelman membership under 90-day review. See also WOMMA's 20 Ethics Questions and discussion draft of guidelines for contacting bloggers.
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