Do You Pass The Web Marketing Ethics Test?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 by Mistlee

Do You Pass The Web Marketing Ethics Test?

By Mike Moran

In recent years, companies have become hyper-aware of the increased scrutiny on corporate ethics.

Enron and other poster children for bad behavior have dominated headlines and attracted unwanted government attention. But, as famous marketer Al Jolson once put it, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." Web 2.0 is bringing the public's watchful eye on everything companies do, and marketing is no exception.

You know by now not to send unsolicited e-mail to anyone, which is illegal in many countries. You similarly should not compromise your customers' privacy, by selling e-mail addresses or revealing other personal information. Post your privacy policy and stick to it. And, on the off-chance that you do send something that someone doesn't want, make it incredibly easy to opt out.

But that advice is so 20th century. Sure, you should obey the law, but your customers are demanding far more from you these days. You must go beyond what's required by the letter of the law to gain the trust of increasingly savvy and suspicious customers. Take this quiz to see how you stack up.

1. Do you ever misrepresent who you are?

A famous New Yorker cartoon was once captioned, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog." True enough, but your customers expect you to be open about who you are, if you want to gain their trust.

If you misrepresent your identity, expect that it will eventually be found out. When it is, you'll become the new unethical behavior story to sweep the blogosphere. (It might also violate the law in some countries, including the U.S.)

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was caught posting on Yahoo! message boards under a pseudonym, praising his company and trashing the performance of Wild Oats, a company eventually acquired by Whole Foods. In addition to the bad publicity generated when this was revealed, it provoked an investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that delayed the eventual acquisition. Mackey was unrepentant, claiming he was just having some fun.

You might consider engaging in hobbies less detrimental to your business. Put your company's name in the "from" line of your e-mails. Make sure your message includes both your address and phone number, so recipients can verify it's really you. Just be yourself, and your customers will love you for who you really are.

2. Do you ever misrepresent who you represent?

A few of our ethically-challenged marketing brethren are fomenting conversation by planting stories and comments without revealing their true sources. " Astroturfing" is so named because it is a "fake grass roots" uprising. The situation resembles a public outcry when it is actually carefully staged by an interested party.