Digital Marketing and the True Value of Transparency

Digital Marketing DisclosureTransparency in digital marketing – any marketing, really – is a word that gets tossed around a lot. There’s a reason transparency holds capital with clients and consumers. Let’s face it. Broken trust means broken loyalty. How much do you trust Facebook and the care they take with your data these days? Exactly.

The Facebook data debacle aside, one of the biggest “trust” issues of social media and content marketing falls under the umbrella of disclosure. When I first started blogging back in 2006, we were all learning to navigate this new world together. Social media culture was in its infancy. We were a long way away from government regulation and best practices rulebooks.

Digital Marketing Meets Full Disclosure

Between the Wild Wild West years of the Internet and today, more and more brands and organizations adopted social media marketing. Words like transparency, trust, authenticity, credibility and disclosure began to carry more weight. As social media marketing evolved, influencer marketing campaigns, celebrity “Instagram shout-outs,” Pinterest pins, and sponsored content became the norm. Soon,the concept of full disclosure became the gold standard of online publishing.

Today, both the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards have clear guidelines around transparency in marketing. In short, if money or favours are changing hands between a brand and bloggers or influencers you better be sure that fact is crystal clear to consumers.

Full Disclosure on All the Things!

There are so many brand influencers and blogs online these days, on every conceivable platform. It’s sometimes hard for readers to distinguish organic online content from sponsored posts. S, we thought we would send out a gentle reminder. Yes, the digital space continues to evolve. But consumers and online communities still value—and expect—good old fashioned clarity and transparency.

Full disclosure is required on anything directly from or on behalf of a brand. This includes content that can  influence your community, or content published on other blogs and social media. Paid engagements, product or recipe sampling, event attendance, sponsored content, even personal content sharing—even Tweets about a product, all count. If you work for said brand or they’re a client, it’s a good policy to disclose that fact. And don’t think you can sneak a video through without being 100 percent transparent, either. The FTC now requires you to include your disclosures directly within the body of the video, as opposed to just in a description or on your website.

If you’re a blogger, and are part of an influencer campaign or actively reviewing products, add a disclosure statement on your site. Make it big and bold and easy to see, and ensure it outlines how you work with brands.

Digital Marketing Guidelines for Dealing with Disclosure Non-Compliance

Some of us who’ve been in the digital space a long time kind of shake our heads when we hear stories about brand or influencer non-compliance around disclosure. But what’s just common sense behaviour to one person isn’t necessarily common sense to all.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when building a digital marketing strategy or advising brands on social media transparency best practices.

  • Don’t wing it with influencers. Have them sign on the dotted line that they clearly understand what’s required of them in the digital space. They must agree to adhere to their responsibilities around full disclosure. This includes “…clear and prominent disclosures of the material connections between the endorser and the advertiser.”
  • Don’t leave anything to chance. Have a system of checks and balances in place. Monitor brand advocates and other influencers’ online activity regularly. And before they even get started? Make sure everyone’s aware that non-compliance will result in termination of the relationship.
  • Have social media places and guidelines in place for employees, so they understand what is and isn’t required of them in the digital space. Are they sharing client content? Commenting on client blogs? Make sure they clarify that by adding #client or #cl to their posts or comments.

This is truly the tip of the iceberg—we haven’t even touched on the rules around email marketing—when it comes to social media, digital marketing, brand influencers, and transparency/disclosure. And there are loads of great resources online that map out the rules around disclosure. For example, WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association), now a division of The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), has clear guidelines pertaining to disclosure in social media. You should check them out.

Resist the Urge to Fake It

There’s a lot of the reporting on digital and social marketing transparency. Governments are finally taking notice, and setting huge fines for non-compliance. Yet there are a surprising number of people still not doing things quite by the books. Believe it or not, researchers at Princeton University recently found that many influencers on YouTube and Pinterest are still not disclosing brand affiliation. That has to stop.

We only have TRUE influence over our reputation. And in business, nothing is more valuable than the trust you build with your clients, consumers, and digital community. Guard both all costs.

What about you! Are you practicing full disclosure in your digital marketing campaign? When you draft a strategy, do you include information on full-disclosure and compliance? Why or why not?

(By the way, we’ll be exploring the whole Facebook breach as well as Europe’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation further in our upcoming newsletter and on our blog, so watch this space!)

Line drawn peony from Spodek & Co Digital marketing site