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Navigating the minefield of social media ethics

Crafting a social media strategy that will be impactful and sustainable in the long term is a pretty tall order, and it can be incredibly tempting to cheat a little every now and then. The term “black hat SEO” was first coined to refer to the less than scrupulous methods of gaining website traffic through cheap tricks, back when search engine optimisation was a new frontier and bending the rules was a lot easier. Nowadays, white hat SEO and PR is widely encouraged, simply because using black hat techniques will more or less instantly get you labelled as a spammer – the absolute worst reputation to have when you are an online business.

So how effective are ghostblogging and sponsored tweets, and is it appropriate to use them? Below is a quick guide to the do’s and don’ts of ethical social media conduct.

Who you gonna call? Ghostwriters!

It makes perfect sense to employ people who are skilled and savvy in social media to contribute content to your company blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page. It’s all about sensible allocation of resources; your core team are no doubt busy devising strategies and seeing to it that business runs smoothly – and there’s no guarantee that they are good writers anyway. Bringing in people who specialise in writing about your industry or have particular acumen when it comes to producing snappy and engaging content is a no-brainer.

However, if your outsourced team are posting unattributed content, i.e. not putting their name to it, or leading readers to believe that the content was written by a known face of the company such as the CEO, things get a little murky. The last thing you want to do as a business is misrepresent yourself, so make it clear in the bio, ‘About’ page or within the content itself that there is a talented team of bloggers posting on your behalf, not just one person. Easy ways to do this are to include hashtags such as #teamtweet and create personalised author signatures for blog posts. This is especially important if your organisation is associated with an entrepreneurial figurehead or has a single person’s name as the brand (you can be 99% certain that shopping mogul Mary Portas doesn’t originate every single piece of content with her name on it).

What to avoid when sponsoring tweets

Word of mouth is a valuable means of cultivating brand awareness, and one way to facilitate this beneficial buzz is to have someone famous or influential sing your product’s praises. But there is a right and a wrong way of going about it: footballer Wayne Rooney landed himself in hot water this year by passing off a promotional tweet for sports giant Nike as personal content. By neglecting to include an indication that the tweet was written alongside Nike’s marketing team, such as the hashtag #ad, Rooney was in direct conflict with regulations set by the Advertising Standards Authority.

But this shouldn’t put you off at least considering including a celebrity spokesperson in your social media strategy, should budget allow – stars like Kim Kardashian and Snoop Dogg have carved quite the niche for themselves in online product plugs, raking in thousands for single sentence tweets while maintaining complete transparency about their affiliations with the brands they are promoting. In a perfect world, however, the brand and product should really speak for themselves.

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