Is a ‘code of ethics’ required?

February 22, 2009 at 2:23 pm Leave a comment

codeThere have been many stories over recent months about the practice of ‘Astroturfing’ or generating fake recommendations or enthusiasm for a company or its products on the web. A recent article in the Financial Times entitled ‘Blogs that spin a web of deception’ discussed the case of Belkin and an employee who arranged to pay people for posting positive reviews of Belkin products on Amazon. The article goes on to look at other instances where the web is abused and the associated potential impact on businesses.

It is not, however, just ‘Astroturfing’ that has an impact. The anonymity of any post, whether appealing for fake positive feedback or denigrating the very company that pays their wages, can have a huge PR impact on a business.

But can you impose a code of ethics, and is it the right thing to do?

In my view the issue which tops the charts is that of ‘fraudulent’ posting, or posting anonymously claiming to work for a different company…maybe a competitor. This is both unprofessional and hugely damaging…remembering, of course, who pays your wages. I do have serious issues with people who do this as they are both cowardly and are potentially putting other peoples’ jobs at risk.

There is another group, however, of people who post anonymously about their own business, just to be heard. This is a tricky one, as it is often a result of poor management, not allowing people to have a ‘voice’ in the organisation and have their views heard and considered, that results in such behaviour. It may be down to fear of retribution that prompts them to post anonymously to see if they are, maybe, not alone in their views.

So should their be a code of ethics? Many companies and organisations believe so. IBM developed their first social media policy back in 2005, insisting that employees write under their own names, use the first person and ensure that it is clear that it is their own view, not that of the company.

It is, however, difficult to police who is complying with the code if they post from outside a network. But I believe it could alert people to the potential impact of their post and make them think twice. It could also suggest that they address issues off-line with someone in their business (beyond their line manager if they are uncomfortable doing this) before they express their views to a much wider audience.

The internet has ensured that there is now no longer any control over a company message. But a responsible business that is open and engages in conversation both internally and with the broader customer base online, and offers guidance to employees without totally restricting engagement online, will ultimately be the one ultimately viewed in a more positive light.

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Entry filed under: Communities, Marketing, New Media. Tags: .

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