April 10, 2012 by rsadmin

The Art of Disclosure

This week has brought the full spectrum of social media engagement and ethics discussions.

Last week - a panel talk with two peers and 300 audience members at the City Club of Boise about the evolving role of social media engagement for businesses, media and our community. Attorney Lisa McGrath drove home the need for legal to be at the table and part of the thought process for all social media strategy. It's an issue Red Sky has been advising our clients on, and adapting our own policies to address, as the medium continues to evolve. At its core - the FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements & Testimonials in Advertising and the ethical and legal need for disclosure and transparency.

Last night two colleagues and I found ourselves in the middle of a big brand sponsored social media event - a VIP Tweetup at the new Nordstrom Rack in Boise two days before it opened to the public.

The invite to attend came from Nordstrom's social media team and it promised a sneak peek, early-bird shopping, drinks, appetizers and a gift card. I went for several reasons:

  • Professionally: We've been on the organizing and coordinating end of several 'buzz-building' events for various clients that target consumers, social influencers and amateur and professional bloggers. We've seen the good and the not-so-good of how other agencies in Idaho and beyond engage with the social crowd. We wanted to experience how a large brand like Nordstrom ran their event.
  • Personally: While I'm not a fashionista, Nordstrom is one of those brands that makes me giddy (like Apple, Frye Boots, Texas Longhorns and Food Network.) And, I'm a sucker for getting to see and experience things before other people. Maybe that's why I started out as a journalist. I like to know the scoop first.

Prior to attending the event my colleagues and I chatted about how we would disclose our participation. This was the first time we'd actually received the equivalent of payment (in this case a gift card) as part of an event. We've been invited to things for a sneak peek previously, but there was no monetary value exchanged. This time was different. We decided we would tag each tweet with #ad or #sponsor to follow best practices and be transparent with Twitter followers. We also incorporated #RackOpening into the tweets to ensure ours were part of the overall feed and folks could see this was a sponsored event.

On a sidenote - Red Skyers have also begun tagging certain tweets we put out on our personal feeds with #client to identify when a tweet is tied to an individual, organization or company we receive payment from. I will admit to struggling with this one because I see my role as a connector and sharer of information - not a shill. I tweet about what I find interesting and think others might as well. But for full disclosure we have begun doing this and will continue to do so. Our @redskypr feed doesn't currently utilize that hashtag because as a PR agency, we feel it is obvious we are tweeting on behalf of those we work with and for. Our bio states that.

Back to Nordstrom Rack.

From an attendee standpoint - they put on an amazing event. Great client service, engaging employees, a DJ, catered food, drinks, an overall fun atmosphere to drive home what the Nordstrom Rack experience is all about.

From a PR standpoint - I have to wonder about the disclosure aspect and where they would fall with FTC guidelines. All attendees were encouraged to tweet and use the #RackOpening hashtag. Those that did qualified for opportunities to win merchandise. Every attendee received a gift card to use in the store. While many spent far above and beyond that gift card - it is still providing monetary value. However, at no time did I see or experience any employee telling any attendee they had to tweet, what to share, and to only share positive reviews and feedback.

As I understand the guidelines - responsibility for ensuring disclosure falls on the company &/or agency. In this case, did the brand go far enough? When we work on behalf of brands and engage with bloggers where product is provided for review we make sure we communicate that there is no expectation of what they will share/write and that we expect them to abide by disclosure guidelines and make that clear in their posts/tweets/updates.

It was fascinating to see the discussion on Twitter around @Boise_Rack and #RackOpening. You had dozens of enthusiastic attendees and then you had quite a few media members crying foul. I did find it a tad bit hypocritical.

If we are enforcing disclosure of this nature on social media engagement - which I fully support - then I also think 'traditional' media should consider following suit for those times when they:

  • are 'comp'd' passes or tickets to ski resorts, sporting events, concerts or entertainment venues in order to cover a story or 'experience the atmosphere'
  • receive swag and gear from state universities and sports teams for their anchors or sports reporters or discounted lodging or travel to cover sporting events
  • get sneak peeks and 'eats' at new culinary establishments
  • work for a news organization that is sponsoring an event, where monetary value or trade is exchanged as part of that sponsorship, and they promote said event to the community through social media channels

Bias and subjectivity and the need for transparency is everywhere - not just in the social media realm.

No one can disagree that full disclosure and transparency drives trust and understanding. It is when and where that disclosure is needed that is a grey area. It takes work and commitment to flesh out those instances. And we are not going to get it right every time.

What matters is that the dialogue continues, professional communicators ask the questions, collaborate on solutions and work to establish best practices and ethical behavior.

Our world is changing at the speed of thumbs. Our ability to adapt our behaviors in the interest of transparency must keep pace.

- Jess Flynn



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Tagged With: Social Media, PR Strategy