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Transparency in 140 characters

iStock_000003551768XSmall.jpgOver the past couple of weeks I have seen a number of people on Twitter who seem to forget that transparency extends to micromedia platforms. I think we've been through this drill with blogs and social media profiles, but the need for honesty and transparency does not diminish with the number of characters you type.

Let's take a look at the challenges that micromedia presents to marketing folks, when to disclaim, guidelines of what counts as needing disclosure and what to do.

The need for honesty and transparency does not diminish with the number of characters you type.

The challenges

There are only 140 characters: A lot of people are trying so hard to get every single word into their messages that adding a note for transparency's sake falls off the radar. Tweets look much more like text messages at this point and it's going to get worse. KNIM?

Twitter is asynchronous: People begin listening and stop listening when they want. We jump in and out of conversations. If you only disclose something one time, someone may not see it and be under a false impression. Better to be safe than sorry.

[Update] Context takes effort: The two previous issues compound the difficulty of providing context. It is more an art form than a process and everyone needs to learn for themselves. Just remember, people are reading your stream of thought over time and possibly out of order. Will they get what you're saying and know what your involvement is?

When to disclaim

When you talk about a client: If you talk about a client for any reason, in any way just add the tag [client] to the message. Yes, it's an extra eight characters, but it is highly important. The risk to not doing this is looking like an idiot to your peers and looking underhanded to the broader community.

Picture 3.pngWhen you stand to gain from what you say: Robert Scoble recently got caught "red handed" by my friend Louis Gray. Scoble mentioned the Amazon Kindle in a Twitter message (he has 20,000+ followers) and linked to Amazon using his affiliate link. Thus, any sales would give him revenue. I have no problem with him doing it, but he should have been more transparent (or naked if you will). [Note that I did not use my affiliate link.] This is relatively new to micromedia, but could be simply noted with the tag [AD]. It is still to be seen if this could be successful.

Fictional users: If a user is created in support of a campaign, it should be disclaimed when not clearly fictional. Entertainment characters like the Mad Men Twitter users would be an exception. I am sure we will see more of this in the near term.

WOMMA Guidelines

When you send a message on Twitter et. al. you are driving word of mouth. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association has some very good guidelines on disclosure that dovetail in nicely to new formats.
Honesty of Relationship
  • We practice openness about the relationship between consumers, advocates, and marketers. We encourage word of mouth advocates to disclose their relationship with marketers in their communications with other consumers. We don't tell them specifically what to say, but we do instruct them to be open and honest about any relationship with a marketer and about any products or incentives that they may have received.
  • We stand against shill and undercover marketing, whereby people are paid to make recommendations without disclosing their relationship with the marketer.
  • We comply with FTC regulations that state: "When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product which might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience) such connection must be fully disclosed."

Honesty of Opinion

  • We never tell consumers what to say. People form their own honest opinions, and they decide what to tell others. We provide information, we empower them to share, and we facilitate the process -- but the fundamental communication must be based on the consumers' personal beliefs.
  • We comply with FTC regulations regarding testimonials and endorsements, specifically: "Endorsements must always reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser. Furthermore, they may not contain any representations which would be deceptive, or could not be substantiated if made directly by the advertiser."

Honesty of Identity

  • Clear disclosure of identity is vital to establishing trust and credibility. We do not blur identification in a manner that might confuse or mislead consumers as to the true identity of the individual with whom they are communicating, or instruct or imply that others should do so.
  • Campaign organizers should monitor and enforce disclosure of identity. Manner of disclosure can be flexible, based on the context of the communication. Explicit disclosure is not required for an obviously fictional character, but would be required for an artificial identity or corporate representative that could be mistaken for an average consumer.
  • We comply with FTC regulations regarding identity in endorsements that state: "Advertisements presenting endorsements by what are represented, directly or by implication, to be "actual consumers'' should utilize actual consumers, in both the audio and video or clearly and conspicuously disclose that the persons in such advertisements are not actual consumers of the advertised product."
  • Campaign organizers will disclose their involvement in a campaign when asked by consumers or the media. We will provide contact information upon request.

What to do

When in doubt, disclose. If you are talking about a client or making direct profit just add a tag at the end. Don't just add it once, but each time you mention it.

Would you add anything to this?

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