Social media is an amazing resource for companies to build their brands, engage with followers, and keep up with relevant trends and conversations as they happen. Business owners can put as much or as little into paid advertising as they choose, but free advertising will always exist via reviews, tags, and word-of mouth marketing from satisfied customers.
Facebook reported nearly 2.8 billion monthly users at the end of 2020, so it’s not surprising that almost 75% of small businesses in the U.S. have stated that they are currently using social media to promote their services and brand.
However, with access to the most powerful free advertising tools to ever exist, comes the responsibility to use them in an ethical way, or you risk losing all of the social capital your business has generated, and more. Cancel culture comes out in full force when proof of businesses using shady marketing tactics and morally questionable advertisements comes to light (and it almost always comes to light at some point).
To avoid a being caught up in a social media scandal, keep these ethical fundamentals in mind while using social platforms:
- Think Before You Post: This one should go without saying, but think about the type and tone of the content you are publishing to your social media channels. Is it relevant? Is it timely? Is there something going on in the world or within your business that would make a specific topic come across as tone-deaf? Inappropriate posts can be deleted, but usually the damage is already done. It has been seen, screenshotted, shared, and it will probably follow you forever once it’s out there.
- Avoid Intentionally Misleading Claims: Creating and promoting misleading ads isn’t just unethical, it’s illegal. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintains and enforces Truth in Advertising laws to protect consumers from fraud and scams perpetrated through all forms of advertising, even social media. Not to mention, a brand’s reputation and word-of-mouth can make or break a business; would you rather be known for misleading customers or for always following through on your claims?
- Protect Consumer Privacy: One of the biggest buzzwords in the social media conversation right now is privacy. Privacy goes beyond just not selling user data to sketchy companies. It also includes not contacting consumers without consent, allowing users to opt-in or opt-out easily, honoring unsubscribe requests in a timely manner, and other requirements laid out in the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Act.
- Avoid Exploiting Your Audience: Knowing your audience is a great way to design ads that will resonate with them in a meaningful way. If you can make someone laugh or cry or have any sort of visceral emotional response, there is a better chance that they will share your ad. But you also have to be careful not to cross the line into exploiting emotions for profit. Tasteless ads that latch onto a trending topic, especially a tragedy, while only being tangentially related can provoke outrage on social media that can ultimately bring down a business.
- Be Authentic: Social media users are generally pretty good at sniffing out influencers and brands that aren’t being genuine. Present yourself and your company the same way online that you would in person. You never know who is going to see what you put on your platforms or what could come from those encounters. Put your best self forward, maintain professionalism, strive to elevate your brand, and look at your profiles from the point of view of your consumers: would you want to work with you? If not, why should anyone else?
With the decline of newspapers, magazines, and even television commercials, social media advertising is the way forward for small businesses.
Being genuine, honest, transparent, and marketing the way you would want to be marketed to are great guidelines that will help keep advertising strategies on track.
Get to know your audience and let them get to know you. If you market a product that brings value to your customers, their satisfaction could be the most lucrative advertising you’ll find.