When in Doubt…Disclose

Social media opens the world to all of us in ways we haven’t seen before. But for professional and ethical communicators, this openness also comes with responsibility. For that matter, this openness comes with responsibility for anyone.

I enjoyed a PRSA webinar last week where David Kamerer, PhD, APR, talked about the corruption of digital discourse. Yes. His session focused on the negative, but it also pointed out the responsibility we have as professionals to stop the corruption, and at the very least to make sure we’re not inadvertently part of it.

According to Edelman’s last Trust Barometer, we trust our friends and neighbors a lot more than we trust corporations and the government. And that’s why we’re seeing social media becoming more and more important to brands, and to professional communicators. It’s also probably why we’re starting to see people and organizations being less than ethical or truthful online.

PRSA’s Code of Ethics, which we all agree to when we renew our membership, provides a framework within which we should all be operating:

  • Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.

  • Foster informed decision-making through open communication.

  • Protect confidential and private information.

  • Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.

  • Avoid conflicts of interest.

  • Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.

The digital world in which we lives requires us to focus additional attention to the first two bullets. We need to make sure we’re always telling the truth and making sure the truth is being told in a responsible manner. We shouldn’t participate in programs or activities that restrict the flow of information, nor should we knowingly pass on information we know not to be truthful.

It’s always been common practice to disclose when you’ve been paid to write/post/talk about something. It’s no different in the digital world but disclosure rules apply to more of us, since more of us are publishing. This has been expected practice for some time but recently the FTC just amended their formal disclosure regulations.

What does this mean to you?

If you’re writing/talking/posting about your job, say so.If you’re writing about a client, you need to incorporate “client” into your writing.If you received a free product/service you’re writing about, say so.

It also means that if your employer/client comes to you with a story that isn’t release-worthy because it’s not complete, it’s also not social media worthy. Again, don’t publish or post anything when the story isn’t complete just so you can get “clicks.” It won’t pan out; your followers will know you’re not telling the whole truth. Once you’ve lost their trust it’s hard to get it back.

So, what is the best way to disclose?

The idea is to embed the disclosure into the content of your message so when it’s passed on to others, your disclosure remains. There is a web service you can use to add your disclosure. It’s call comp.ly but I think it’s just so much easier to incorporate the information into the item you’re writing. For example:

  • Place your disclosure in the body of your message using words like: paid, client, employer, ad, etc.

  • Indicate any free goods or services you received pertaining to a blog post by incorporating that disclosure into your copy: I received…

What are your thoughts on the FTC’s new regulations? How do you disclose your relationships? Will you change your habits now?

Image: Maureen “Mo” Reilly via Flickr, CC 2.0

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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