Full disclosure is international and not fair

July 27, 2009

Twitter

Industry leader Brian Solis has published a write up of points raised by a virtual conference of thought leaders on the thorny issue of sponsored conversations of twitter.

Here’s the first paragraph;

In light of the FTC’s recent scrutiny of Social Media practices and the activity that connects brands to influencers and ultimately consumers, we will soon see guidelines and corresponding penalties to serve as governance for future engagement.

So we’re already off to a bad start. I know that’s controversial but it’s true. The internet is not American. It’s international. If moves by the FTC to investigate disclosure then that’s a good thing. The online PR, industry, however needs to raise its game and be aware of other possible laws.

In the UK, for example, the Protection fro Unfair Trading act is clear. Companies – or agencies in their employ – can do nothing that gives a positive review for their product or service without also making it clear there was a financial arrangement to do so (or, indeed, a negative one).

For example, if an employee of the online PR agency for Xoopit was to tweet “I recommend Xoopit! It’s ace!” and doesn’t also say they’re a client then, technically, UK law is broken. It may not be a good law but it’s there.

Xoopit may not care. Countries tend to say laws apply if their citizens are effected while in their country. America is especially keen on this point of view – as anyone in the online gambling and betting community a few years ago will tell you! So even if Xoopit had no offices in the UK it may still find itself in hot waters (as well as a UK brand issue).

Let’s stick with Xoopit for an example; they’ve just been bought by Yahoo. So sometimes growing companies need to be as careful as large companies. I can imagine if Yahoo’s due diligence had found Xoopit breaking UK law then that would have allowed them to knock down the sale price.

I know I’m being harsh here. This is the point of view of a Brit. It’s in my interest to point out that this discussion should be international and not national.

There are just a few other concerns. As I wrote on Solis’ blog I’ve no sympathy with IZEA’s Ted Murphy worrying that some solutions put the platforms at risk.

He said;

If a tweet from a platform needs to be in different color but a tweet from a tweeter that just got a free trip or video game doesn’t it puts the platforms at a disadvantage.

I don’t think that matters because we need to work out what best practise is and then lift our game to meet it. We shouldn’t work out what seems to be easiest and fairest for all the players now and do that. It’s tough but some of the current solutions we’re using today to raise a buzz or interest simply will be neither acceptable nor successful next month.

In his write up Brian Solis notes;

But the reality is, whether you agree with them or not, sponsored conversations and paid tweets work when used in the correct situations as a complementary program in addition to other traditional and socially-focused engagement initiatives.

Once again the temptation is to say “so what”. Just because something works doesn’t mean we should do it. You can take performance enhancing drugs to win a sprint but you shouldn’t do it. You may win the race but the danger to your career is there. In this analogy it’s worse; we’re not even the sprinter, we are her coach who has persuaded her to take the risk because we know we’ll look good when she does well and we can probably go elsewhere should she get caught.

The problem Brian has brought upon himself by leading this charge and stepping forward as the thought leaders’ scribe is that he provides a focus for the rest of us to channel our thoughts and reactions.

It’s certainly worth reading every word of the large post. It’s an extremely useful addition to the social media thought sphere. Brian’s problem is an asset to the rest of us.

In fact, it was this post which persuaded us to prefix the Twitterfeed tweets from Brinkwire’s news hub with [PR]. Clicking the link takes visitors to what’s clearly a professional press release service. We wanted to put a pre-click disclosure on the message too.

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