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Viral Marketing Ethics

In such a nascent industry as online viral marketing, or more specifically, social media marketing, it is important to take a step back and attempt to discern a framework of ethics that will guide the industry. As is the case in almost all new marketing frontiers, a handful of groups have already begun working on exploitative methods that will…

  1. Largely be countered soon
  2. Smear more legitimate tactics
  3. However, hardly impact their effectiveness

As predictive (like an SNL skit) a scenario this will be, it is still a valuable exercise to go ahead and outline a few ethical guidelines, ones that Virante already institutes when approaching social media marketing.

  1. Participate: Almost all major social marketing sites have or will soon incorporate reputation-based systems that empower the users who have the greatest experience and commitment to shape the site. You have an ethical obligation to participate in the community in such a fashion that your commitment and benefit to that community grossly outweigh your self-promotion. Because reputation matters, this is also in your and your client’s best interest. This can include a whole number of activities…
    • Inviting New Members
    • Finding New and Useful Content that are not profitable
    • Supporting Members / Stories / Activities that are not profitable
    • Providing guides, content, etc. that assists other users in that community
    • Make Friends, not Allies
    • Actually use Social Bookmarking Sites to store your real bookmarks

    So, for example, in our participation with Digg, we have encouraged multiple new users, created blog-widgets that are useful to the community, and vote for and submit stories that are valuable to the community and are not ours. We do this at a rate that outpaces the vast majority of members on the site.

  2. Create: This is perhaps the most important of the guidelines. This is what makes the difference between the kid who slings dope on the corner of the street, and the kid who opens up a lemonade stand.
    • Create Content Specific to a Community: Don’t write something generic and just submit it to every site you can possibly imagine. This is spam. Period
    • Create Content that Should Succeed even if everyone knew it was created specifically for viral marketing: This may sound strict, but if your story relies upon people not knowing it’s source, it has no place in social media
    • No when to quit. If your stories are not succeeding, then you are not helping the community. Stop, relax, and spend some more time participating to learn what people are looking for, and how you or your clients can provide them this information.
  3. Police: Police your employees and clients closely. Make sure they do none of the following.

    • Create Multiple Accounts
    • Purchase or Trade Votes
    • Attempt to harm competitor content or accounts
    • Violate TOS in any form or fashion

    If you do find someone scamming the system, don’t just turn your head. I know this is going to anger a lot of my associates in the field. We can continue to just say “it is not our job to police ourselves” while everyone else says it is. If someone is harming these sites and communities, it will harm you and your business. In the same way that it has taken years for the SEO community to shed it’s stigma as keyword-stuffing link-spammers, a lack of resolve now will create the same reputation (if not stronger) on social bookmarking sites. I am not telling you to go out everyone left and right, I am saying that you should strongly consider the impact that such techniques have on the viability of these communities as markets in the future. Weigh that against your middle-school fear of being labeled a tattle-tale.

Of all of these, though, if I were asked to pick 1 single maxim, it is this…

Create Content that Should Succeed even if everyone knew it was created specifically for viral marketing.

This is the gold standard by which all commercial content should be judged.


For Clients

If you are soliciting viral marketing on behalf of your company, there are a few questions you should ask before signing any contracts.

  1. Do you guarantee results: if they can guarantee perfect results every time, they are using unethical methods
  2. Do you generate false votes for stories?
  3. Explain your participation in the communities we will be submitting to…
  4. Examples: demand to see an example of their work. Do they follow the gold standard mentioned above?
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1 Comment

  1. Laine Wenman
    Feb 22, 2013

    After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any approach you may remove me from that service? Thanks!

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