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Edelman, Wal-Mart, and WOMMA’s Code of Ethics  

2007-03-08 15:25:38|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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October 13, 2006 | Filed under PR, Blogging, Ethics

Update, October 20, 2006:

 

Update, October 19, 2006: Andy Sernovitz,WOMMA’s CEO, responds in comments to my question (why didn’t WOMMAsanctioned in any way Edelman’s violation of the Ethics Code).

 

Update, October 18, 2006: WOMMAStatement on Edelman Blog Disclosure Issue.

In summary: Edelman violated WOMMA’s Code, they’re going to doa better job at educating their employees/sub-contractors, mistakeshappen, you know.

No sanction for Edelman.Why?

 

(Final Update, Oct. 16, 2006) Whatis next, now that Richard Edelman has acknowledged that the lack of transparency for theWal-Marting blog is 100% the agency’s“responsibility and error“?

Although the details of the brouhaha — who conceived andexecuted the plan, who did what when, how was this possible, etc.— would make the delight of the blogosphere, it’s unlikely thatEdelman is going to make them public. And, maybe, they’re notso important after all.

What’s more important — as I said previously — is ifEdelman, a big player in the social media space, will behold accountable by the Word ofMouth Marketing Association for breaking WOMMA’s EthicsCode (I’m not the only one asking this question). Although enforcing a code of ethics isdifficult, WOMMA has the chance to send a clear signal that it willnot accept the violation of its Code’s main tenets: thehonesty of relationship, opinion, and identity.

Richard Edelman’s reference to WOMMA’s Code in his meaculpa entry shows that he is aware of the agency’s fault.Does it show, also, that he’s willing to accept any sanction thatmight be decided by WOMMA? We’ll see.

There is a chance to have a positive outcome for this story. IfWOMMA’s willingness to keep his members accountable will meet withEdelman’s willingness to accept publicly a sanction, thenmarketers will get a clear signal that their engagement in socialmedia has to follow clear rules, and that breaking these rules willhave consequences.

If not… — then we’re back to the world of Old PR: we havenice ethical codes, but there’s no way to enforce them.

Let’s hope for the best.

 

Update, Oct. 16, 2006: Richard Edelman responds (TechMemethread):

I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparentabout the identity of the two bloggers from the outset. This is100% our responsibility and our error; not the client’s.

Let me reiterate our support for the WOMMA guidelines ontransparency, which we helped to write. Our commitment is toopenness and engagement because trust is not negotiable and we areworking to be sure that commitment is delivered in all ourprograms.

Also, see SteveRubel’s response.

 

(Corrected & Updated Oct. 14) The story ofWal-Mart’s fake blog (Wal-Marting AcrossAmerica) is all over the blogosphere (*), but — as Kevin Dugansays — the bigger story might be about Edelman, which is held responsiblefor its client’s blunder. So far Edelman has failed to respond inany way to the accusations that it’s behind theWal-Marting… blog — which is quite perplexing.

According to SourceWatch, the Herald Group — notEdelman — is directing the PR campaigns for Working Families for Wal-Mart, theorganization that sponsored the Wal-Marting… blog.

But if Edelman was, indeed, involved in this campaign, then thestory could become a case study for how marketers’engagement rules in social media are enforced. Asa member of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association,Edelman should abide by the organization’s Code of Ethics, which isbased on Honesty ROI:

  • Honesty of Relationship: You say who you’re speakingfor
  • Honesty of Opinion: You say what you believe
  • Honesty of Identity: You never obscure youridentity

Wal-Marting Across America campaign/blog was obviouslybreaking the Honestyof Identity guidelines:

  • Clear disclosure of identity is vital to establishing trustand credibility. We do not blur identification in a manner thatmight confuse or mislead consumers as to the true identity of theindividual with whom they are communicating, or instruct or implythat others should do so.
  • Campaign organizers should monitor and enforce disclosureof identity. Manner of disclosure can be flexible, based on thecontext of the communication. Explicit disclosure is not requiredfor an obviously fictional character, but would be required for anartificial identity or corporate representative that could bemistaken for an average consumer. […]

The same goes for Honesty of Relationship:

  • We practice openness about the relationship betweenconsumers, advocates, and marketers. We encourage word of mouthadvocates to disclose their relationship with marketers in theircommunications with other consumers. We don’t tell themspecifically what to say, but we do instruct them to be open andhonest about any relationship with a marketer and about anyproducts or incentives that they may have received.
  • We stand against shill and undercover marketing, wherebypeople are paid to make recommendations without disclosing theirrelationship with the marketer. […]

(I don’t know for sure if the blog’s sponsorship by Working Families for Wal-Mart wasmade clear from the beginning. The MediaPost story says it wasn’t please see the correctionbelow; some bloggers sayit was. But even if the sponsorship was made clearfrom the start by a banner posted on the blog, the terms ofsponsorship were never disclosed, and it wasn’t made clear thatthe organization is partially funded byWal-Mart.)

We’ll see if Edelman is going to be investigated for breakingWOMMA’s Code of Ethics — but, anyway, this story can teach all ofus a couple of lessons:

  1. When you’re trying to position your PR agency as a thoughtleader in social media, be prepared to live up to the expectationsyou’re setting.
  2. Agencies will be held responsible in the public sphere fortheir clients’ mistakes (duh!); it doesn’t matter if theclient respected or not the agency’s advice.
  3. If an agency’s employees are blogging, people will expect themto explain — in real time — how client’s faux pas werepossible on their watch.
 

Update/ correction (Oct. 14, 2006):

In a follow-up article published by MediaPost, Tom Siebert makesclear that the banner announcing the blog’s sponsorship by WorkingFamilies for Walmart was posted on the blog from thebeginning, but details about the organization’s payment forthe trip were never made public:

Although a WFWM banner ad trumpeted its sponsorship of thesite, it did not mention that Wal-Mart paid for the couple’s RV,gas, food and other expenses.

Many thanks to Tom Siebert for writing to correct therecord.

Another piece of information: the sponsorship banner was postedon the blog when the blog has been started, as shown by thefirst entry’s Google cache.

 

(*) Resources (updated, October 14-16,2006)

 

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