Last week Mumbrella revealed an Australian marketing agency is planning to post links within social media discussions on behalf of clients, using assumed identities. The article became one of Mumbrella’s most discussed items to date. In this guest post, Geoff Emerson, boss of The Prosperity Principal, explains how the debate has affected his thinking
When Mumbrella contacted me, I imagined there would be some debate around the Trusted Avatar product I have created. It is a small part of our offering and I somewhat naively believed the debate would reflect this. I won’t comment on the nature of people’s comments or how things could have been handled better, but what I can tell you is that I have thought long and hard about what I would write next.
To put things into context, when I was head of digital at my previous role I helped create social media products and what are still industry best practice processes in many people’s minds. My new company is in its infancy and I haven’t even had time to write the website copy, let alone process documents for new products.
This brings me back to the current debate. The Trusted Avatar product is new and as such had problems that needed to be addressed. I had a set of guidelines in my head about instructing employees verbally and maintaining direct oversight throughout the campaign. Through this process I did a lot of thinking and realised that for such an emotionally charged subject there also needed to be a clear set of written operational guidelines around the product.
Additionally, around the issue of full disclosure I have decided that we are going to recommend that clients always disclose who and what they are.
If a client doesn’t want to disclose at the time of posting for commercial or other reasons the guidelines below will be followed to the letter.
Operational guidelines for employees of Trusted Avatar:
- You get to choose what client you’d like to work on, we don’t want you to work on any product or service that you would not recommend to a friend;
- If you do NOT like a product you will be offered the next available job when it becomes available;
- You will only post what you believe the product is reasonably able to accomplish, no more no less. If you haven’t (or can’t) use the product or have limited understanding you can research the product until you feel comfortable with your knowledge of the product.
- When possible and relevant, include a link and reference to any site where you have made a post. The idea is to thank these sites by creating more organic traffic for them;
- Never leave a link that is not in context or out of character with the community or not relevant to the natural conversation. The link should represent value to the community and you should feel comfortable leaving it whether you are being paid or not;
- You can use your real name if you want, however the supplied persona is to protect your identity, we feel this is acceptable as most people invent an on-line user name or identity that is not their own in order to protect their privacy;
- We are guests in these spaces and we must be respectful of that and never use language outside of community norms and will never engage in personal or defamatory attacks on anyone in the community;
- Please never disparage competitors either directly or indirectly by linking to negative reviews or comments. This is especially important if you are using a supplied persona to protect your identity.
- If someone asks if you are working for a company, please make a full and frank disclosure about who you are working for and why. If you’d like, you can forward these guidelines to them, it may make them feel more at ease knowing our guidelines and it may also demonstrate, that in return for being present at their site, we are endeavouring to deliver traffic to them. If asked to stop, do so immediately. Please never revisit a site that has asked you to refrain – then notify your manager.
- Employees must acknowledge the above rules and procedures and use them actively in every interaction online while posting links as a Trusted Avatar.
Finally, as a contractor to Trusted Avatar, in all matters please use your own best personal judgment.
The guidelines have been developed to ensure that the posts we make, while commercial, are not spam and based on an opinion of the product or service that you indeed hold.
The above guidelines will be part of the employee handbook and will make up part of all training and operational procedures for P2. I am always looking for ways to innovate and in doing so sometimes make mistakes. I will however always strive to make things better and the above guidelines are an attempt to keep Trusted Avatar as a commercial product while still keeping within best practice principles.
Finally I’d like to address the comments posted on the original article:
I think as an industry we should be critical of our fellow practitioners.
I have received much constructive criticism. It was provocative and instructive and I am grateful to those who took the time to frame it.
The work of all of us in the industry will always be better for constructive and critical feedback of others – thank you.
I am open to receive comments, though I think we are all better served by keeping critical comments focussed constructively and not personal.
Constructive critique shows our industry at it’s best – active, involved and thoughtful. It allows all to engage with others freely and frankly with respect for the work, the consumer, our clients and our profession.