Real-World Ethical Dilemmas in Social Media

AngeldevilEven as Social Media has quickly become integral to corporate communications strategy, it also presents a very, very new model, with new challenges.

As in any new endeavor, questions arise about ethical boundaries.  As discussed in the recent Slippery Slopes post, those boundaries are rarely marked by a bright line.  “Shades of gray” need exploration.

With this in mind, I asked my senior staff to outline for me the ethical questions they had faced with clients in the past 12 months.

The ensuing dialogue was fascinating.  I was often at a loss for answers.  We muddled through, though, and I want to share the results with you in a SERIES of posts related to our real-world Social Media Ethics challenges.

I am not going to commit to a once/day or once/week schedule, cuz I’m one of those underpromise/overdeliver guys, but my blog posting schedule for the next little while will predominantly be exploring each of these 7 ethical dilemmas in turn.

Throughout the series, I will be very eager to hear your feedback — and your pushback, whenever you feel we may have gone off the rails … because in some instances, we might have done just that. (Cue ominous music…)

Where I felt doubt, where I think we may have gone wrong, I’ll be straight-up candid about it, and will try to avoid defensiveness.

UPDATE: the Social Media Ethical Series was among the most popular ever published on the PR-Squared blog.  Thanks to all who coached, coaxed and caviled.  Here are the posts for future reference…

Tweeting Under False Circumstances

In Defense of Ghostblogging

Guess Who’s Talking

When Clients Want Coverage in Your Blog

Everything in “Moderation”

When the Coach Takes the Field

Posted on: January 25, 2010 at 8:00 am By Todd Defren
25 Responses to “Real-World Ethical Dilemmas in Social Media”


  • what they say is “you can make money with social media”… and then everyone gets deep into all sorts of activity, already this social media thing is showing its negative aspects. You do not make money with it, you only have a simpler way to get to your clients, but that does not insure income! Not directly, at least…

  • Adam Gray says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing the comments from everyone.

    Clearly you are right – Social Media Marketing has become part of many organisations’ communications arsenal. I laughed to myself when you used the words ‘ethical’ and ‘boundaries’… not words that appear in a marketer’s dictionary.

    However, my experience so far in this regard is that social media seems to have a natural ability to sort truth from lies. Clients that want to use it for spin, and smokescreens do so at their peril. Newspapers are full of stories that may well only be in the public domain BECAUSE the client has tried use these new channels of ‘truth’ for less wholesome purposes!

  • markclayson says:

    odd, I am new to your blog & really was excited to read this one. I, like, Kristin and Mary, am looking forward to these series.

  • Todd, I am new to your blog & really was excited to read this one. I, like, Kristin and Mary, am looking forward to these series. The lessons will be invaluable.

    Thanks for taking on this endeavor for the rest of us!

    RM – InBoundMarketingPR

  • Jacqui Chew says:


    I am looking forward to your series and to a spirited conversation here in the comments section.

  • Akash Sharma says:

    Todd,It would be great to hear something from you on how social media effects business ethics in both ways, positive or negative.Plus the questions as you mentioned were from your seniors that means we would definitely get loads of knowledge in your answers.
    I’ll look forward to your series….

  • bfrause says:

    Todd: I have alerted members of PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional standards to be on the lookout for your series. We have been hard at work tackling the same issues I suppose. Anyway you can count on their participation. It should be a fun series. Also you or your readers might be interested in PRSA Practice Standard Advisory PSA-9 on the issue of pay-for-play. Here’s the link.

    Bob Frause, APR, Fellow PRSA
    Former Chairman PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards
    Current PRSA Board Liason to BEPS

  • Todd, I’m really looking forward to your series. We spent some time talking about social media ethics last weekend at the PRSA Alaska Board retreat so the timing is excellent!

  • Kristin says:

    I am looking forward to this series. One of my biggest dilemmas relating to clients and social media is disclosure. I am lucky to have several clients that are great brands, ones that I enjoy regardless of their status with my employer.

    I understand that disclosure is important, but I also wonder if it lessens the legitimacy of my tweets. Because, I would tweet about them whether they were clients or not.

    Looking forward to your posts!

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