Continuing our series on Social Media Ethical Dilemmas, this post is about the guidelines related to agencies who help client contacts to identify and engage, via commenting, on industry/influencer blogs.
The goal is to insert our clients’ executives and perspectives into industry conversations; to help them build up their credibility, and ultimately to create valuable relationships with influencers.
How do you do this? How can you effectively inform and educate busy clients while also cultivating the bloggers’ goodwill in an authentic way?
Here’s the general process…
The Agency is tasked with monitoring a series of influential blogs.
The Agency staff read the blogs every day, and sometimes comment — with full transparency, i.e., they comment as themselves, since it is not only in the client’s best interest but also in the PR pro’s interest to be engaged with the blogger.
On occasion, the blogger writes about something — a trend, a client competitor, etc. — that truly impacts the client.
At that point, the PR agency pro alerts the client, with a note that describes the blog post, its relevance to the client, and a brief description of the key points that the client might want to use in their own response, should they choose to engage.
EXAMPLE: Let’s say we have a client in the Search industry. An influential blogger drafts a post about the evolution of SEO. Our team reads it, drafts a synopsis, and immediately sends it to our client with a recommendation…
“We recommend inserting yourself into this conversation from a broader standpoint in terms of how many technologies, not just SEO, are changing in response to innovations in Search… Helping consumers move beyond the limits of traditional search is a more important end-goal than focusing on tweaking SEO.” (etc.)
Ethical dilemma #1: is this an unethical engagement strategy?? On the one hand, as I just noted, our PR team is taking an inordinate amount of time to read and really think about each of these blog commenting opportunities, on behalf of our clients. The resulting comments (ultimately written by clients personally) come across as lucid and engaged. BUT, yea, there’s no denying it: many of our clients need us to tell them when, where, why and how to engage — and that engagement is often a cursory exercise. The Agency often does the heavy lifting in terms of monitoring, identification, analysis, and recommendation.
Why? Because the clients are busy running their companies and working with customers. Because there are now hundreds of blogs to monitor. And because, over time, it tends to happen that genuine relationships are cultivated, e.g., when the blogger reaches out to the client contact directly, as a result of their interesting comment. What started out as a 1–level-deep commitment can convert into a true relationship; the Agency just helped plant the first few seeds.
In other words: it’s a gray area that I am comfortable living in.
This is not about misrepresenting the client; it’s actually about a) making sure the client is well informed about the trends and opinions of the blogosphere, b) saving time for the client and, c) making sure the influential bloggers are justifiably made aware of the fact that our clients do care about their content (even if they can’t keep track on a daily basis).
Ethical dilemma #2: it happens that sometimes the Agency’s suggestions can be pretty easily cut&pasted as the actual comment… the busy client might not take the time to put their own touches on it. Worse, they sometimes say, “Yea, that sounds good. Just use that language, and assign my name to that comment: you post it.”
While we are chagrined when our suggestions are used whole-cloth, there’s not much we can do. When asked to post a comment on a client’s behalf, we always decline — both because our IP address could be traced back, and because, well, we don’t think it is ethical… though some clients are left scratching their heads. After all, we will sometimes “ghostblog!?” What’s the difference? I don’t have a good answer. My gut says “don’t go there.”
You can see how, as this series progresses, the dilemmas get trickier, stickier, harder. All I can assure you, Dear Readers, is that we grapple with these ethical issues mightily, and often. We take nothing for granted. We harbor no cynicism nor deviousness. We operate with every intention of maintaining the highest degrees of integrity…but we also live and work in a gray and uncharted land.
Your thoughts appreciated.
Posted on: February 8, 2010 at 9:00 am By Todd Defren