Topic 4

Topic 4: Reflection

My post this week focused on social media endorsements, and whilst I thought I had covered most of the ethical issues involved, I soon realised that there was more to explore. Through comments on my blog, Madeleine brought to my attention some of the drawbacks of endorsements, David highlighted the differences between social media endorsements and traditional media endorsements, and Wil introduced me to factors influencing endorsement effectiveness, such as country of origin (Roy & Bagdare, 2015). Below is an infographic summarising other ethical issues explored by my peers.

Ethical Issues within Social Media
Figure 1. Ethical issues within social media (self-produced using Canva)

In Topic 2, we explored the issues surrounding online identities, including the debate on privacy. These issues became particularly topical due to the recent news regarding the repeal of US rules on selling consumer data (Solon, 2017). Following my comment on Faazila’s blog, we discussed that while initial intentions of data collection may be good (e.g., to improve targeted advertising or identify threats of terrorism), the fact that users have no control over their personal data raises some major ethical concerns.

UOSM2008 in the news
Figure 2. Examples of where social media ethics have cropped up in the media (self-produced using Canva and screenshots from Twitter)

In Topic 3, we considered the use of the web as a tool for recruitment. Relating back to this, myself and Scott discussed the ethical issues of social media screening. We agreed that basing hiring decisions on personal information found on social profiles is unethical, particularly if unconscious discriminatory biases are at play (Hazelton & Terhorst, 2015). Furthermore, we evaluated possible solutions to these problems, such as name-blind recruitment (Parkinson & Smith-Walters, 2015).

Finally, since UOSM2008 is a prime example of an educational use of social media, I have touched upon some of the ethical issues relating to education in the presentation linked below.

Social Media Ethics in Education
Figure 3. Ethical issues of social media in education (self-produced using Canva)

Overall, exploring different perspectives greatly aided my understanding of this topic. One thing that remains clear is that the topic of ethics is a grey area, particularly when combined with the uncontrolled environments of the internet and social media.

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Faazila’s post

Scott’s post


Annual Cyberbullying Survey (2016). Ditch The Label.

Hazelton, A. S., & Terhorst, A. (2015). Legal and ethical considerations for social media hiring practices in the workplace. The Hilltop Review, 7(2), 53-59.

Parkinson, J., & Smith-Walters, M. (2015). Who, What, Why: What is name-blind recruitment? BBC News.

Roy, S., & Bagdare, S. (2015). The role of country of origin in celebrity endorsements: Integrating effects of brand familiarity. Journal of Global Marketing, 28(3-5), 133-151.

Solon, O. (2017). Your browsing history may be up for sale soon. Here’s what you need to know. The Guardian.

Topic 4

Topic 4: Social Media Ethics – The Power of Online Endorsements

The term ethics refers to moral principles that govern behaviour (Oxford Dictionary, 2017). In the context of social media and business, ethics can refer to a company’s duty to engage with online consumers in a way that is appropriate, honest and morally sound (Drushal & German, 2011). Due to my interest marketing, I have chosen to focus on the ethics of social media endorsements.

Figure 1. Introduction to social media endorsements (self-produced via PowToon)

Social Media Endorsements

Research shows that electronic word-of-mouth communications are used by consumers to assess the reputation of brands (Amblee & Bui, 2014). To support this, a survey found that 83% of web users use recommendations to guide purchasing behaviour (Neilsen, 2015). The moral dilemma here? Whether businesses are unlawfully using online endorsements to exploit consumer trust.

Social media endorsements infographic
Figure 2. Social media endorsements infographic (self-produced via Piktochart)
Ethical Issues

The ethical issue here lies in whether consumers should be made aware of sponsored endorsements on social media. Paid-for endorsements that are not obvious to the public can be considered manipulative (Gillingham, 2011). It is arguably immoral for an influencer to promote something as their own opinion, and consequently sway a consumer’s purchasing behaviour, when in fact they are being paid to promote this opinion (Wilkinson, 2015).

These ethical issues are particularly concerning for ‘result-driven’ products such as detox teas, weight-loss supplements and teeth whiteners (Campbell, 2015). These products, often endorsed by popular social influencers, convince young people that they too can achieve ‘beauty’ or ‘health’ if they purchase the product. If the product fails to meet expectations, this can have a damaging impact on a young person’s self-esteem, in addition to the compromising physical and psychological effects of the product itself (Campbell, 2015).

Figure 3. Examples of undisclosed endorsements (self-produced via Google Slides)

Combating the Issue

There has been a recent crackdown on undisclosed endorsements. In the USA, the FTC requires explicit disclosure of an endorsement that informs the public it is paid-for. In the UK, this is governed by the ASA. These rules protect the reputation of both the brand and the influencer and prevent consumers from being misled. A win-win situation, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple, as endorsement guidelines are susceptible to misinterpretation and difficult to enforce (Schwab, 2016). Also, from a personal perspective, if I see ‘#ad’ or ‘#spon’ attached to an endorsement for a brand, this immediately raises questions about the brand’s credibility. So, whilst disclosed endorsements allow consumers to make more informed decisions, a perceived lack of authenticity can reduce the advertising impact of the endorsement.

It is worth noting that ethics, particularly within social media, are subjective in nature and often have no clear right or wrong answers. Thus, the question here remains, can a compromise of transparent but effective social media marketing be achieved?

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Advertising Standards Authority (2017). UK code of non-broadcast advertising and direct & promotional marketing.

Amblee, N., & Bui, T. (2014). Harnessing the influence of social proof in online shopping: The effect of electronic word of mouth on sales of digital microproducts. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 16(2), 91-114.

Campbell, L. (2015). Current laws and social responsibility around social media product endorsements. The Huffington Post.

Drushal, B., German, K. (2011). The ethics of emerging media: Information, social norms, and the new media technology. New York, NY: Continuum.

Federal Trade Commission (2017). Guides concerning use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising.

Gillingham, E. (2011). The ethics of celebrity endorsement via social media sites.

Langford, L. (2014). Celebrity endorsement on social media. Campaign.

Oxford Dictionary (2017). Definition of ethics.

Schwab, D. (2016). No, you don’t need to write #ad in your promoted tweet. Forbes.

The Neilsen Company (2015). Global Trust in Advertising Report.

Wilkinson, O. (2015). Celebrity endorsements on social media. Knapton Wright Social Media Marketing.

Figure References

Figure 1: Self-produced using PowToon.

Figure 2: Self-produced using Piktochart and this source.

Figure 3: Self-produced using Google Slides and sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

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