Ethics and Word of Mouth Marketing – What are the issues?

What do you think are the most important ethical issues relating to Word of Mouth marketing?

I’m chairing a panel on Ethics of Word of Mouth at the CMA’s Word of Mouth Conference next week. The panelists discussing this issue with me will be Malcolm Roberts , President, Smith Roberts Creative Communications and Ross Buchanan, Director, Digital & Relationship Marketing, Molson Canada .

As I prepare for this session, I’d welcome your input.

  • What are the major ethical issues confronting the Word of Mouth industry?
  • What questions would you put to the panelists and participants?

I’ll use your suggestions and questions at the session. So, please fire away.

  • Stan Sutter

    To me the biggest issue has to be transparency Joe.
    A PR person specilizing in blogger relations, who I’ll leave nameless, told me this spring that some (although not all) of the contacts on her list, including some “real” media sources, aren’t aware she’s paid to promote the things she’s talking up. Many think she’s just a rabid enthusiast in the field she specializes in-and she doesn nothign to corrent that assumption.
    That’s inevitiably going to end badly, for her own business, and for WOM and PR practisioners…at least it should.

  • I am also giving an unconference style session on ethics at Blog Potomac next Friday, so this is timely. I have saved a number of links and issues about this at Feel free to browse them.

  • Susan McVeigh

    i agree with Stan that transparency is key. I tend to assume that all ‘avid fan’ posts are paid content until proven otherwise–fallout from knowing about WOM techniques. I think a company would prefer to know that their agency is positioning them as forward-looking and media savvy by using social forums to get their name out, as opposed to the company being perceived as devious or simply lame when stealth WOM postings get ‘outed’.

  • Stan and Susan, I’ll definitely raise the transparency question. I’m discomfited at the thought that any PR pro would pitch a story without revealing his/her client connection. That’s a bedrock principle in the CPRS code of ethics.

    Kami, thanks for the link to your tags. I’ll definitely review them before the session.