WOM and the law: “These days, everything you do will come under scrutiny”

July 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Ethics, Events | Leave a Comment
Tags: social media, word of mouth, Ethics, WOM, law, reed smith, ReACTS

Our new partnership with Reed Smith’s advertising compliance team ReACTS – which brings WOM UK members free legal advice on their social media and word of mouth activity – kicked off in fiery style last week with our breakfast event around WOM and the law.

This was obviously a topic that hit home for the marketers, brand owners and agencies in the room (who remained valiantly undistracted by the incredible view from Broadgate Tower…)

Marina Palomba and Chris Hackford provided an excellent overview of the main issues in the space, and a welcome wake-up call around key areas that are likely to prove increasingly contentious, as  interest in legislating word of mouth activity grows. One example is the proposed extended remit of the CAP Code, which is struggling to gain traction but backed by strong intent.

There were questions throughout and a sense that everyone was starting to realise how little they know about the legal playing field regarding consumer engagement, UGC, transparency, privacy, promotions, moderation, copyright and more. The deck from the event below is a must-read for anyone working in the space.

Marina’s case studies of companies caught out – WalMart, American Express, Sony, TalkSport – proved the importance of sharing legal knowledge throughout a business, and indeed the importance of establishing a strong internal ethical code to protect employees against misguided activity.

It’s a philosophy obviously close to our heart; anyone can access the WOMMA Ethical Code that we and our members subscribe to, or Tempero’s UGC and the Law whitepaper we helped build. Members can also access the WOMMA Ethics Toolkit, which defines best practices and baseline rules, and asks 20 questions to help you ethically comply.

Here at WOM UK we’re also looking at becoming closely involved in the legal debates and motions around this space, with the help of the brilliant ReACTS team, so we’ll keep you posted on any developments. And do let us know – what are your big legal concerns? We’ll use them to shape our next session with the team…

Social media disclosure: best practice

April 20, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Posted in Case studies, Ethics | 2 Comments
Tags: social media, word of mouth, womma, Ethics, ftc guidelines, best practice

Ethics are one of the four pillars of WOM UK. Best practice in terms of listening and engagement is a big issue in word of mouth, where legislation is lagging behind activity, and the lines are often blurred between brand and consumer spaces.

We help both practitioners and clients keep on top of the latest ethical standards and case studies via our blog posts and events but members also get access to the WOMMA ethics assessment tool and case study library, as well as the collective knowledge and guidance our own WOM UK Council.

WOMMA’s latest contribution is this deck, essential reading for anyone looking to understand the landscape in the US, which is of huge relevance to our industry here.

Do you think we’ll move towards some FTC-style guidelines? What are the different challenges our side of the pond? Post your thoughts and comments below and do think about joining WOM UK if you’d like much, much more where this came from.

Social media self-regulation code proposed for the UK

March 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Ethics | 3 Comments
Tags: AA, ASA, CAP code, IAB UK, social media advertising, social media regulation, wom uk

As reported by IAB UK, “the advertising industry has come together to recommend an extension of the self-regulatory rules for non-broadcast media (known as the ‘CAP Code’)”.

The recommendation, driven by the Advertising Association (AA) suggests that the existing code, administered by the ASA, be extended from paid-for online space to cover advertisers’ own spaces as well as independent sites.

It’s a logical next move in the ‘ethics and transparency’ debate, and something that advertisers have long been calling out for. But it remains to be seen exactly what the code will cover, and how those regulations will be implemented, especially when entering the realm of independent consumer word of mouth.

It’s pretty clear that the code’s remit will cover blatant advertising and won’t try to tackle more subtle WOM engagement campaigns – but with the stated intention of ensuring that online all marketing activity will be ‘responsible, legal, honest and truthful’, there’s bound to be some grey areas and overlap.

For example, look at incentivisation by brands wanting to get people online to talk. Many people equate their activity in social media with chatting in the pub with friends, so any consciousness of their responsibilities to the code would require a big change in outlook. If you are handed free chocolate outside the tube, do you expect to have to tell your friends a disclaimer before raving about it in the office? Total brand transparency is essential in this space but peer to peer transparency is complex.

There are issues raised here that need thought and public discussion as much as rules, and we could certainly learn from some of the debate around the FTC Guidelines being instituted in the US.

What do you think? We’ll keep you updated as more details emerge…

What we can learn from Yelp’s WOM whitewashing debate

March 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Posted in Ethics | 1 Comment
Tags: Ethics, negative review, social media, the law, ugc, WOM, yelp

Coming hot on the heels of Tempero‘s eGuide UGC and the Law (which WOM UK contributed to and debated at the launch), the news that a veterinary practice in California is suing consumer review site Yelp for allegedly offering to hide a bad post for payment made us prick up our ears.

As reported by The Times, Greg Perrault of the Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach claims that he asked Yelp to take down a negative review posted 18 months before – outside the site’s 12-month relevancy guideline – and was in turn invited to advertise on the boards for $300 a year.

Of course, if this were true, it would represent some seriously unethical, as well as illegal, moderation of consumer conversation for financial gain. However, Yelp’s defence on their official blog is thorough and clear, and all the more believable because it emphasises the importance of trust for the company: people’s belief that the reviews they publish are legitimate and fairly regulated is what keeps businesses and punters invested in the site.

What we find particularly interesting is Dr Perrault’s failure to address the content of the negative post. He did not respond to the facts or fictions of that 18-month old moan, nor did he say that he was looking at how to improve the surgery’s service to prevent similar comments, or reach out to other customers in a more positive way.

Whatever the courts decide, this story reflects the panic that businesses feel when faced with negative conversation, and their inability to know how to handle it, apart from trying to get that often valuable WOM removed from the public domain.

If you want help in understanding how you can engage with disgruntled consumers in a rather more productive way – for them and for you – get in touch and we’ll introduce you to our raft of expert members and educational events touching on just these issues.

In the meantime, check out the eGuide to know where you stand legally in the UK with moderation of UGC.

View this document on Scribd

Do you know the score with UGC and the law?

February 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Posted in Ethics, Events | 1 Comment
Tags: internet law, moderation, social meida law, tempero, ugc, wom uk

Companies used to carefully controlled brand imagery and tone of voice can find user generated content a very scary thing. Our discussions with companies, journalists and agencies have shown that there’s lots of confusion as to where the boundaries lie in terms of moderation, engagement and the legal rights around content created by people about and around a brand.

That’s why WOM UK is delighted to be contributing to ‘UGC and the Law’, a new eGuide produced by community experts Tempero:

“We believe our eGuide is the first time anyone’s pulled together the range of UK guidance out there on which laws might impact social media activity that involves brands hosting or submitting content to interactive environments into a handy little book format.

The guide is aimed at brands and public sector organizations about to start or already running their own sites (like forums, blog comments) or branded pages (like Facebook, YouTube), and includes quotes, anecdotes, and advice from some of our clients and contacts in the industry.”

President of WOM UK Molly Flatt has added her comments on the complexities of legislating free speech, and how the UK can learn from the debates around the FTC Guidelines recently released in the US. Molly will be attending the launch of the eGuide at the Tempero offices in central London tomorrow, Wednesday 23rd February, from 6.30pm, answering questions on the issue and debating with other speakers such as John Robinson from the NHS and Paul Wakely from the BBC.

If you’re interested in coming along book your place here.

Social media policies can be simple

January 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Posted in Case studies, Ethics | Leave a Comment
Tags: Coca-Cola, social media policy, word of mouth

Becoming a word of mouth enabled company can seem a painfully complex and time-consuming process. How on earth do you get all those employees up to speed with the ever-increasing number of social platforms? How do you present the approach of consumer listening and collaboration in a way that both the old-fashioned CEO and the tech-savvy admin boy will understand? Where do you even start in overhauling a structure geared towards image-making and broadcasting into one that is flexible, personal and conversational?

Coca-Cola’s Head of Social Media, Adam Brown, has done a pretty good job of showing how simple and human a good corporate social media policy can be. His 3 page (3 page!) document includes 10 clear principles for employees rooted in common sense, while managing to cover all the legal and ethical bases. Download the policy here and watch him talking about it below.

What do you think are the hallmarks of a truly great social media policy?

Should social media be paid for? IAB and WOM UK say yes…

December 8, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Posted in Ethics, Events | Leave a Comment
Tags: IAB, should social media be paid for, social media advertising, wom uk, word of mouth

Last night’s joint IAB and WOM UK debate, ‘Should social media be paid for?‘, was intended to be taken with a big pinch of salt. The two teams purposefully dug their heels in, ramped up the drama and pushed their views to the extreme to make the assembled crowd really question the possibilities and limits of paid advertising in the social space – but some genuinely interesting issues surfaced amongst the bombast.

On the ‘for’ side, Kate Box, Head of Social Media Sales at Microsoft Advertising, and Steve Filler, Commercial Director for Unruly Media, made the case that consumers don’t mind whether content is paid for. Brands need to act like brands, and they claimed that visibly advertising is more honest; paid advertising in the social space gets results, and is essential for the survival of the industry.

In the ‘against’ corner, President of WOM UK and WOM Evangelist at 1000heads Molly Flatt joined Ciarán Norris, Head of Social Marketing at Mindshare, to assert that paid media is, and should remain, by definition separate to earned or social media. Although paid can inspire social interaction, the independent social space is all about relationships, flourishing on a currency of status, passion, expertise and networking, and those can’t be bought. Interactive, digital, online PR and the like all have their place – but they’re not truly social media.

The votes came down on the side of ‘for’, but the atmosphere was lighthearted as both sides acknowledged that valuing one did not exclude the importance of the other, and that a mix of paid stimulation and inspired independent WOM and listening is best. For an idea of how an integrated view can look, it’s worth reading Neilsen’s Pete Blackshaw‘s recent post on Maximizing Super Bowl Advertising ROI in a Paid Vs. Earned Media Environment.

Some genuinely interesting grey areas also emerged. Where does inspiration end and payment begin, when brands are providing trials and freebies? Doesn’t the industry need to firm up its definitions so that brands don’t just think they’re ‘earning social’ by throwing a few interactive ads online? And isn’t it essential that brands don’t see social media attention as ‘free’ – more that they must pay for it in man hours for listening, responding and creativity, rather than cash?

If you couldn’t make it to the sold-out event, let us know your thoughts and questions below, and look out for future collaborations. What would you like to see debated next?

When does information become incentivisation?

December 3, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Ethics | 2 Comments
Tags: disclosure, ftc guidelines, paid WOM, social media ethics, sponsored conversation, word of mouth ethics

Back when the FTC’s guidelines on US bloggers’ disclosure of brand payment and gifting were announced in October, the controversy was predictably loud. The likes of CBS and Media Bistro highlighted the questions and ethical issues that the guidelines left unanswered, and the IAB published an open letter warning that they posed a threat to the Constitutional right to free speech. Search Engine Watch in particular said what many others were feeling: that opinions are different from fact, and the guidelines will be near-impossible to enforce.

Well, we’ll soon see. This week the guidelines finally came into effect and the continued debate around their usefulness will almost certainly have implications for future UK, European and global legislation.

The Boston Globe has collated a number of opinions from US bloggers. Most agree that there is a need to protect the independence of social media word of mouth, but there is also a strong sense that the guidelines ignore the subtleties of the space. Particularly interesting is the view of Ryan Spaulding, of Ryan’s Smashing Life music blog, that certain assets given to him by brands simply facilitate his opinion-making, without obligation: “I don’t look at it as payment. It’s what it takes to get the job done. To me this whole thing is a wide-cast net that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

In some ways the hostility of the blogosphere has been surprising. Communities are fiercely protective of their independence and any attempts to astroturf, flog or conceal paid WOM have historically been met with vigilance and animosity. As blogger Dan Brown has asserted, the guidelines do have a necessary and positive role to play in maintaining trust. But it’s also evident that developing a relationship with a brand – which may bring certain assets, trials and exclusive information, events or opportunities – is a very different thing to being paid to talk. Bloggers who do the former, with the benefit of their readership in mind, do not want to be tarred with the latter’s brush.

What do you think? if you want to explore these and related issues in more detail face to face, join us at the FREE WOM UK/IAB debate Should social media be paid for? next Monday 7th December. Click here for details and to register.

WOM UK and IAB debate: Should social media be paid for?

December 1, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Posted in Ethics, Events | 1 Comment
Tags: IAB, paid advertising, social media, sponsored conversation, wom uk, word of mouth

We’ve teamed up with the IAB to create a lively and provocative panel discussion. On Monday 7th December, 5-7pm at the IAB offices, 14 Macklin Street, London, WC2B 5NF, Molly Flatt, President of WOM UK and WOM Evangelist at 1000heads; Kate Box, Head of Social Media – Sales at Microsoft Advertising; Steve Filler, Commercial Director for Unruly Media; and Ciarán Norris, Head of Social Marketing at Mindshare will be debating:

Should social media be paid for?

Social media is not a marketing tool; it’s a public platform for conversation. So how does paid and sponsored advertising fit into the space – if at all?

At this debate we will be discussing the many issues that arise around paid-for marketing in social media. Is there a place for incorporating paid-for advertising and distribution? Does sponsored conversation have any real value for brands? Or does the true value of social media for marketers lie in independent peer-to-peer word of mouth and advocacy, inspired by passion not cash? Where do we draw the boundaries with incentivisation and transparency? Should we incorporate all of the above?

Our expert panellists will be looking at where social media fits into earned, owned and bought media, and where it should lie in the marketing planning mix. So join us for what will undoubtedly be an informative, entertaining and ever-so-slightly festive affair.

The event is FREE to all and there will be Christmas drinks afterwards while we continue the discussion, so register with [email protected] asap – we look forward to seeing you there.

‘Criteria of a successful rumor’: the original unethical WOM

November 4, 2009 at 11:41 am | Posted in Ethics | Leave a Comment
Tags: american intelligence, spreading rumours, word of mouth ethics

Could these be the original mind-spammers? An entirely unethical but utterly addictive 1943 American Intelligence document has come to light which outlines key strategies in spreading a rumour successfully.


Yes, yes, of course we disapprove – it’s based around forcing pre-crafted content onto an unsuspecting audience – but it still contains some gems of wisdom that relate to our collaborative and consumer-driven approach today. For example, there’s an acknowledgement that content must be plausible, simple, relevant and vivid; a demand that content must be suited to the channel; and a requirement that content is developed based on ‘intelligence on what kinds of information [communities] are eager for.’ Unfortunately, to these ‘operators in the rumor field’ it doesn’t matter a jot if any of it is true – a belief sadly shared by some propaganda-driven companies still trying to muscle into the space.

However, there’s no question that these guys believed in the power of WOM as a medium for changing both emotions and behaviour. Although their methods were seriously questionable, some elements of human psychology, the mechanics of influence and community action that they describe are undeniably interesting. Have a read.

via Second Brain.

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