Last month, in line with Social Media Week in Hong Kong, the HK Council of PR Firms issued a social media code of ethics intended for PR professionals to use as best practice. The guidelines are just one short page covering truthfulness, transparency, personal and organisational responsibility, confidentiality, legality, play by the rules, and respect. It's worthwhile for all marketers to have a look at as a starting point for their own social media policy and circulate to their staff and employees who are engaged in social media on behalf of their company.
In the West (U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K.), this has been a topic that emerged strongly in 2010 (but was nonexistent in 2009 – see the Google trends chart below). As with many trends in social media, while the topic is fairly new, developing a policy has caught on quickly, with many examples (here's a link to 57 on Dave Fleet's well-followed blog). While some are long corporate-like policies (the U.K. government's Twitter strategy/policy is 20 pages), others are just a page, similar to that of the HK PR Council. Taking it even further, Zappos' social media policy is just a sentence, "Don't do anything stupid", while Microsoft's is half that at "Be smart". Easier said than done.
China's Network Navy
The good news is as these brands are 'exposed' in the press and elsewhere online, there is more of a reluctance of marketers in China to use these avenues to promote their products.
A famous example exposed last October was the case of Mengniu Milk, China's largest dairy, which was allegedly using these network navies starting in July to smear two lesser known competitors, spreading rumors that their milk products accelerated puberty in young girls. While the company denied involvement, the police apprehended the Mengniu division manager and staff members of the PR firm involved.
Interestingly, though, the activities are by no means confined to Chinese brands. According to a published article, during the October Golden Week, Canon was also 'outed' by an online media publisher who found hundreds of repeated posts that simply spammed advertising messages on discussion boards from the high-end manufacturer regarding its EOS line of cameras.
So what's the importance of a social media policy?
Well, generally speaking, we know social media is something that the company can and should participate in, but at the same time, it's important that employees and PR firms employed by companies know what the ground rules are, so they are not even tempted to overstep these bounds as in the examples cited above. I'm sure that the CEOs of all three companies mentioned would not be pleased with the actions of their respective employees and agencies, at the same time, they remind many other companies of the importance of truthfulness, transparency, personal and organisational responsibility, confidentiality, legality, play by the rules, and respect in social media engagement. Or put more simply, "be smart".
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Michael Zung currently heads up Bite Communications digital practices in Asia Pacific, serving clients like Skype, Coach, Marriott, and Toys R Us for both their digital marketing and communications needs. Previous to Bite, Mike served as senior vice president in HSBC's Asia Pacific personal banking services, where he launched and headed up HSBC Direct in Taiwan and was responsible for the growth of HSBC Direct in Korea and Taiwan, the first "branchless bank" in both countries. Prior to HSBC, he founded OneXeno, a regional digital marketing consultancy based in Hong Kong that was subsequently acquired by Bite Communications. Mike first came to Asia 10 years ago, working for DoubleClick, where he served in various positions including managing director for North Asia and was also the first editor of AccessAsia, a guide for Asian specialists and current research. He holds an MBA from New York University and an MA from University of Washington.
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