As author Jim Barry observes in both his Social Content Marketing for Entrepreneurs and his blog post regarding the seven most important dilemmas in content marketing, the sheer enormity of customer interaction with social media generates multiple dilemmas going to ethics. Barry identifies and examines dilemmas ranging from privacy issues to the misuse of free expertise provided by media users (Barry, 28 April 2014), a virtual minefield of ethical challenges exist for today’s marketer. Then, and while Barry admirably cites the most prevalent issues, it is arguable that another be added to the roster. This may be defined as saturation, in that content marketers, enabled by technology to endlessly repeat e-mails and social media promotions at little to no cost, often seem to be guided by the idea that there cannot be too much promotion. This then becomes an issue of ethics, in that the marketing is overtly intrusive and overbearing, and the consumer is all the more disinclined to investigate or purchase the goods or services. An example of this is how the individual who visited a hotel once is inundated, and for years, with offers from that hotel, both in e-mail and on social media. Saturation is then ethically unsound by virtue of its disagreeable persistence, just as it likely generates antipathy in the targeted consumers.
Regarding whether advertisers should have to disclose tracking and/or permit users to block it, there appears to be a distinct ethical imperative which is at the center of intense social media debate. Many users understand and accept that browsers like Google enable automatic tracking. At the same time, large numbers of people strongly object to tracking and perceive it as an unwarranted invasion of privacy. To such users, marketing that relies on tracking goes to undue extremes in targeting prior interests. Such tracking is typically done in order to gauge the effectiveness of promotions, but there remains the reality that it is a means of collecting information about individuals, and without any permission provided by them. This being the case, ethics demands that marketers apprise consumers as to these processes, and further enable users to block any tracking. The potentials and advantages of the Internet notwithstanding, such an approach by marketers goes to traditional courtesy in commerce. As this reflects a consideration for user preferences, it is as well likely that the users will look more favorably upon the marketers expressing it.
Lastly, significant ethical issues exist regarding native advertising. To begin with, it is arguable that this form of marketing is inherently deceptive, as it follows the forms of the platform on which it is presented, and advertising then often appears as factual and/or editorial content. The impetus of marketers to advertise in this way is understandable, as reproducing the form of the site visited enhances user trust and interest, and creates a sense of integrity beyond overt advertising. In today’s multimedia markets, this is valuable: “In a growing climate of infobesity, relevance is arguably the most critical attribute of any content” (Barry, 2014). Then, as the Millennials are so omnipresent in social media, it is reasonable to believe that they perceive native advertising as advertising itself, and more accept the covert presentations of content. Such a possibility, however, does not eliminate the ethical breach here. Ultimately, and no matter the marketer’s strategy as based on only “conforming” to the site’s style and platform, native advertising is intrinsically a deliberate means of obfuscating the advertising intent. This is essentially advertising “in disguise,” and for the clear purpose of drawing the user in through a presentation of the types of information they are accustomed to accepting on the website or social media outlet. This being the case, native advertising is, its advantages to marketers aside, essentially unethical.
- Barry, J.M. (2014). Social Content Marketing for Entrepreneurs. New York: Business Expert Press, Kindle e-book, unpaginated.
- Barry, J. M. (28 April 2014). 7 Ethical Dilemmas Faced in Content Marketing. Edutainment. Retrieved 2 Oct. 2015 from http://blog.socialcontentmarketing.com/7- ethical-dilemmas-faced-in-social-media-marketing/