by UFSocial contributor Kimberly Borwick
Transparency is key to modern advertising. Some companies have embraced truth and openness, both of which are essential to gaining the trust of the millennial generation. We are no longer directed to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, but invited to share companies’ triumphs, failures, vision, and mission. Brands from McDonalds to Southwest Airlines are presenting their customers with a value proposition they can’t refuse: transparency.
This promise from brands across the globe makes the unethical social media activities of some companies even more egregious.
Take for example Wal-Mart. When the retail giant was busted in 2006 for posting a fake blog post, supposedly written by an average American couple traveling from state to state in an RV, the backlash was strong and fast. The blog was called “Wal-Marting Across America,” and what the bloggers didn’t reveal was that the trip was paid for by Working Families for Walmart, an initiative that had been created by the company’s PR firm, Edelman. The deception was widely covered by the media, and in the wake of the negative press, neither the PR firm nor Wal-Mart responded.
If I had been in charge, I would have immediately explained how the blog came about. Evidently, the traveling couple was, indeed, planning to stay in Wal-Mart parking lots (where RVs are permitted for free) as they made their way to their children who lived in different states. But the fact that this information was not disclosed makes it an unethical practice.
In this world of transparency, sometimes taking your licks is the only way make things right. But, I don’t think I would take the blog down. Instead, I would just own up to the fact that the trip was sponsored by Working Families for Wal-Mart and try to turn the blog into something else. I would fess up and then promote the fact that the couple was still on the road and tell people that if they run into them, they can post a photo to social media in exchange for a store gift card.
Sort of like a Where’s Waldo deal.
Is that worse? I really don’t know!
In any case, the shady practice by Wal-Mart and Edelman was completely unethical, which is no surprise given that Working Families for Wal-Mart has been the object of scrutiny by those who claim the organization is nothing but a case of astroturfing. Through this fake blog, the company took the unethical practice to the next level.
Considering the impact social media has on our society, companies such as Wal-Mart can no longer play fast and loose with this influential marketing and communication tool. Integrity is a core value the public has come to demand in this era of transparency. Rules now exist in what was once the Wild West. Social media doesn’t stand on its own, separate from the brand, but rather, it is an integrated, essential element that reflects and amplifies the brand’s reputation.