Offering and demanding social media transparency in 2011

My Big Omaha 2010 photo appeared on sites
Transparency.  This photo from Big Omaha last year demonstrates the problem.  I used the photo for awhile as my profile picture. I should have disclosed: a) I received free admission on a media pass; b) I and others posted the free photo; c) the Coke was free; and d) one of the program organizers is married to a faculty colleague.  My campus has a strategic goal of "community engagement," and these relationships pose an almost constant environment of ethical challenges.  Such informal relationships offer opportunities to fall short on being transparent.  What is all in good fun or good business, presents a set of emerging issues when amplified through social media and modern public relations.

Social media in 2011 has reached a point of maturity in which relationships -- particularly client relationships -- must be disclosed.  I've seen a nice example of how this can be accomplished on Twitter and elsewhere.  Rick Murray, Edelman Chicago president, uses the simple "(client)" to disclose that he personally benefits from a contractual relationship between his employer Edelman and Research In Motion (RIM), which manufactures Blackberry devices.  

Here's to #teamBlackBerry! "@bdwallace: BlackBerry Climbs To #2 on The Vitrue 100: Top Social Brands of 2010" (client)

Murray has also gone beyond this to tweet during trips to Canada for meetings with RIM.  It's not always that simple.  For example, while I do not have a formal or contractual relationship with Edelman, I've been their guest at the last two New Media Academic Summits in Washington, DC and New York.  That relationship led me to invite Murray to speak at our Omaha 10-10-10 conference last year.

Transparency requires me to tell you these facts in this post, but such relationships are not as easy to disclose in a 140 character or less tweet on Twitter.  Drawing from the (client) model, maybe (friend) or (associate) or some other word needs to be included in postings.

Recently on Facebook, an old friend asked why, on the eve of a large Omaha snow storm, my family and friends were again talking about the Wovel -- a wheeled shovel, (which coincidentally also comes from Canada).

Notice in the posting that I explained that I do not represent the Wovel.  To go further, I could say that I learned about it a few years ago while watching an HGTV segment, purchased one and use it every winter.  While doing so, I still get a lot of looks and comments from passers-by, so my assumption is that it remains a bit of a novelty.  Transparency concerns arise from social media marketing, as they do from the spreading of news and information. 

Turning to the serious matter of inaccurate information flowing from the shooting scene of a member of the U.S. House, there are calls arising for a correction policy on sites, such as Twitter.  I was one of those who re-tweeted the wrong information via usually reliable media that the victim had died.  Such reports had to be painful, particularly for friends and family in Arizona and elsewhere.  Most of us on social media quickly corrected the news, but the lack of traditional gatekeeping presents yet another ethical quagmire.

As the newness and uniqueness of social media pass, the unbridled freedom demands that all of us who use it accept responsibilities for disclosure.  As is the case with traditional journalists, our content cannot effectively pass judgment on politicians and public figures unless we, too, offer proactive transparency, honest answers and fair service to our social networks.

Not only must we offer transparency, but all social media users must exercise media literacy skills.  Always ask why people are communicating.  Keep in mind that the old "buyer beware" and "reasonable consumer" standards apply here in social media spaces.  When in doubt, do as my friend did:  Challenge the speaker to be more transparent.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the shout out - and the post itself - Jeremy.

Transparency is the only thing standing between a credible post that might inspire a reader to act, and astroturfing spam.

The early members of WOMMA saw this, and it's why we wrote a strong code of ethics, and have since made ethics a guiding principle of how our members operate. For those of your readers interested in checking that code out, please visit

We've also posted our own code of conduct at; it offers some specifics of what and what is not appropriate in various

Bottom line, there really is no valid (or legal) excuse for not being anything less than fully transparent, yet many -- whether through ignorance or intent -- continue to post without disclosing.

Your post is a timely reminder, and a great call to action.