Social Media Marketing vs Ethics: tough cookie for some, piece of cake for others

Marketing is not an easy job; it’s like being a lawyer. A lawyer’s job is to defend his/her client, regardless of their actual innocence.

In a similar way, a marketer’s job is to promote a brand and build up “mindshare”. If that means focusing on the good and underplaying or hiding the bad, well that’s part of the game.

This game becomes even more complicated and delicate in the case of Social Media Marketing. In Social Media, some of the main tasks are to build up a fun base, engage with funs, give feedback to their comments and in the end create and maintain a faithful community of followers, based on the concept that the marketer is promoting. A prominent feature of this process is communication, of course. The more comments, the better; the more sharing, the better; the more hype, the better; the more “people talking about this”, the better.

What is a marketer to do then, if  a follower’s question is out of Corporate Social Media Policy lines? If it’s spam, if it’s insulting, if it’s in any way inappropriate, then sure, delete the comment and block the user. However, if the question is a valid one, but one that is inconvenient to answer, because then it would create a conflict of interest between Corporate goals and the image you’re trying to build, then what?

I came across such a case myself, a few days ago. I had just bought and taken a bite out of my first Green & Black’s organic 70% Dark Chocolate. I have to admit, it was the best tasting chocolate I had ever had in my life, period. I wanted to share this and congratulate the firm, so I “liked” them on FB and also posted a comment:

I just tried the Dark 70% variety and I must say, it’s the best tasting chocolate I’ve ever had!

The next day, they replied with thanks, which is good; it’s always encouraging to receive feedback. However, by the next day, I had also started looking for more info about the company that produced this heavenly product.

Quote from Wikipedia:

Green & Black’s was founded in 1991 by organic food pioneer Craig Sams and his wife, the magazine editor and widely-published journalist Josephine Fairley. The name was derived not from any founders’ surnames, but from a wordplay — “Green” standing for the environmental concerns of the founders, and “Black” for the high cocoa solids chocolate they wished to provide. In 1994, the company began purchasing Fairtrade cocoa from Maya farmers in Belize for the Maya Gold chocolate bar, and was awarded the 1994 Worldaware Business Award for good business practice, as well as the UK’s first Fairtrade mark.

Sounds like a dream company for any eco-friendly chocolate lover, right? Well, this company was sold to Cadbury in 2005, and Cadbury was acquired in 2010 by multinational KRAFT Foods, one of the 10 mega-corporations that virtually control all of the food products that we can buy at a supermarket, world wide (read These 10 Companies Control Enormous Number Of Consumer Brands and Η ψευδαίσθηση της (εταιρικής) ποικιλίας στο Super Market).

Given the relatively recent case of Proposition 37 in California, a ballot with the aim to force companies to disclose use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in product labels (already in effect in Europe), I thought I’d put Green & Black’s social media policy to the test.

For those of you who don’t know about GMOs or Proposition 37, take a look at Organic Consumers Association. The surprise with Prop 37 (which was voted down) was that major organic firms did not sponsor the campaign in favour of the proposition; only to realize later that they were owned by major corporations, which make most of their profit selling conventional, non-organic, potentially GMO-laden food products.

(Parenthesis) It is my interpretation that corporations do not share human codes of ethics; they are a new, totally different, thriving top-of-the-food-chain species in the socio-economic ecosystem [placeholder for link to upcoming article on this subject]. Human health, environmental sustainability, these are all out of scope; their reason for existence is corporate profit. As in the recent case of toxic clothing (The toxic tale behind your clothing), corporations have no problem poisoning their workers and their customers, as well as destroying the environment. They change their ways only if they find that continuing this trend will hurt their profits.

In order to maximize profits, corporations will also respond to people’s environmental concerns by rolling out (or buy existing) brands that sell organic products, for example. Not because they share the cause or the vision, but because this way they’ll cover a new and emerging market sector. Simple as that. The thing is, in Social Media, building a community of concerned followers/consumers and nurturing the community with the very ideals that bring them together, feels much more deceitful to the follower who finds out that it’s just another marketing campaign to increase sales; nothing to do with the cause, your health, or the product itself; they just tell you what you want to hear in order to buy more.

However, it’s not personal; it’s their nature. In the same way that I cannot blame a lion for hunting and killing in order to survive, I also cannot blame a corporation for pursuing profit. But that’s no reason to just sit back and be fooled, either.  (End of Parenthesis)

Coming back to the GMO labeling ballot, I remembered that there was another one coming up in Washington state in November 2013, so as an experiment I posted another comment on Green & Black’s page on FB:

Concerned organic consumer question: Since Green & Black’s is an iconic organic chocolate manufacturer with big sales in the USA, I should imagine that you are going to contribute financially in favour of I-522 (Washington state initiative to label GMOs) which will take place in November 2013, right?

Hmm… what to do, what to do, pondered the marketer… The solution eventually favoured, in this case, was to avoid confrontation and to do so in a subtle way: they did not delete the comment, however they never replied to me, politely or otherwise; and they also hid the comment from public view (only I and page admins can see it).

Can I blame them? Would I do something different in their place? Well, truth is I really can’t tell, it would depend on the circumstances. Ethical principles vs paycheck: tough cookie for some, piece of cake for others.

Here are the screenshots: First, what I see from my own account:

GMO related question from follower, on Green & Black's FB page.
GMO related question from follower, on Green & Black’s FB page.

And that’s what anyone else will see:

Green & Black's page with hidden  GMO related follower's comment
Green & Black’s page with hidden GMO related follower’s comment


Stratos Laspas

Stratos Laspas

O Στράτος Λάσπας είναι Certified Eating Psychology & Mind-Body Nutrtition Coach. Η προσωπική συμβουλευτική υποστήριξη στην ψυχολογία της διατροφής (Eating Psychology Coaching) είναι μια συναρπαστική και καινοτόμος προσέγγιση που αντιμετωπίζει με αποτελεσματικότητα θέματα βάρους, αδηφαγίας (binge eating), υπερφαγίας (overeating), συναισθηματικής υπερφαγίας (emotional eating), προκλήσεις σε σχέση με την προσωπική εικόνα που έχουμε για το σώμα μας (body image), τις αιώνιες, ατελείωτες και επαναλαμβανόμενες δίαιτες (yo-yo dieting), καθώς και ποικιλία ζητημάτων υγείας και σωματικών συμπτωμάτων που σχετίζονται με τη διατροφή, όπως η λειτουργία της πέψης, η αίσθηση κόπωσης, η πεσμένη ή ευμετάβλητη διάθεση, η λειτουργία του ανοσοποιητικού και άλλα.

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