The Washington Post ran an article on how tech lobbyists in Washington are using social media. They confuse the issue and ignore clear guideliens already in the marketplace. Here's how writer, Cecilia Kang, put it:
"The influence peddlers of K Street have discovered the power of social networking on such Web sites as Twitter and Facebook. Using their own names without mentioning that they work in public relations or as lobbyists, employees of companies with interests in Washington are chattering online to shape opinions in hard-to-detect ways."
This is not a grey area and the article does nothing to connect their two real examples of this obfuscation with the well-trod conclusions of the FTC and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) on ethical practices in online disclosure. WOMMA's ethics policies (clearly non-binding to anyone but member companies) and the FTC's own Guidelines on Endorsements and Testimonials clearly apply. Stated simply, lobbyists have an obligation to fully disclose their material connection online when advocated for their cause/client.
Are social networks blurring the line between our personal and professinal lives? Of course. Is that even relevant to this issue? Of course not. If you are advocating for a cause where you have a material connection with - e.g. you are a paid lobbyist, you represent an organization with skin in the game, or you are en employee in a firm that is involved with the issue, you must disclose adjacent to your sttaed online opinion what that material connection is. Not four, buried clicks in a site but right there where you say, "I think so-and-so ought to pass bill X" and on your profile whether in Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare (the next platform to be abused by non disclosure, I am sure) or blogs.
Lobbying is Marketing
But you say, "the article is talking "lobbying" and you are quoting marketing guidelines." Lobbying is marketing. Plain and simple. Lobbyists should follow the clear, best-practice guidelines from WOMMA (where I continue to serve on the board as Past President).
Cecilia mentions two examples of online writers clouding their material connection. It is not cloudy. As reported, these people must fully disclose to protect the consumer and the brand and organization reputations they represent. They can find out how here:
- WOMMA Ethics Code
- WOMMA on FTC Guidelines
- John Bell: Three Important Concepts on FTC Guidelines