Deceptive practices by inexperienced agencies and clients, within the social media space is embarrassing, distresses the brand, undermines trust, and discourages participation. It is also illegal and can create significant liability and exposure for both parties.
I have cautioned before against ad-agencies that know little or nothing about the social networking space, parading as experts in the field. If you do not know the rules, then do not play the game. Social media is inherently a very transparent medium, and it is that very transparency that will lead to you being found out.
This not only applies to the work that agencies do on behalf of their clients, but also to initiatives that are designed to promote the agency itself. (Albeit that there is not that much exposure here, given that there are so few agencies that understand it’s critical role in agency new business development).
There is no excuse for either giving the client poor advice or alternatively agreeing to be an accessory to the act. The fallout from deceptive social media transgressions is often immediate, very public and incredibly damaging to the brand and the agency alike.
Yesterday, the blog site, thecustomercollective.com broke news of a scandal involving Kohl’s company and agency staff and their recent activity on the Kohl’s Facebook Fan Page. Apparently both the VP Marketing for Kohl’s and the a Group Director from McCann Erickson Advertising were masquerading as helpful consumers and sharing stories on how much money they had saved while shopping at Kohl’s. (Both agency and client staff are able to participate in the Facebook discussions, as long as they disclose their close relationship with the company)
This is by no means the first instance of this happening. I am certain that you will all remember back to 2007 and the widely publicized news story that was covered on national media. The CEO of Whole Foods was embarrassed when caught praising his own company and bad mouthing his competitors, using an anonymous alter ego on the finance boards. Not even a year later Burger King was publically humiliated for their mis-use of social media.
This is a lesson to both agencies and clients alike. Every one of your actions across the full spectrum of social media must be completely transparent at all times. Failure to adhere to this the most important tenant of social networking can result in serious, costly and embarrassing consequences.