Socially evil

I had chat with a friend of mine who works in the social media space. We discussed the relative moral merits of a large FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brand. In a normal PR agency there are certain moral questions. For instance, does the leadership of the firm want to work with dubious governments? Should they work for tabacco companies, or promote food products that cause obesity? Does the companies business practices involve undue exploitation of the environment, their workforce and other stakeholders; or skate close to the letter of the law and infringe its spirit?

The reason for this soul-searching would be to ensure that they could staff the account. PROs have to deal with a lot already, they usually don’t want to sully their CVs with pariah brands. On the other hand the agency also needs to balance this with the moral reality that more boxes that can be ticked on the above lists of questions, the greater the potential revenue in terms of messaging and reputation management.

The environment is area that is particularly hard to measure how evil a company is. Use of bio-plastics could be driving up the price of food, bio-fuels may have an adverse impact on CO2 emissions. A green car may still have a higher lifetime carbon footprint than a 20-year old Land Rover due to manufacturing processes and shipping the vehicle half-way around the world. Recycling programmes may encourage unsafe processing of toxic waste in third party countries. Green pressure groups can make any company sound like they are hell-bent on the destruction of the earth if it fits in with their quarterly campaigning plans.

With social media things get more complex, the higher the evil quotient of a prospective client the harder it is to do successful social media campaigns, Edelman’s pioneering work with Walmart is a case in point. You attract determined well-resourced badvocates. If you look at Phorm; an internet advertising company that attracted concerns for consumer privacy, you can see how a well-resourced group formed from individuals and planned their actions via internet forums.

Having a badly behaved client ties you down, actually restricts their revenue potential and takes your reputation and brand down with them. Social media means that organisations have to look up and down their own stakeholder relationships and do an ‘evil audit’ to prepare for any ‘blow-back’ that may come along from badvocates. This definition of organisation doesn’t only mean prospective clients but their social media agencies too. Being known as a social media agency that will accept toxic brands is not a good place to be; you will be judged by the friends you keep.

3 Replies to “Socially evil”

  1. It is sure that we all want to work with the nice guys, but during an economic downturn that is going to be different. As a professional I would like to work only with green brands, so I do hope that the recession is not going to dwarf all the good resolutions taken by our governments, people and so many companies.

  2. In the Phorm/Webwise case it is a set of “Individuals” the number of which is growing as the Web Users involved realize what has/is interfering with their Personal & Private Communications!

  3. In your comment you claim: “If you look at Phorm; an internet advertising company that attracted concerns for consumer privacy, …” you are missing one of the main points of concern about Phorm and that is copyright infringement.

    Every ad network out there should be joining in to campaign against this parasite. Why a parasite? Because Phorm sell to the ISP data-mining equipment which does see the whole of the internet. Everything that any ad network collects about behaviour on the internet through its scripts is also collected by the Phorm scripts. Phorm makes a mirror of the data stream: every search term, every URL, every cookie, every web page, everything is mirrored before the Phorm script performs its data-mining.

    Phorm are data-mining the intellectual property of anyone who transmits data and content over the internet. Look at the problem Gator had with copyright infringement when it was only putting pop-ups over sites without permission. (search for: gator sued virginia copyright). Now that Phorm are taking a mirror copy of web content and using that to determine what ads to display, is copyright going to be less of an issue?

    How do websites and ad networks feel knowing that their content is being used by Phorm to display someone else’s advert?

    Follow the link in the signature to meet the campaigners for both privacy AND copyright protection. Internet communications should be private and wiretaps should not be being used for commercial advantage.

    Anyone who is associated with a data-miner like Phorm really does need to weigh up the cost.

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