The section Social Media of the “Federal Association of Digital Economy” (Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft - BVDW) in Germany published recently some guidelines for the respectful exposure to social media and defined a "Social Media Code of Ethics” that recommends companies when communicating with bloggers or social network users not to be offended by reviews from users or critical blog posts, and above all not to respond with legal action that would deny the constructive potential of social media.

Successful social media marketing requires instead a public, respectful dialogue between advertisers and users on an equal footing and requests from companies to accept criticisms and different views as well as above all honest responses.

BVDW’s six points offer guidance in the tension between branding and authenticity which you should keep in mind to be social media ethically correct:

  1. RESPECT: We respect our users and their opinions and pay attention to a respectful exposure to players among themselves.
  2. OBJECTIVITY: We welcome relevant content and objective criticism.
  3. ACCESSIBILITY: We respond quickly and appropriately to direct questions, suggestions and criticism.
  4. CREDIBILITY: We stand with our public statements and opinions in all conscience for transparency and credibility.
  5. HONESTY: We deal with errors openly and do not conceal them.
  6. LEGAL: We respect the rights of our users as well as the rights of uninvolved third parties, in particular copyrights, privacy rights and data protection.

The social web has changed the rules of Internet communication as users are no longer mere recipients of messages, but can publish content themselves. So be cautious: a dialogue between companies and Internet users on an equal footing is required. And stay away from warnings or threats when getting criticized as you will only achieve a negative effect. It can even lead under public pressure to long-term downturn of the image of your brand or company.

Get familiar with social media as it is definitely here to stay for a while and it is something that should be considered for any online marketing strategy. As human beings, we are a social bunch and love to talk to each other. Why should that be any different online? With over 1 billion internet users around the world, there is a huge potential for new business opportunities you can tap into.

An often overlooked advantage of social networking is that it can replace personal email as a communication tool. Haven’t you thought about this? Completely permission-based, no spam (yet), and no address book required as your friends are already there!

Fact is that with the growing significance of social networks, businesses will steadily invest more in community building as a marketing driver. According to the recent "Tribalization of Business" study released by Deloitte, 94 percent of businesses will continue or increase their investment in online communities and social media in the next years.

So keep in mind to be open for dialogue and interaction, partnering and participation, transparency and truthfulness, creativity and speed as well as contribution and desire to help to gain momentum in your social media initiative

By Daniela La Marca