Do We Need a Social Curation (and Promotion) Code of Ethics?

Note: Although these suggestions could be applied to all social channels, we were primarily thinking about Twitter when composing this post.

First, a little background. In early July the marketing team at HRmarketer tweeted:

“Most popular/shared #HR content this week comes from @billkutik & @govhiteditor #socialears #sociallistening”

A few days later we received a direct message via Twitter from HR technology thought leader / rock-star status influencer Bill Kutik that politely asked us to not use his name in tweets where he has nothing to do with the linked content other than the promotion of a newsletters (we chose not to share the actual tweet because it was a direct message and not publicly tweeted).

Our first reaction to this message was puzzlement. Did we do something wrong? We certainly did not intentionally use Mr. Kutik's name to promote our newsletter — but had we inadvertently done so? That would not be good! It really got us thinking.

The weekly newsletter referenced in our tweet is called HR Market Intelligence, and one of the sections lists the most widely shared HR content on social channels from the previous week. This data is reported by SocialEars HR software, which, amongst many other very cool things, tracks such content. That particular week, Mr. Kutik's article “Software Secrets from the North” received such honors.

After giving the matter a lot of thought, our conclusion was that Mr. Kutik was right. Although we never intended to use Mr. Kutik's name to promote our newsletter (the thought never entered our minds - really), we sort of did so by suggesting a relationship between the newsletter and Mr. Kutik where no such relationship exists.  We have since changed our policies so that something like this does not happen again. 

Again, this incident got us thinking. Is there a need for a social curation and promotion code of ethics? The idea of establishing a code of conduct for content aggregators received quite a bit of media attention earlier this year (inspired by Advertising Age media columnist Simon Dumenco). All the details can be found in this excellent article from The New York Times. The intro says it all:
"As words and articles became digitized over the last 15 years, they began to float, there for the plucking and replication elsewhere. Words like ‘curation’ and ‘aggregation’ became the language of the realm, sometimes used as substitutes for describing the actual creation of content. What had once been a craft was rapidly becoming a task."
The NYT article asks the question, "So where is the line between promoting the good work of others and simply lifting it?" And by the way, it goes both ways. According to an excellent blog post by GigaOM media writer Mathew Ingram, it's not just the social climbers that abuse the rules. Mainstream media outlets are also criticized for their failure to link to the SOURCES of the stories they report on.

But in a social world, the problem goes beyond "lifting" another person's content. What happens when you use a prominent social influencer's name (e.g. Twitter ID) to PROMOTE your OWN stuff? 
More often than you may think (we researched it), people use the name of a social influencer/voice to build credibility for their product/event/etc. As an example, let's say @curation_abuser tweets:

"If your not using Facebook for #recruiting candidates, you're toast. @aBigShotInfluencer"
Assume the link goes to a registration page for @curation_abuser's upcoming webinar. And also assume that the Mr. BigShotInfluencer has nothing to do with the event and never promoted it. Is it appropriate for @curation_abuser to include @aBigShotInfluencer in the tweet?  No. You may think, who cares? After all, it only makes @curation_abuser look like a jerk and less likely to be accepted into the elite influencer conversations. This may be true, but @aBigShotInfluencer has more to lose — he is an online celebrity with a brand, and his credibility is at stake.

According to John Sumser, an expert on the study of social influence and a top influencer himself
"The top of the heap and the bottom of it see things in diametrically opposed ways. Non-celebrities often want celebrity. Most celebrities feel the price is high or that they're getting gypped. I think that 'who’s on which side of the screen' dynamic plays out in every ecosystem."
So, allow us to take a stab at a social curation and promotion code of ethics for the sole purpose of creating an awareness amongst people who participate in social to think about a few things before that next tweet.
When communicating via social channels:
  1. Take the time to understand the social technology you are using. 
  2. Don't imply you know someone when you don't.
  3. Don't imply that you have a relationship with someone when you don't.
  4. Don't use someone's Twitter ID or name if there is no relationship between that person and what you are promoting. 
  5. When promoting another person's content, link to the source content. And always provide context when possible. Remember, giving credit improves the flow of ideas.
  6. Balance your self-promotion. If unsure, error on the side of giving more than you take.
It's a start. Did we miss something? We’d love to hear from you. 

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