I was psyched to see @jrick (social media consultant Jonathan Rick) @message the NMSosphere earlier this week and praise our practice of publishing and making both transparent and public all of our employees tweets (both personal and professional) on our NMS Twitter Directory.
Originally inspired by the Zappos Twitter site, we are proud to be the first social media agency — in the spirit of transparency – to not only have "team tweets" aggregated under one roof and spotlighting our thoughts, client projects and industry links, but also have great sorting features based on name, username, followers and listed (we even have a special page for our pics, too).
I was even more pleased that Jon hashtagged his shout-out to us (and @AdFero) with #transparency, #trust, because as a company we aim to operate with transparency (we share all of our financials with our employees, we have all of our employees publicly facing and accessible on our website, we publish our Ethics and Standards on our website and include it our contracts with clients, etc.) and in doing so, I hope we have built up a large reservoir of trust – from our employees, from our clients, in the social media community, in the media and well beyond. #Transparency, #Trust — I couldn’t think of a more gratifying way for someone to tag our company and our practices.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been interviewed by Mike Rosenwald of The Washington Post (our hometown paper) who is working on a story on the industry of social media marketing. We are proud of what we do, how we do it, of our employees and of our office space (they had a photog come by our shop) so we welcomed Mike in, gave him an extensive on the record interview, had him tour our space and meet some of our employees so he could get a better feel for the day-to-days of working in social media.
In his follow up to our interview, Mike asked me what our policy was on Twitter and I told him that it was the same as all of the other ways we engage in social media — transparent, honest, value adding — and that our employees and the bloggers we partner with are both encouraged and expected to follow not only NMS Ethics and Standards, but those of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and, of course, the Federal Trade Commission. He then said that he had been looking through our tweets on the NMS Twitter Directory and identified a handful of examples (he showed three to me but our team found a couple more) of NMS employees re-tweeting client tweets — some using the new automatic re-tweet function and some traditional cut and paste re-tweets, where there wasn’t a hash tag or mention of client disclosure. And upon review, he was right.
So, I went from being very psyched and pleased (as I mentioned above) to not being pleased. AT. ALL. For this I take and we take full responsibility for any failures on our behalf. So owning up — if we have all of these great policies of transparency, ethics and standards that we are so proud of and we embrace and adhere to industry and FTC guidelines, how did this happen? We believe that this was due to both human error and failings by our team and a recent change by Twitter on automatic re-tweets that do not allow for edits on original tweets (thus no ability to add a necessary hash tag or disclaimer) which didn’t line up with our company policy.
We reached out to the folks at WOMMA, where we are a member, and were informed that dealing with the subject of client “re-tweets” was an area that they hadn’t as an organization fully addressed, largely due to the recent changes in technology. We have asked for their guidance on this area and also offered our assistance (something we’ve done before, as we are currently working with WOMMA on developing guidelines and best practices on Wikipedia) as they explore this new turf. This can be the impact of using rapidly changing technology in an ever changing and fast paced industry.
That said, we can’t allow constant innovation to be an excuse for diverting from our guidelines. We need to do better. So, controlling what we can control, internally at NMS we have asked all of our employees to take two key steps:
1) Cease using the automatic re-tweet function for client tweets and to make sure that they cut and paste their re-tweets so that they can add disclosure, which means…
2) Always including the hashtag #client for any tweets or re-tweets involving marketing on behalf of our clients.
By the count of our Twitter Directory, NMS employees have tweeted 150,000+ times both personally and professionally over the past year. Based on what Mike found and what our team has found, out of that 150,000 tweets, we have failed to disclose a client 0.0068% of the time which is a little over a half of a hundredth of a percent, but it’s a half of a hundredth of a percent too much and that’s simply not good enough.
Additionally, Mike brought to our attention a blogger that reviewed a product for one of our clients that had failed to disclose that they received a gift code and coupon that they gave away to their readers. In keeping with our company policy, WOMMA guidelines, and FTC guidelines, we require all of our blogging partners to disclose that they are working with us and / or our clients when they participate in reviews, contests and giveaways. We even shared the email template with the reporter that clearly stated our expectation of disclosure in this particular case. That said, a failure with a blogging partner occurred on our watch, with our client and that is unacceptable. We have asked that blogger to disclose the relationship — and internally at NMS are taking measure to ensure that even after we ask and require disclosure on behalf of our blogging partners that we audit the results post-placement so that we can be sure of 100% compliance on their behalf.
#Transparency, #Trust. If we weren’t committed to being transparent in our practices in having our open and public Twitter Directory and if we weren’t transparent and open in our operations in letting a journalist in “under the hood” and guiding him through our promotional work, we probably (and others probably) wouldn’t have been made aware of these mistakes and our shortcomings. But, we are transparent and we TRUST the marketplace, in this case the watchful eyes of another on our open feed have pointed out things that — while painful now — will ultimately make us better at what we do and a more successful company. #Transparency, #Trust — we clearly aren’t perfect, but that is what we aspire to.
I’d be interested in your thoughts, comments or things we can do better. NMS and/or social media lovers, haters, clients, competitors, skeptics, or observers of the industry, please feel free to comment here or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or also @ message me on twitter @petesnyder. Looking forward to it.