How to Manage Social Media Ethically

Navigating the minefield of social media can be difficult if you have no background in communication.  Many SME’s find themselves managing their own social media accounts for their business, and often interns are given a list of passwords and left to fend for themselves.

Knowing how to handle social media effectively on behalf of your organisation or client comes from having the experience of knowing your industry and being clear about your target audience. Especially when replying to your customers in the public sphere.

This week I’ve reached out to existing PR practitioners and social media managers to pull together some advice on how best to approach some of the ethical dilemmas you might face when managing a company’s social media. Their answers address topics ranging from paid influencer relations to implementing a social media policy in your organisation.




Laura Sutherland, FCIPR and founder of Aura PR, wrote the social media skills guide for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Ethics Fest. She said:


“So many people don’t understand where the line is between earned media and something they have to pay for. It’s becoming the case where even groundbreaking stories are being looked over in favour of editorial sent directly from organisations who advertise with the outlet, particularly in trade and specialist media. To remain ethical, there needs to be full representation so that the reader knows that the story has been paid for.

“It’s the same with social media. Users often aren’t aware that blog posts or updates have been paid for. Ethically we need to make sure that the influencer in question is aware of the need to state that money has exchanged hands. If you’re paying for content they could say anything you ask them to and consumers have a right to know.

“One of the major issues we have in PR is the upskilling of practitioners and a lack of understanding of continuous professional development (CPD). In an industry that has modernised and adapted quickly, anyone managing social media needs to be aware of the legal and ethically implications of not correctly labelling posts.”

I had a very productive conversation with Laura, and she raised some very interesting points about the need for better understanding of CPD with PR and social media managers.  Whether you’re a PR practitioner, or managing your own social media for your business, it’s essential that you stay up to date on the latest trends and legislation to ensure that you’re being effective and remaining compliant.




Anne-Marie Lacey, PR and Communications Director at Filament PR  and Academic Tutor at the University of Sunderland, said:


“When you encounter a complaint on social media, try to take the conversation offline.  When responding, acknowledge the person’s grievance and ask them to send you a private message with more detail, making it clear that you’re willing to help.

“Then, when the person contacts you away from the public-eye, deal with the complaint appropriately and in line with company policy, leaving the person with a positive experience of dealing with the brand you’re representing.

“And remember, never delete a negative comment (unless it could cause offense to others). Rather, make it clear for the rest of the world to see that you’re listening to your audience online and are responsive to their feedback.”

I had the pleasure of taking Anne-Marie’s social media module as part of my Masters degree, and I have to say that I haven’t spoken anyone as knowledgable on the topic. Being  transparent in your communication on social media platforms is essential when acting ethically online. Taking complaints into a private conversation and out of the public eye is the best way to address concerns without ignoring negative comments.




Bo Breuklander, Social Media Community Manager  at Sterling Payment, said:


“Unfortunately, crises happen. Even if the culprit is an outsider to the organization, the way the organization responds or doesn’t respond can greatly impact the bottom line. Social media is usually where a public crisis is discovered.

“Anyone working with an organization’s social media must routinely update its social media policy. If the company doesn’t have a policy, create one. This won’t solve all the problems but having one will protect employees, the company, and any corporate social responsibility efforts. The policy should outline how the company responds to everything from removable SPAM to threats.”

Bo raises some excellent points here. Managing social media isn’t just about interacting with your customers, it’s also about employees. If you’re part of a larger organisation there may be more than one person managing the social media accounts, especially if you have more than one location.  Putting a social media policy in place means that your interactions will be consistent and on brand if a crisis should occur.




Megan Topham (email), PR and Social Account Executive at Agency TK (Turn Key), gave a threefold answer to my question. She said:


“Product or Franchisee Bias: If you have the responsibility of managing a social account that holds more franchises or products, it is highly recommended you remain unbiased to all and equally favour/mention them. Equally, this applies to B2C supplier brands in terms of favouring their stockists.

“Repurposing Content: A common technique to drive morale and engagement on social media (especially for B2C clients) is to repurpose user-generated content. This in itself is a best practice, as it shows you’re interested in what the consumer has to say about you on social media, but the most important point to consider is to favourably mention and tag them in your post.

“The fight between the public domain of Instagram and user consideration: It is a known fact that when you first sign up to use Instagram, you agree that all images and videos you upload are classed as being on the public domain and therefore open to re-use by the public. From a business point of view, these rules do still apply but you must take into consideration your wider audience vs. their personal audience when re-using someone else’s (maybe) personal images. Leaving a comment such as this on said post: “We love your post! Are we able to post this on ours for our awareness campaign?!” to ask for permission is not only courteous, it’s ethical.”

Megan’s main theme here is courtesy. If you’re using someone else’s content, whether it is comments, blog posts or images, they have a right to know. Ethically speaking, approaching a user to get their permission prior to re-publishing their content is best practice, but as a last resort you should always be tagging them.

I’d like to take this moment to say a special thank you to everyone who offered their comments as part of this blog post. If you have any advice for social media managers on ethical practice feel free to comment.

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