28 July 2009

Umm.... WOMMA? It's Not About You.

So four bloggers got together to start an awareness campaign they called Blog With Integrity. Basically they saw members of their own community doing things they thought compromised their community -things like plagiarizing content, failing to disclose financial relationships, and not treating others with respect. The discussion has been all over the mom-o-sphere.

They decided to build a website that had a badge you could take that basically tells readers "I try not to do any of those things."

That's it.

After all, it's not like they're the social media police. They certainly can't enforce some code of conduct. They figure - and I agree - that people who steal ideas, hide their financial interests, or treat others poorly will eventually be exposed. The badge is basically a reminder that bad behavior affects everyone, and there are people in the community who try to do the right thing.

It's not like you need a badge on your blog to have integrity, and it's not like having the badge proves you're ethical. But it's a nice idea. Further, most communications professionals - you know, the superheroes of marketing and PR and whatnot - will tell you that the best awareness campaigns are simple in delivery and scope, and make it easy for people to participate. So not surprisingly, the campaign gets noticed.

But then I see this post from the official blog of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) that seems just a leeeeeetle beet condescending and maybe a tad defensive:
I applaud the BLOGGING WITH INTEGRITY initiative. Love the grassroots nature. And love the passion behind the program. I just believe it could use a little more bite to better clarify acceptable behavior such as WOMMA provides.
OK, four things.

First, these four bloggers never claimed to speak for the entire community of online moms. They don't believe they have the market cornered on what's acceptable behavior.

Second, this isn't about what WOMMA thinks is or isn't acceptable behavior. They're parent bloggers. WOMMA is a group of marketers. It's a different community.

Third, the WOMMA code has some flaws. For some reason, WOMMA seems to believe that the only people in online marketing communications who shouldn't be paid cash for their time and effort are the bloggers - you know, the people who have worked for a while to make their online properties so influential that marketers would solicit them in the first place. Last time I checked, asking someone to work for free didn't fit the definition of "ethical."

Finally, it's the use of the word "bite." From which I infer WOMMA asserts its code has "teeth." WOMMA's code sure has a lot of words, but it doesn't have "teeth."

So how exactly does WOMMA enforce its very detailed and specific code? How do trade associations or whatever this group is actually require anything of its members? Or do they just assume that people who write a dues check agree to adhere to this code?

WOMMA member companies have most certainly engaged in behavior that runs counter to this code. Does WOMMA put them on probation or something? Do they expell the company? Do they write a statement of censure? Do they fine them? Do they put the company in time out?

Or do they allow the offending company to use WOMMA's "brand" for PR cover when the company gets caught?

OK, I know I'm being unfair to WOMMA. There are some good people working in marketing that I'm sure get something valuable from their participation there.

But let's get real about ethics. Let's not even BEGIN to suggest that a code with uber-specifics but no real enforcement mechanism is any better than a badge that simply says do the right thing. Let's not try to imply superiority over a legitimate grassroots campaign with a "bless your little heart" and a "maybe someday you'll be as specific as we will."

And seriously, WOMMA folks, it's just not about you. WOMMA members may get to decide which bloggers they'll work with, but WOMMA doesn't get to decide what behavior from bloggers is ethical and what isn't. Let the online mom community sort out what's best for the online mom community.


Mom101 said...

Thank you for this David. That's a really interesting perspective.

I was at first honored that WOMMA reached out to us by email and would be happy to see if we have some common goals. But the post also struck me as condescending and even opportunistic.

I suppose I can't blame an organization that's all about Word of Mouth to try and generate some themselves.

Julie @ The Mom Slant said...

David, thank you. You've reiterated our intent - both in forming Blog With Integrity and creating the pledge and badge - very well.

The discussion may have originated in the momosphere, but by no means is Blog With Integrity applicable only to parenting bloggers, nor is it confined to the interactions between bloggers and PR/marketing. It's about doing the right thing, regardless of who we work with or what we write about.

David said...

Thanks to both of you for starting it. I appreciate that this campaign is for everyone, and WOMMA certainly has the right to provide its opinion - and I'm no saint either. But it just struck me as apples & oranges, you know?

john moore (from WOMMA) said...

Ethics in word-of-mouth online and offline is something WOMMA deeply cares about. Honesty of relationship, opinion, and identity is paramount to word-of-mouth retaining its credibility. We believe our code of ethics offers a thorough guidance on do’s and don’ts.

However, as Susan points out in her comments to my post, the BLOGGING WITH INTEGRITY code is less about marketing. Agreed. Understood. I've pledged by it.

David, I didn’t mean to come across condescending. Not at all. (That ain’t my style. That ain’t WOMMA’s style.) Your points are well stated.

FYI … WOMMA enforces its code with member companies through a review process. (You can learn more here: http://womma.org/ethics/disciplinary/.) And yes, some companies have been reprimanded.

Cristie said...

As usual, I'm here learning from you.I'm so new at this game, that I'm always wide-eyed at all that is going on in the world of mom/women blogging. This visit though, I also want to thank you for the last two posts so eloquently and intelligently standing up for women and women bloggers who are doing it right. As always, I am better for having stopped by.
Oh and I don't have skype yet, but if it's for another cool idea like last time I'm all for getting it.

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