Ethics in PR Measurement

Shonali BurkeI took part in the #measurepr Twitter chat today on ethics in measurement. These chats are organised by Shonali Burke and her blog post "Influence: From BS to Best Practice" set the scene nicely.

At the most fundamental level, we were asking whether some of the techniques being deployed for PR measurement are compatible with the aspiration of public relations professionals to be transparent and authentic, and, more precisely, whether they are compatible with codes of conduct as published by the likes of the CIPR, PRSA and CPRS.

In one of my tweets I suggested a more straight forward test, what one might describe as a layman's test for those of us uneducated in the matters of ethics:

RT @kseniacoffman: Q2: Where do you go for best practices? <-- Ask your mum, siblings, neighbours what's acceptable to them!? #measurepr

At Shonali's invitation, I contributed the three questions posed today...


  1. Does PR's use of social analytics need a good reputation itself? If so, what might this entail?
  2. How aware do we think our stakeholders are about the monitoring and analytical capabilities at our fingertips?
  3. Would something like Mozilla's Privacy Icon project help us and our stakeholders be clear about what's acceptable behaviour?

Rather than explain here some of the behaviour that appears to be, in my opinion, bordering on the unethical, I'll point you instead to a fascinating series started at the Wall Street Journal, "The Web's New Goldmine: Your Secrets", which does a much more thorough job of it. You may also like to read my previous post "My browser history is my own, so back off with your unethical social media metrics".

Training and extending the codes of conduct

I felt that the topic today was lost on one or two participants (or perhaps simply uninteresting?), and when you think that those taking part in Twitter chats like these are amongst the early majority, that's cause for concern. The simple fact is, the vast majority of PR practitioners have next to no idea how the Internet or the Web function (yes, they are different), and therefore have equally little comprehension of how the social monitoring and analytics services they are being sold may compromise their reputation amongst consumers and all stakeholders when, inevitably, the digital shit hits the digital fan.

However, ignorance is no excuse. Another of my tweets today:

Now is the time to get our house in order. Would you like your organisation to be defending, apologising or leading? #measurepr

So we need training. The CIPR Social Summer has started to scratch the surface in the UK, and I know the CIPR is keen to build on this mini-success. And as the lead on the CIPR's social measurement group, I'm keen to ensure our group defines acceptable and unacceptable practice, and of course we are equally keen to align our thinking with the PRSA, CPRS, IPR, IAB and similar institutions and societies.

For now, I'll quote two more of my tweets from today's Twitter chat:

What about setting some principles here... the first principles following the Barcelona Principles? #measurepr


Howsabout "Be Open And Ask Nicely"? Surely that's a good principle for PR cookie based analytics #measurepr

In the meantime

If, as a consumer, as a Web user, you are concerned that your fellow marketers are not being transparent and authentic with you; if you think they're trying to log everything you do and everywhere you go (and they are); then you need to research how to improve your browser privacy settings.

These are, however, unlikely to keep every attempt at bay. Code-geeks, disconnected from the ethics and codes of conduct that might be of concern to those of us in the reputation management profession, have already designed software to reinstate those cookies you delete as quickly as you can delete them. Gawd bless'em and all those PR professionals who avoid asking hard questions.

I'll leave you then with links to Beef Taco and Taco, two Firefox extensions designed to fend off advertising cookies.

I feel this debate is just starting.

10 thoughts on “Ethics in PR Measurement

  1. What a great recap, Philip, and thank you again for making the time to do the chat and the three great questions you posited.

    I too felt that the chat was lost on some. There is a huge educational opportunity here and I'll be looking forward to more from CIPR and its ilk.

    After we finished "chatting," I went back to the Taco extension you mentioned, and came across Beef Taco as well. Great stuff.

    There is so much for us to learn, and I count myself in that group. Thank you very much for sharing your smarts with us and I look forward to more discussion.

  2. Great wrap-up, Phillip - I really enjoyed participating in the conversation today.

    What I really took away from today is that education will be an integral part of every step of the process: from PR teaching C-Suite about opportunity and analytics available; to the type of standards we want everyone to be held accountable to.

    It's a new terrain, but one I think many can learn from (including myself.) It's up to us to educate, not wait for people to ask questions.

    Lauren Fernandez, Radian6

  3. I'm so disappointed I missed this chat! I know I ran into Shonali one time before when she first had the chat and I really do need to get back. Thanks for the resume and explanation, though, Philip. For anyone measuring social media there are ethical questions to be asked, and I do always like how you phrase your writing :D

    Michelle @Synthesio

  4. Hi Philip - good to know that #measurepr chats are a regular occurence. I'll try to tune in in future and look out for future seminars/workshops springing from the social measurement group. In the meantime, your recap is really handy - thank you. Do you happen to know of any anti-cookie extensions for Google Chrome? If not, I might have to switch back to Firefox. Thanks again.

  5. Shonali, Beef TACO is a fork of TACO with slightly different (non-commercial) motivations.

    Lauren, Michelle, it's encouraging to have your contributions, representing analytics vendors as you do. I hold fast on the assertion I made in my ebook of 2008 that analytics is a good thing for all stakeholders, but I guess I'd start caveating that slightly subject to openness, disclosure and adherence to ethical codes of conduct.

    Marcie, developers have been unable to create a TACO for Chrome as Google had not made an API available to Chrome's cookie management. This has changed in the last few months ( if you're interested!), but we still await use of this API in the TACO style by the development community.

  6. As someone incredibly interested in the ethical issues of online marketing I am quite shocked that I had not, as of yet, given much consideration to the use of analytics and the ethical implications of such. Thanks very much for this summary, I look forward to participating in the discussion.

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