How Ethical is Social Monitoring

When I was given this topic, I didn’t know where to begin or how to formulate my thoughts.  I started thinking to myself, to answer this question in full detail, there are certain terms that must be clearly defined. For example, what is social monitoring? After researching social monitoring on various search engines such as Google and Bing, I came up with my explanation of “social monitoring.” Social monitoring is when companies/organizations are able to track various conversations, pages, blogs, videos, etc whether they are positive or negative. So, my next question is why would a company invest so much time and money (if any) into monitoring what people are saying about their company or “new product” they just launched? Think about it. For example, with the new Apple Ipad that just came out today, Apple can track their target audience and find what or how people think of their new Ipad by just using the Internet so that they can improve their company to satisfy their audience and customers.

The next definition that needs to be discussed is “ethics.” What is ethics and how can it be defined?  Throughout my college career at Georgia Southern University taking communication, sociology, and public relations classes, ethics is defined in various ways. To keep it simple, according to dictionary.com being ethical is being “in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, esp. the standards of a profession.”  In other words, being ethical means being truthful and honest following morality principles in all aspects of life itself and is defined by what society says is ethical.

So is social monitoring ethical? I believe that social monitoring is ethical if it is done in an appropriate, proper, and honest manner.  In addition to surveys, companies can instantaneously search what Internet users are commenting about whether those comments are positive or negative. Today, most companies big and small are utilizing the Internet such as by being on Twitter, creating Facebook ads and fan pages. Thus, if companies are taking time to use social media sites to market their product or themselves, why can’t they monitor what people are saying about them on various social media sites?

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3 Responses to “How Ethical is Social Monitoring”

  1. sweetser Says:

    Nice post.

    Social media monitoring is no different than what practitioners have been doing for decades – basic media assessment and monitoring. If you’ve ever had to “do clips” during an internship you are doing the first step of monitoring (that being collection). Obviously more detailed monitoring programs do more than just collect: they analyze those clips with a standard set of variables using the practical application of content analysis.

    I think the big thing when it comes to ethics is to look for what the various ethical guides out there say — PRSA has a code, WOMMA has a great code, and of course the FTC just came up with guidelines specific to social media. The key application here is that the content that is monitored is ALL PUBLICLY POSTED content — not something where an organization is hiding who they are through the monitoring process. They are just looking at what is already out there.

    Considering that monitoring can help companies prevent crises and manage issues, I think monitoring remains an important aspect of the practice. With the rise of social media, I think it is all the more so important to add social conversations to the list of content monitored.

    Thanks again for starting the conversation.

    — Dr. Kaye Sweetser, University of Georgia

    • Lauren Hopkins Says:

      Thank you so smuch for your interest in this topic! I think that companies can use social monitoring for crises and prevent issues, like you said by looking at various ethical codes and guidelines. If social monitoring is used in an appropriate, ethical manner, then I don’t see anything wrong with it if companies and organizations are using various Internet social media sites already.

      • Meghan Says:

        I agree with you that if social media monitoring is used in an ethical way then there is nothing wrong with it and it could actually be used in a beneficial way to a lot of companies and organizations. It can also be helpful to the consumer. When looking up information about a product you’re going to buy, your most likely going to take consumer advice and ratings over corporate.

        Thanks for the definition. I couldn’t find one when I was researching. I think that there needs to be a scholarly accepted definition of the phrase social media monitoring.

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