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.