Samuel Agyeman-Prempeh’s thoughts …Digital philosophy: appropriating social media ethics for personal and professional brands

Samuel Agyeman-Prempeh is a corporate trainer and professional ghost-writer assisting busy executives to write and publish their books, articles, and speeches.

The story is told of William Horman, a school principal at the Eton School in London, who released a book titled ‘Vulgaria’ – Latin for ‘everyday adages’ or ‘common sayings’. In this masterpiece he captured the phrase ‘Manners maketh man’, which among others speaks to the subject of politeness and civility.

As some would have it, there are many other writings which suggest that the phrase existed centuries earlier; but certainly, I won’t have you worry your head about that. The subject of ethics considers what is good, bad, right and wrong. This is related to etiquette, which looks at the customary code of polite or acceptable behaviour in society.

Social media looks like a no-man’s land, it almost looks like it is not governed; but if you are a regular user or now learning to adopt any digital marketing platform for your business, it will excite you to appreciate that traditional concepts of manners, ethics and etiquette have their extensions and applications online.

In digital marketing and social media there are sometimes unspoken rules which regulate perspective and thinking on how to appropriate the platforms by essentially engaging people in the right way. If someone has found offence with a message you slid into their DM or inbox, then you certainly understand what I’m driving at today; or perhaps you made a comment on a post that raised a fiery furnace on you? This material is customised for you!

Business has rules; there are many articles and books on certain dos and don’ts in business. The same way every country or locality has their own legislation, it becomes prudent for you to know what the laws of each country says so you do not offend the powers that be. While in certain countries a 16-year-old may indulge in certain practices, it takes a person of 18 in another to be permitted to do the same thing in their land. Thus, if this child of 16 migrates to the other country and does not know the governing rules, he or she may offend without even realising. This thought is equally captured in the subject of ethical relativism.

Social media and digital marketing operate with the same concept; it’s a territory on its own – you need to understand what is permitted and what is not. By doing this, you exempt yourself from any needless blunder and your stay and usage on your choice of digital platform can be seamless.

I’m attempting to let you appreciate this concept without stressing you much on the many years of insight provided by Greek historians including Socrates, Plato and Herodotus. With your kind permission, however, let’s briefly consider a few fundamentals.

In the subject of ethics there is appreciation for Meta-ethics – where ethical principles or universal truths come from; Normative ethics – which articulate good habits that we should acquire together with duties we need to follow, as well as the consequences of behaviour; Applied ethics – which is often within the parameters of rather debatable subjects, such as animal rights, homosexuality and environmental concerns.

How do all these matter to you as a business person using social media? Well, digital media is an extension of what we do; or rather, it is the same people who observe the traditional laws who have migrated to these platforms.

Therefore, a proper blend and understanding of these rather basic concepts will guide you into conducting yourself appropriately online. Whatever you engage in the digital world is taken into consideration since it is also seen as a shared community, thus making conversations or social interactions very keen.

For instance, an understanding of applied ethics will guide you in how to make comments about a particular group of people. Respect for women and children is a big thing, and so you cannot make unfounded comments about these groups online and expect advocates to speak in favour of your brand. In the same way, there are representations of special groups who may be your clients and will unfollow you if your comments seek to attack them. People have lost brand deals for their unguided posts on social media.

Articulating good habits in normative ethics and appreciating that – without asking permission – when you take a person’s item it can be considered as theft, you will certainly have respect for and therefore credit sources from which you pulled a post; and will not share a post you captured on someone’s wall as if it is yours.

You begin to appreciate that helping people within your digital community is a very important value. You don’t only think of making money off people; you become more solution-oriented. You are thus cautious of becoming aggressive in your targetted sales so you don’t become a nuisance to others. This could indicate that you should not only think about the gains, but in addition make provisions for all situations, whether good or bad, and keep your audience or customers at heart by tracking interactions and being helpful to them where the need be.

By now I’m sure you are calling yourself a philosopher, or maybe a digital philosopher. Before you graduate in this digital philosophy major, let’s touch again on Meta-ethics – where a person or business understands that digital platforms are founded on behaviour.

It becomes all important to understand the dynamics of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the other platforms. While each of these social platforms are distinct, you need to know that LinkedIn is generally more to a business audience, Instagram will thrive more on images and videos while Facebook permits you to be extra casual.

While at this, appreciate the source and ownership of these platforms; the regulators. Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have successfully acquired or had mergers of over (eighty) 80 social media connections, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

Welcome to the graduation ceremony. Our keynote address has four (4) important take homes you will like to consider:

Hashtags (#): Hashtags are critical and helpful when you use them well. When you use the right hashtags, your material pops up when people search for those hashtags. The statistics of hashtags can inform you on which one to use per post. Hashtags increase the visibility of your posts; when you use a hashtag, your post and its contents – say images or videos – are catalogued, making it accessible to prospects who have not even connected with your business before.

While, for instance, Instagram may permit you to use about 30 hashtags per post and 10 per story, minimal use tidies up your post a little. Hashtags should rather be used carefully and strategically – say, not always popular ones, although you could be sure lots of people come into contact with them. They can be chosen in such a way that they could represent the million, hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands – in that order – to be able to reach the right audience. Hashtags are the surest way to help in gaining an online presence.

Tagging and broadcasting: Tagging is a way to introduce or identify someone to a post. It notifies users that you have referred them in your post, story or status update. Tagging could be beneficial on Facebook and Instagram. When you tag someone, your post could appear on their timeline or collection. Tagging helps where users will appreciate the content made and make positive reactions, like reposting or sharing to others or to give a high reach to others.

Despite the merits, tagging should not be done to disturb your audience or be regarded as noise to users; rather, it should be done to people who will appreciate them and make useful contributions. Broadcast messages on Whatsapp help to deliver the same messages to a wide array of people. At the same time, sending frequent messages without consent of contacts can be sometimes destructive and considered as spam. The privacy of people counts in the digital world, and should be highly respected

Swag on: Don’t make your status boring, vary the things you share on it. It’s advisable not to share the same content repeatedly on your various platforms. It sucks! Don’t bore your followers and prospects, even when the intent is to communicate the same message; be creative with each post you make. Take advantage of all the relevant tools such as location, tags and others in the status or stories section to spice-up your content. You should be dynamic and updated in trying to be innovative to find new ways so as to make your digital material or content better to tailor your niche.

Dit la Verite: Talk true. The French say ‘Dit la verite’. Be authentic in your dealings online. Be truthful, don’t fake being an expert on a subject you are not. In an attempt to have an appealing bio, please do not mislead your followers by telling us what you are not. In addition, you should by no means edit pictures or videos and insert yourself in places and locations you were not. Sincerity and openness are important foundations on all social media platforms.

This does not only go for personal brands, start ups as well have our share; if you know your business does not or cannot deliver a particular service, stop going under people’s posts and inboxes when they need a vendor only for you to take the order and frustrate yourself and the person. Stay true to yourself, your brand and your business deliverables. So no, you are not yet a Doctor (PhD) of Social Media!

The writer is a corporate trainer and professional ghost-writer assisting busy executives to write and publish their books, articles and speeches. He has served as Head of Protocol at a diplomatic mission, Corporate Affairs Officer at a French multinational agribusiness and as Events and Media Correspondent for a digital ad agency. You can contact the author via: [email protected] or [email protected]

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