5 Unethical Social Media Practices All Nonprofits Should Avoid
So much bad behavior happens on social media that it may be impossible to believe that there are any ethics involved. As we know, two of the biggest hallmarks of successful fundraising are trust and transparency with your donors. The same ethical standards that you develop for interacting with your donors and constituents must carry over into social media
Social media companies are also tightening their rules about corporate and nonprofit practices on their platforms. Here are five unethical social media practices to avoid in your communication:
Engagement baiting is when your post content pushes people to vote, react, share, tag or comment with the goal of artificially inflating engagement to get better reach numbers.
Facebook is acting to deter this practice and will downrank posts that use it. Repeat offenders could see their posts demoted for 14 days. More specifically, nonprofit pages should avoid the following behaviors on Facebook:
- React baiting: Asking people to react to the post (using the “like” thumbs up, wow face, sad face, etc.).
- Comment baiting: Asking people to comment with specific answers (words, numbers, phrases or emojis).
- Share baiting: Asking people to share the post with their friends.
- Tag baiting: Asking people to tag their friends.
- Vote baiting: Asking people to vote using reactions, comments, sharing or other means of representing a vote.
This can be a fine line to skirt, because of course you want to encourage your supporters to engage with your content. The best practice is asking followers to share their unique story in the comments, rather than a standard response or tag. For example: Sarah remembers the moment she heard the words: You have breast cancer. “How would I take care of my children? Would I die?” How has breast cancer changed your life?
We’ve all seen it: The photos of emaciated children in developing countries, flies nipping at their eyes. Nonprofit organizations use this “poverty porn,” also referred to as stereotype porn, to generate donations by showing exploitative imagery. Critics of this controversial practice say it incorrectly portrays a cause reliant upon the support of donors. It perpetuates misconceptions of a culture, community or nation that do more harm than good and positions the donor as the savior while objectifying those that need help.
The problem with this tactic is that it works. Nonprofit organizations develop campaigns around “poverty porn” because they have been proven effective. The ethical dilemma is whether use of this type of imagery is worth stereotyping and possibly demeaning people to generate financial gains.
3. Co-opting Social Movements That Aren’t Related to Your Mission
From the Women’s March to Black Lives Matter, social media is the catalyst for many social justice movements. Entering the fray can be dicey for nonprofits, especially those that need to avoid taking a political stance to guard their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. But beyond taxes and politics, nonprofits should consider whether a movement really affects their mission or are they just trend surfing to build engagement or applause. Resist this temptation.
4. Not Respecting Trademarks
It’s so easy today to pull images and music from the internet to liven up our posts. But beware of using trademarked content. Even using a snippet of copyrighted music in a video can result in the post being pulled down from a platform, and repeated violations can cause your account to be suspended. If the use was inadvertent (the music was playing in the background of an interview during your charitable 5K), you may be able to successfully appeal the deletion of your post.
But appeals are a hassle, and using others’ creative content without permission is just wrong. There are plenty of free or low-cost sites on the web that offer royalty-free images and music.
5. Data Mining
Social media can be a gold mine for marketers. Social media platforms make it easy to obtain myriad users’ personal data and behaviors. To quote Voltaire or Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Your organization should have a policy on using this information that is in line with the organization’s values, existing communication policies, current laws and regulations.
Make sure your nonprofit has clear guidelines for employees who are handling sensitive constituent information. Again, trust with donors is key.
Editor's Note: This feature article was originally published in the March/April 2020 print edition of NonProfit PRO. Click here to subscribe.
Josh Hirsch is a social marketing manager at Susan G. Komen. He has worked in the nonprofit sector since 2006 with a focus on educational philanthropy for both public charter and independent private schools. He has an extensive background in social media, digital communications, and marketing along with experience in grant research and writing, individual giving, special event planning, stewardship, and cultivation of donors.
He is the membership chair for the Association of Fundraising Professionals First Coast Chapter and past-president of the Palm Beach County Chapter. Josh is also a member of the AFPeeps, the social media vanguard for the AFP International Conference and other AFP initiatives. He has spoken nationally on digital communications and has had numerous articles published in professional journals. Josh received a Master of Science in family, youth and community sciences and a Bachelor of Science in advertising from the University of Florida. He has a certificate in strategic fundraising and philanthropy from Bay Path University and is a certified social media strategist by the National Institute for Social Media.