Ethical Considerations on Social Media

⌛ By Kaylin R. Staten ⌛

“Why did she say that? He posted too much information about that.”

All of us have seen a post like this, whether someone delves too deeply into his or her personal life on social media or says something completely inconsiderate in a post. Some of us may have even made our own social media snafu. 

This may seem like common sense, but think before you post. Your reputation could be harmed with a single press of send or an off-the-cuff remark on someone else’s photo. When an answer isn’t cut and dry, I refer to the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics and resources page.

Social media is here to stay, no matter your opinion on it. As companies, all of us can greatly benefit from the organic and paid exposure social media grants us. Whether you’re a communicator by trade or just a social media aficionado, here are five ethical considerations you should think about before you post: 

Give proper attribution.

I notice this one a lot, especially on Instagram. Individuals and companies find a quote or photo that fits into their overall brand personality and post it on their accounts. They make sure their caption and hashtags our on point, and at first glance, it seems like an OK post. However, you should give proper credit to the image’s source. Most of the time, you will not face any controversy by not citing your sources, but it’s a best practice to always give credit to your sources.

Posting about a client on social media without disclosing your relationship.

While it could be tempting to not disclose a client relationship due to competition and other factors, the ethical thing to do is to always identify any client work. You can do this with a simple hashtag or by saying “our client…” You don’t have to get into the details of the relationship with your client. If you’re being paid (or even doing pro bono work), you need to be transparent with relationships.

Using online education to focus on products/services instead of strategies and tactics. 

This one can be a slippery slope. At Hourglass Media, the education component is always the priority. As a company, we would never offer free or paid content or education without value. If you’re a public relations professional or communicator in general, don’t be spammy with your products and services. Focus on how you will help your target publics achieve their goals and objectives by giving them valuable content. 

Posting a picture of a client’s product on Instagram or other social media platforms prior to it being released to the public.

This goes hand in hand with old-fashioned embargos. It is proper form to send information to be covered by a media outlet prior to official release, but there is always a “do not release to the public yet” disclaimer. When you post something before it’s set to be released, that contradicts the overall communications plan for the product or service. So much time and effort goes into the behind-the-scenes planning, and you could ruin sales and the company’s reputation if you post something that shouldn’t be released yet. Without all of the details, consumers may make preconceived notions about the product or service prior to its release -- both good and bad.

Failure to disclose compensation for social media endorsements. 

These days, it’s relatively easier to showcase paid partnerships on social media, especially on Instagram. This one is just common sense, and over the years, celebrities and other influencers have been called out for the misuse of paid endorsements on their social media accounts. Using the hashtags #ad or #paidpost will also ensure that your followers know that this is essentially product placement or another form of advertising. On the flip side, if you’re promoting a product or service just because you love and support it, you should disclose that as well. The presumption is that you’d be paid for the post, so you can say #notanad or something of the sort. The moral of the story is to be transparent and to avoid unwanted perception.

And yes, fake news by any public relations practitioner is highly unethical. 


Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin on LinkedIn.