At What Point Ethics?
So my attention was called to a post by one of my favorite thinkers in this space, Olivier Blanchard (aka The Brand Builder) about a fly by night certification scam (not the first, and I’m sure not the last to sucker people in) called International Social Media Association. I won’t even try to pull the post and contents over here – it’s a goldmine of thought leadership from start to finish, in line and in comments. Go read the (long but worth it) post on ISMA for yourself, then come back – we’ll wait.
Ok, are you back? Good. This post is not about ISMA. I’ve been disgusted by the whole concept of ISMA since I read Olivier’s post and realized – I know these people. These people are in my state, messing with people that others (myself, John Herman, Christine Major, Monika and Jay McGillicuddy, and more) have worked hard to teach social media ethics based on our time in the trenches, doing the work. I’m appalled, yes, but not just at the concept of ISMA and how it takes advantage of people – I’m also rather appalled at myself. After all, the ISMAs and others like them are going to do what they do – the beauty of PodCamps and breakfasts and meetings like NHMM are that people can take what they learn and use it to make something of their own out of it – we can only hope that the knowledge is used for things that are good.
See, the more I read Olivier’s post, the more the name ISMA and the names of the founders Mark and Mari nagged at my mind. I puzzled over it for a while, but in the end I’ve been busy with several companies and events this past year and I just couldn’t place why I was getting that prickly neck feeling. Then it came to me – one or both have attended the Social Media Breakfast NH I founded over the past months. This means they’ve fully been exposed to good, “do no harm” social media practices and chose to ignore them. Then the big realization hit – at PodCamp NH we were $400 away from being fully sponsored, and I was about to pay it out of pocket (after all, it’s my event and we’d raised $5600 in a week to keep it free, I was more than happy to pony up). Then Mark came over and said he wanted to be a last minute angel sponsor. I took the check, promoted the crap out of his very generous gesture during the weekend, wondered what his organization did, and then… got busy with PodCamp NH logistics and forgot all about looking into it.
How does this pertain to ethics, you wonder? Let me tell you – this pertains to my ethics. There are a lot of people out there doing social media bad instead of social media good. It’s become a caveat emptor world full of fauxrganizations like this one. It’s up to me, and other established and practicing consultants that have been doing this for a long time, to police the scammy people in our local areas and in our national space. If I was on the ball, I would have taken a moment on one of the many laptops around at PCNH and looked up the company I was taking a check from for my event. I would not have encouraged validation by association.
To that end, in keeping with my own ethics, I think I’m about to rethink the PodCamp finance model for 2010. I’m not sure just yet what will change – I sense a team meeting coming on earlier than expected so we can decide as a group what change will look like. All I know is, from here on in, I’ll be vetting the sponsors long before the events. I’ve already turned down a few panel appearances this year because I didn’t want to validate bad information by association, I’ll have to treat the rest of what I and my team do as far as event with the same rigor.
Update, March 3, 2010:
Recently it was called to my attention that someone I really, really like was an ISMA “founding member” (ISMA term). My initial reaction was one of blunt disappointment. I try very hard to hear both sides of everything, and since this is someone I think of as a really nice person (or people, actually, it’s a two person company) to boot, I talked to them on the phone extensively about ISMA, and, more specifically since they own their own company, about why they choose to try ISMA out (as well as other teaching tools, including some of my events and Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing University, plus other tools).
I wasn’t surprised at their reason, though they were not able to change my opinion about ISMA, the organization – like I said above, the people behind it seem nice enough, I can only comment on what I think of the ISMA practices. Perhaps what I like about the person I was having the phone conversation with is reflected in how many learning experiences they tried – with so much variety it seems to have tempered the influence of one misguided group and given them a base to be a better company, and knowing their personalities, I’m not surprised they wanted as much info from as many people and organizations as possible.
So, Allen, thanks for taking the time to explain your reasoning, as a separate company from ISMA, on why you saw some value in trying their program out, and thanks for understanding that while I still have to agree to disagree on the whole ISMA concept and execution, I like the more balanced overall thing you’re doing with your company in spite of that.
[Update: ISMA has since disbanded]