Monday, April 18, 2011

Do Marketing Ethics and the FTC Advertising Regulations Matter in the Social Media Age?

P.T. Barnum is credited with the phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute." Social Media provides entrepreneurs so many new opportunities to expand their brand and footprint in many exciting and fun ways. However, social media also provides snake oil salesmen and others whose ethics are questionable the ability to defraud in ways not imagined until a few years ago.

After a recent speaking engagement, a lawyer approached me and said, "I think I have been duped the way Oprah was by James Frey." The lawyer told me he had bought a book on Amazon.com that had an amazing initial editorial review. For the record, the book's official editorial review states, it "is a 'must-read' for all law firms. Indeed, it should be studied avidly, not only by lawyers, but also by any professional service firm that wants to grow its business fast using Web 2.0 techniques. As a successful New York attorney turned social media guru, [name removed] deals with his subject comprehensively and with an easy authority." The author of the social media book that the lawyer bought is self described social media expert Adrian Dayton.

With the above editorial review along with Mr. Dayton's celebrity like Twitter Following to Followers ratio, the lawyer told me he believed that he was buying a book from a real social media expert. The lawyer said that he thought that anyone who had around 50,000 followers but only had to follow several thousand people in return must be an expert in teaching others how to harness the power of Twitter to build their business.

After listening to me discuss Social Media Credential Fraud, the lawyer told me he was angry at himself for blindly believing Mr. Dayton's official biography without doing any further due diligence. He stated that despite following Mr. Dayton's recommendations for the past 9 months, that tweeting will build your book of business, he doesn't have any business development progress to show for his efforts. I told the lawyer that since I have been tweeting from @bradleyshear on June 15, 2009, I have not had a single legal client contact me and say, "I love your Tweets, you're hired!" I have tweeted more than 2,000 times from @bradleyshear.

Attorney Brian Tannebaum's blog posts about Mr. Dayton on November 9, 2009, November 26, 2009, December 3, 2009, June 16, 2010, and February 9, 2011 reveal that Mr. Dayton may be embellishing his credentials and may have a problem with truth in advertising (i.e.Rule 7.1 of New York's Rules of Professional Conduct and the the FTC's Advertising Regulations). Last year, Mr. Dayton un-followed at least 47,000 people on Twitter. As of this writing, Mr. Dayton is following 7,533 people and has 41,026 followers.

If you didn't know that Mr. Dayton has already un-followed at least 47,000 people on Twitter, you may have the impression that he has an organically created rock star like Twitter Following to Followers ratio. However, the numbers don't lie. Mr. Dayton has followed at least 14,000 more people than are following him back. Having to follow at least 54,533 people in order to receive only 41,026 followers in return is not very "expert like." Mr. Dayton's Twitter activity demonstrates that he is a social media expert at one thing: following tens of thousands of people on Twitter and un-following tens of thousands of people on Twitter. That is it.

I challenge Mr. Dayton to dispute Mr. Tannebaum's and my allegations. I take great pride in being a lawyer and like thousands of other lawyers I made many sacrifices to become a lawyer. I find it offensive when a non-practicing attorney such as Mr. Dayton continues to mislead the public without any repercussions. Since first writing and speaking about Mr. Dayton's activity without naming him, I have not had a single lawyer state that Mr. Dayton's conduct is ethical or legal.

In previous blog posts, I initially did not name Mr. Dayton to provide him the opportunity to take corrective action (he started following me again on Twitter recently so I am sure he has read my April 1, 2011 and April 8, 2011 blog posts about Social Media Credential Fraud). Unfortunately, Mr. Dayton has not yet taken corrective action.

Caveat emptor when hiring "experts". Don't be a sucker. At least perform a Google search to learn more about an "expert's" credentials. Just because someone calls himself/herself an expert and has a social media profile that appears "expert like" does not make it so. As Malcolm Gladwell states, it takes at least 10,000 hours to master a craft.

To learn how to avoid violating the FTC Advertising Regulations you may contact me at http://shearlaw.com/attorney_profile.

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.