Internet marketing has an uphill battle to fight if it's ever going to shed the negative side of its wild west culture.
We've all seen sales letters packed with fake "proof of income" screenshots, false claims, false scarcity, fake testimonials...you get the idea.
It seems like half the products in the internet marketing market (if not more) claim to reveal some "loophole" you can exploit to suck traffic or money out of somebody. As long as you can, the question of whether you should never even comes up.
And the kind of person who's attracted to internet marketing is often the kind of person who's going to be willing to try a wide variety of things to make money. I'm not saying it's an unethical group -- just that if they don't stop to think about the ethical issues, they may follow the wrong guides without noticing where they're being led.
One of the problems I see is that new entrants into the market tend to get their first lessons in ethics from the info products and examples of people who are pushing the boundaries.
Some have crossed the line. Others are close to it. And far too few bother to talk about it.
There does seem to be a growing backlash against unethical practices. Yesterday, Andrew Hansen wrote:
I’ve been using this phrase for a while now, saying that a “wave of resistance” is growing toward crappy offers, lying and deception in the online marketing space.
Particularly in this last couple of weeks, things have really exploded. Those two products, the stripper launch, and the “get free FB ads” scam, have really sparked widespread rage, where people are coming out of the wood works all over the place... people I’ve never heard of before... and ranting their disgust at what’s going on.
That's encouraging. But will it be enough? A while back, I asked:
Can we only ever hope to influence those in our own small spheres of influence? Or can honest marketers join together and create a group whose voice is loud enough to dominate — to become the first place newbies go to get their ethical orientation?
I think that some sort of Code of Ethics could be useful. Of course, one challenge with something like that is that not everybody agrees (legitimately, I believe), exactly where the lines should be drawn. If the Code is too strict for some, it could lose their support.
So I think there needs to be flexibility for marketers to throw their weight behind different variants of a Code of Ethics. We're better off all pushing in generally the same direction than not pushing at all.
The other thing that occurs to me is that if we're going to reach enough of the new entrants to the market before they've accepted unethical practices, a large number of us need to feature statements on ethics prominently in any training we offer.
Even if half the teachers in internet marketing created an association to promote ethics, and even if they all linked to it, there's no guarantee that anyone would notice and bother to follow those links. What's the killer call to action that's going to make people want to go to a site to learn about ethics?
Clear statements on ethics need to be part of our content, placed where newbies will read them so that they can start their journey with a clear picture of what's going on.
- They need to know that they're entering a market where lots of what's common practice is ethically questionable at best.
- They need to know what some of those unethical practices are, and what they should be doing instead. (This topic has been addressed in depth, but we also need statements that are concise enough to be widely read without wearing too thin on details.)
- They need to have a clear idea of how to assess the ethics of any particular practice. The outlaws are always going to be finding innovative new loopholes that aren't covered our Codes of Ethics.
- And they need to know that if they want to be ethical, they're not alone. They're not going to get railroaded by people who will happily railroad them to make a buck.
I've included statements on ethics in a few of my products in the past. I'll be adding a page on ethics here, prominently linked in my sidebar, and updating my Great Big Picture of Internet Marketing to include a page about ethics too.