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Ethical Internet Marketing During a Recession

A facebook discussion got me thinking about this question “Is it harder to be ethical during a Recession and does it affect the value that you offer”? – Started by Shel Horowitz.

What do you think? Me? I think the two (value & ethics) are separate questions to some degree.

Ethics is something that's at the core of my business during any point in time. I measure that by three gauges:

  1. “How would I feel if this email/video/or discussion were broadcast in front of those I love.” (This includes my kids. Does it represent me favorably?)
  2. “How would I feel to receive this message?” (Would I feel that it was beneficial or a waste of my time?)
  3. “What would I say if my mother or best friend who is in marketing were to receive this message?” (Slightly different from #1 as it's more related to the quality of the recommendation rather than the “gut” feeling of the email.)

If my gut doesn't sit right when asking myself those three questions, then I have to look at why and adjust – fast. OR if I get a queasy feeling after the fact, I need to apologize to my readers if I've made a mistake, either knowingly or unknowingly when I made it.

For instance, I've recently decided not to participate in any more time-sensitive product launches, unless the following three criteria are met:

  1. It's for someone who I know personally and respect.
  2. I have reviewed the product and find that it's useful, valuable, and quality. (Of course.)
  3. I have thoroughly reviewed the sales funnel.

I've promoted a few launches for GOOD products that I felt could really help my readers, but the sales funnels made me personally uncomfortable, so I'd rather lose money than lose my integrity. I can always make more money. πŸ˜‰

As for value vs. integrity, I think they can go together. A person with integrity would want to offer great value. However, a person can offer value but not have integrity.

Can you tell that I think with my fingers?

ok. Here's what I'm actively working on right now.

I am removing several promotions from my autoresponders that recommended the products or services of people who I have since then found to not be people who I'd have in my home or give money to, myself. Initially I based the promotions on value, but not on integrity. Or, to be more accurate, I didn't have enough information to base them upon integrity.

Now, my decisions are based upon a much stricter criteria than they were previously – only since I have a broader base to pull from now and a better feel for what people are like behind the scenes.

So, to directly answer the question, my instinct during financial stress is to be even MORE protective of my readers, because most of them have less money to invest right now, and I do not want to be responsible for leading them to spend it unwisely. In fact, I try to include a “Do not buy this if… ” disclaimer in my promos if I think a product is only right for a certain type of marketer. My readers have said “I bought this on your recommendation” and so I choose to filter a lot of junk to get them to the best stuff – and more importantly, try my best not to add to their feelings of overwhelm and confusion. Do I always succeed? Nah. I wish. But, I do make my best judgment call at the time.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please comment below.


I appreciate shares and I adore comments! Please share your thoughts.

  • Patty Gale

    I think ethics and integrity go hand in hand. It should be a ‘given’, whether in a robust economy or recession.

    Your good reputation is at stake, which once lost, is either gone forever or very difficult to get back.

  • Dan Reinhold

    What other way can there be for any (mostly)sane, self respecting person?

    Like Billy Joel sang, “You wake up with yourself.”

    Good reminder about how to think about what you do while you’re doing it. An endless stream of “Oops” emails can be less than endearing.

    The FTC’s little rule change was no cure all and doing the right thing is still in style. It just takes a little more effort for a lot more worth.

    Thank you for listening to your mother when she told you to play nice. I know because I was there and heard her say it!


    • Nicole

      It’s so weird that my IM friends know my mom. I keep forgetting that! πŸ™‚

      Weird, but good, I should say. lol.

      Thanks for your comments!

  • Lynne Lee Online Coach

    Great post and a reminder of why I’m happy to learn from you and promote what you do.

    I too am revising my auto-responders after discovering that some folk are not who they first seemed.

  • The Mom

    Thank you, my dear Nicole, for being my own personal “filter” when it comes to the stuff out there to market. I appreciate the fact that you won’t let your mother sell “crap!” Ha! You are a good daughter!

    You have introduced me to some of the most lovely, honest, and genuine people I know. And, in the world of internet marketing, well, you have to have a good “filter.”

    Thank you! kiss kiss

    Regarding recession versus “normal” times… it is far worse to get crappy merchandise during a recession. Good value for their money is what consumers are all about during hard financial times.

    So, yes, it’s unethical, even immoral, to sell a crappy piece of merchandise during a recession even if it makes you a fortune. πŸ˜€

  • Kimmoy

    This is the very reason why I unsubscribe from a LOT of newsletters, they’re always filled with new promotions and not really about helping me implement or use the “tips” and “info” they have to share. I hope that everyone will realize that ethics and integrity is important during a recession and any other economical time. Thanks for starting the conversation Nicole & purging those that are not aligned with who you are πŸ™‚

  • Garrett Bender

    I think that is very nobel of you to protect your readers and be selective and ethical on what you write about. It is a tough time for everyone and I think if ethics were a stronger drive in people we would live in a better society.

  • jj-momscashblog

    Hi Nicole, Very interesting and enlightening conversation that you have going here. I don’t think I ever really thought about products versus ethics. Don’t get me wrong I hold myself to a high standard of being ethical and decent whether in business or in my life. I tend to give people too much of a chance to mess up, I believe in what they are saying, selling or teaching and end up with nothing for what I paid for. During these hard times it’s even more important to hold people who are selling their wares on the internet to this higher standard. I guess I shouldn’t say just internet either, there are people/ contractors out there who are preying on the elderly right now in my state,a contractor told an elderly woman that she needed a new roof and needed the full amount down,needless to say the contractor ran off with the money and left the elderly woman without a roof! Now more than ever people have to make sure that we do the right thing whether with our online business or in life itself. Thanks so much for the honestly that you show, in saying you wouldn’t sell something that didn’t hold up to your standards. jj

  • Garry Woods

    Dear Nicole,
    Thanks again for great post, and because of some much nonsence is coming from all the big guru’s out there I have just completly reformatted my hard drive and taken every thing off it, allI have now is a couple of people whom I know I can trust to feed me the right info, here those people are Nicole, you number 1. Mark Austin is number 2 Travis Sago number 3. and will put others on as they Prove themselves to me.

    Regards Garry Woods.

  • Melanie Kissell

    My hat goes off to you, Nicole, for simply bringing this issue into the spotlight. And I love (and agree) with your remark, “I’d rather lose money than lose my integrity.”

    I think we’re all wisely taking the time to more carefully and closely scrutinize every single thing that comes into our mailboxes. I just wrote a blog post this week entitled, “Are You Getting Meat and Potatoes in Your Inbox?”

    Sounds like we’re both in an “unsubscribe” mode lately … and for darn good reason!

  • Chrissy

    I too love this remark…β€œI’d rather lose money than lose my integrity.” It is a simple statement that rings so true and should!

  • Deborah Richmond

    Integrity has nothing to do with recessions. We should operate under high standards at all times, even if it means we make less money or no money.

    The questions you list to ask ourselves are good ones.

    • Nicole

      Hey Deborah,

      I agree. Highest standards every single day.

      My main question was that, when business owners feel the pinch – they may choose money over integrity. And, that’s it’s not wise for many reasons, as you’ve stated. Not only is it a bad personal move, but it’s not good for long-term business either.

      Appreciate your comments and those of the commenters above, as well!

  • Oleg Moskalensky

    Interesting article, although philosophically one could argue where the line gets drawn. Your own profile states on Twitter “don’t miss out – grab my RSS”, which could be considered as a tactic to sell, since the implication is that one would miss out if they didn’t subscribe, so clearly you’re trying to be persuasive here. And in sales being persuasive is certainly important… however, if you keep psychoanalyzing it – you’re making people assume that they’ll be missing something if they didn’t subscribe. You don’t know that for a fact, since you don’t know who’s reading this, but the assumption or presumption is made nevertheless.

    I’m not trying to critique you in any way, Nicole, in fact I like your blog and like your ethic-driven approach, but the point I was trying to make is that there’s a fine line between what’s ethical and what isn’t, that line is further thinned by various people having various levels of ethics and morals, which themselves (the ethics/morals) could be debated as such and thus this is a very difficult subject, if you truly want to examine it and I don’t believe everyone would be able to agree on 100%.

    Clearly most sane people understand the difference between wrong & right, yet there are still those who follow hitler’s & lenin’s teachings, even after seeing the horrific effects of their propaganda.

    In the end – I hope everyone would subscribe to your direction in conducting business, I’m a firm believer in ethics and certainly do my best to stick to those, but just wanted to bring up the fact that it’s not as simple as asking a few questions… if you were going to delve deeply into the subject.

    The best of luck to you and your readers (and for the record, I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed… as should everyone who reads this post πŸ™‚

    • Nicole

      Hi Oleg.
      I agree, it’s certainly not a simple topic, as you’ve pointed out.

      Marketing includes persuasion, of course. And, those of us who make a good living are good at that.

      However, as we’ve agreed, it does come down to offering value and checking in with your internal “ethics-meter” with every decision. The questions are my starting point. From there, my gut instinct is always smartest and I defer to it. πŸ™‚

      My ethics-ometer and gut will give different answers than your gut may in some instances and that’s fine. We’re different people and I would expect that.

      But, I think the important thing to me is making decisions based upon what’s best for my readers & customers, rather than making the decisions based upon what’s best for my pocketbook.

      Thanks for a very thoughtful comment! I enjoyed reading your insights.


  • Dan Reinhold

    Well, there ya go, Nicole…

    …just sell “ethics-ometers” and you’ll be set for LIFE!


  • Deb Bixler

    There is no margin of error in ethics both online and off. I often wonder if there was no internet, if spammers were not online spamming then what kind of criminals would they be? Spam and “virus” creating is criminal so without the internet what would these people be doing?

  • Dan Reinhold

    Spammers? Why, con men (and women), of course!

    If anyone thinks doing it right all the time is never noticed, try doing it wrong ONCE and see how many remember and for how long.


  • Green News

    I think that you have one of the better sites in your niche and I check back often for new updates, best of luck with the site.

  • Nancy Boyd

    Hi Nicole,

    Great topic and I’d add one more dimension to the value equation, geared especially for tough times:

    “What can I offer that’s actually going to HELP people?”

    That’s a different question than “does it have value” — because products and services that are worth ten times as much as being charged, matter not a whit if it’s not THE thing that is going to absolutely:

    — relieve current pain
    — solve THE most urgent problem
    — make THE most difference in their life, right away

    Those are a bit different criteria than during times when cash flow isn’t hitting people so hard in the wallet. And it requires both different product and service creation, marketing adaptation, and perhaps first of all, keener sensitivity to what people are actually experiencing out there.

    A good reality check is always important, but these days if you don’t do that, you may as well hang it up.

    I’d love to hear additional thoughts on “pivot strategies” that really get to the heart of what changes we need to make with our businesses during tough economic times. I think this is where we all should be focusing!

    Just some additional thoughts today. . .

    May we all wish for our customers and clients better than we wish for ourselves! Now that’s something worthy to attempt — probably will stretch me some, too πŸ™‚

    Best always,


  • Brigitte Anderson

    Thanks for the Post Nicole,
    And thanks for bring quality to the table
    this is way I wave about you, to my friends,
    I tell them, this is the lady, you want to keep your eye on, I live in Florida too, near the Millenium Mall, Perhaps we can do lunch one day
    at the cheese cake factory πŸ˜‰

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