The Ethical Move
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The Ethical Move

After the pledge: How to start running a more ethical business

Image of Claudia Kozeny-Pelling

A few months ago, I took part in an #EthicalHour-Twitter chat that changed the direction of my new business.

I was excited and relieved to learn about the Ethical Move, which one of the chat members recommended to me. Finally, I had found some ethically-minded marketers who also felt that things needed to change for the better in the industry.

I had launched my one-woman translation, social media marketing and copywriting business in August 2020, having had a career in publishing, communications and research ethics management beforehand. What I had seen of some social media marketing tactics so far certainly hadn’t been particularly ethical, and frequently made me feel uncomfortable. I was happy to take the pledge.

Manipulative tactics

Before this, I had actually used charm pricing and some countdowns myself, heeding advice from the social media marketing ‘experts’ I followed. After I read more about marketing psychology (including about ‘dark nudges’) and discovered the Ethical Move website, I quickly realised that I wasn’t treating my potential customers well with these tactics. Why manipulate clients, even in minor ways?

As a side note, I’m not saying that those who currently use the marketing methods listed above are all “bad companies” or “unethical people”. In many cases, they — like me, originally — just followed common marketing advice that just isn’t very ethical if you dig down further.

And: there are more issues that ethical marketers should think about.

Data ethics concerns

In my days as a research ethics manager at a large university (working predominantly in the social sciences and humanities), I was particularly interested in the ethics of internet-based research, including data ethics. The misuse of personal data — unknowingly or knowingly — may seem prevalent in social media marketing but is quite common in many small businesses.

Data protection regulations and cookies

For example, I’ve come across many business websites that collect cookies or other personally identifying information (names, email addresses, IP addresses etc.) without GDPR-compliant cookie banners or privacy policies in place. If you collect e.g. Google Analytics cookies or if you installed the Facebook pixel on your website, then these need to be declared in detail on your site, and users have to actively consent to their use.

You may want to move away from both types of granular tracking if you are concerned about data privacy issues. Matomo seems to be a good free alternative to Google Analytics that offers more options for protecting customers’ data. Although the Facebook pixel can be very useful for marketers as it tracks users’ personal data and enables retargeting, this article shows some of the ethical issues related to this. I think every marketer will have to make up their own mind here. I’ve recently decided to switch to Matomo, and I’m trying to find out more about pixel alternatives, too. With new privacy options in e.g. the iOS14 update having been introduced in spring 2021, the privacy and tracking landscape is changing rapidly in any case.

Regarding cookie banners: even if they exist on your website, they can be manipulative if you use dark patterns. These ‘nudge’ users visually to accept all tracking cookies on their browser. Again, this isn’t in the spirit of data protection regulations but is still widely done, so ensure you use compliant cookie banners and list all cookies in your cookie policy (which is part of your full privacy policy).

Using and storing personal data

If you’re based in the UK and you receive or process personal data, you will need to register with the ICO and pay a small annual fee. If you’re based elsewhere, ensure you check what your national data protection laws require you to do.

How businesses actually use personal data is another matter of concern. Receiving e.g. email addresses as part of a newsletter subscription doesn’t allow businesses to use these in other ways — unless users were fully informed about these other uses and consented to them at subscription stage.

Unsubscribing from newsletters should also be made extremely easy.

Finally, you need to make sure that any personal data you deal with is properly secured on your electronic devices. Password protection isn’t sufficient: you’ll need to fully encrypt your devices. Macs offer a free encryption tool, while upgrading to e.g. Windows 10 Pro for business will help encrypt your business data.

Becoming “greener”

I’ve covered some data ethics concerns and how to move away from manipulative marketing tactics, but this isn’t sufficient to declare your business as being ‘fully ethical’.

Is your business as eco-friendly as it can be? Here’s a quick (and non-exhaustive) checklist. You could think about moving to:

  • Green web hosting.
  • Green power for your business premises.
  • Using an eco-friendlier browser (e.g. Ecosia).
  • Recycled printing paper.
  • Second-hand printers (if you really need to use them — often, proofing documents on a different device and in a different font and size will be quite effective.)
  • Using tap water (rather than bottled water) and fair-trade tea/ coffee/ snacks in your office.
  • Sourcing office supplies from sustainable sources or buying them second-hand.
  • Using green cleaning products.
  • Checking how else you could reduce your carbon footprint (the resources on this page are helpful).

Choosing what to market / who to work with

The best ethics practices aren’t worth much if you then choose to work with (and help market) companies that are less than ethical themselves.

It’s a good idea to do your research and see where your own ethical boundaries lie. Even if the companies in question aren’t on this list, you may decide not to work with business owners who knowingly use clearly unethical marketing and selling tactics, mistreat or mislead their employees and clients, or whose products or services harm others in different ways.

All of the above is a process. I’ve started implementing many of the methods mentioned, but I’m definitely not 100% perfect! Plus, there are still so many more ways to become more ethical, including addressing web accessibility issues, which the Ethical Move recently started to look into further.

It’s important to start “walking the walk” rather than just “talking the talk”, and I feel my company is now at least on the right track — even baby steps will get me there eventually.

I hope this article has helped you in your quest to run a more ethical business, too. 😊

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As always…

Join the conversation at The Ethical Move. Take the pledge, send us your thoughts, stand with us. It means the world to us. Literally.

The words “how we sell matters.” underlined with yellow marker, overlapping The Ethical Move logo with values in a circle outline: Honesty, Responsibility, Trust, Transparency, Integrity, Equity.

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How we sell has us trapped in an endless loop of wanting and buying more; a cycle that is uninspired and harmful to the planet. The Ethical Move is setting out to empower people and businesses to break this cycle, to level the playing field.

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Claudia Kozeny-Pelling

Claudia Kozeny-Pelling

Translator, copywriter and ethical social media marketer (English / German). https://translatedigitalmarketing.com

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