Ethical communication: the 6 questions to ask yourself
You own a shop which sells organic, sustainable or eco-friendly products. To develop your customer base and your business, you need to focus on communication and marketing.
But as you probably know, there are different ways to communicate and some are more ethical and responsible than others! To align your shop’s purpose with its communication strategy, we’ve come up with a list of 6 questions to ask yourself.
We deliberately won’t give you definitive answers to these questions. We want to get you thinking!
Definitions: ethical, responsible, sustainable communication…
Let’s start by defining the concept.
Many different adjectives can be used to describe communication.
For the purposes of this article, we define them as follows:
- ethical communication: this type of communication inevitably involves values. To communicate ethically, your shop must have clearly defined values (in a charter, for example) and every communication must reflect these values.
- responsible communication: this type of communication reflects the company’s responsibility in general (CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility). This involves social responsibility, the impact of the messages shared, respect for cultural and ethnic diversity, etc.
- sustainable or environmental communication: sustainable communication aims to protect the environment. It applies both to substance (e.g. fighting greenwashing) and style (e.g. targeted communication and little or no use of highly polluting formats such as videos).
We want to emphasise that it’s up to you, your values and your personal ethics to define your style of communication.
6 practical questions to ask yourself
In this section, we leave the theory behind and focus on the practical. The following questions are specific to small businesses.
Question 1: What is the purpose of my communication?
This question is fundamental and helps you to identify why you’re communicating, what’s driven you to act and what motivates you on a daily basis.
If you’re opening a sustainable shop to help save the planet and future generations, it’s probably OK for you to make some compromises when it comes to your communication (using videos, for example). After all, you’re doing it for a good cause!
If you’ve opened a shop with the aim of making a lot of money, you can still compromise when it comes to your communication but it’s definitely not very ethical.
Question 2: Should I use Facebook and other social media?
Facebook is one of the first issues which comes up when talking about ethical communication!
This social media is both ubiquitous (with over 2 billion users worldwide) and much maligned for its dubious practices:
- insufficient protection of personal data, with several data breach scandals,
- a lack of moderation, with the spread of “fake news” and other far-fetched conspiracy theories,
- a glaring lack of protection for its youngest users, some of whom are driven to depression or even suicide by the social media’s impact on their body image (because of pressure to conform to unattainable and undesirable beauty standards) and their social lives.
Yet many of your customers are on Facebook and log in regularly. What should you do?
There are 3 possible options:
- don’t use Facebook (or any other social media) at all. This negatively impacts your ability to communicate but avoids supporting GAFA.
- create a Facebook page for your shop and share posts and information, without paying for any services.
- create a Facebook page and use Facebook Ads to improve the visibility of your posts. This involves giving money to Facebook.
Most small businesses choose the second option for ethical and economic reasons (limited advertising budget).
Question 3: Should I print and give out flyers?
Another frequent and very specific question: should you print flyers, knowing that they create paper waste?
It’s important to remember that you can have your flyers printed:
- on recycled paper,
- using plant-based inks,
- by a local printer, thereby supporting local employment.
It’s also important to be aware that a flyer creates physical and visible waste.
But communicating on social media and the Internet in general is also a real source of pollution. It’s just less visible.
The list of environmental damage caused by digital technology is extensive:
- its electricity use,
- the pollution caused by hardware and data centres,
- greenhouse gas emissions.
Once again, the decision is yours :)
Question 4: What marketing strategy should you choose?
If you’re not familiar with inbound marketing, which is closely related to content marketing, it’s a good idea to learn more about these concepts.
Content marketing is responsible and, if done well, it can be sustainable.
The principle is simple: creating and sharing interesting and useful content for your customers.
For example, a shop selling organic food could share a vegetarian recipe every week to encourage customers to come to the shop and encourage good eating habits.
This type of marketing tries to help the customer, rather than assault them with purely promotional content.
Question 5: Should I emphasise my CSR initiatives?
You’re doing something for the environment or your local community, such as participating in local nature conservation events or supporting cultural associations in your town.
Should you “brag about” this by communicating about it?
Once again, only you can decide. But be aware that CSR includes communication about any CSR initiatives which have been undertaken. The reason is simple: best practices can only be shared and publicised if companies communicate about what they do.
However, communicating about greenwashing is totally counterproductive!
Question 6: Should you use videos?
Lastly, let’s focus on the formats of your marketing content.
Different formats have different environmental impacts.
Video now accounts for 60% of global data flows.
If you make and post a video every week on your Facebook page and your YouTube channel, you’re adding to the existing pollution!
On the other hand, the marketing impact of videos is significant: videos are very popular with Internet users in general, particularly younger generations! It would probably be a mistake to ignore videos completely.
But reducing the number of videos you produce and share is a positive choice for the planet! In practice: one quality video per month may be better than a daily video of lesser quality :)
Blog post written by Mathieu Maréchal.