Disclaimer required?

Retweet does not equal endorsement

“Retweet does not equal endorsement”

Variations on this statement appear on a lot of Twitter users’ profiles, particularly those who might legitimately have their endorsement sought; celebrities, politicians, and the like.  Commentators and businesses do likewise to ensure they aren’t somehow held responsible for simply drawing attention to someone else’s views.

It’s an unfortunate but probably necessary piece of ass-covering in what we’re constantly being told is an increasingly litigious world, and if you are one of those celebs, you need to guard the sanctity of the endorsements you’re actually paid for.

But when you’re a marketing agency and you use your Twitter feed to post out industry news to your followers; reporting on things that are happening, with no promotion or judgement involved in linking factually to a news story, should you also be thinking about how doing so might lead to a belief that you’re promoting it?  Suddenly it seems like we should.

Last week we linked to a Brand Republic story about Virgin Holidays’ ‘tanuary sale’ campaign.  It was a fairly straightforward story covering the campaign creative theme.

(In the meantime, the campaign has ended up being pretty controversial, for the same reasons I’m about to touch on, with Brand Republic themselves producing a follow up report on the controversy.)

The following day we had an @ mention from a melanoma survivor who noted that she is sickened by the Virgin campaign, which she feels cancels out positive awareness of skin cancer.  Her comment was picked up by someone else who cited a statistic on the number of people who will die from preventable skin cancer and noted that “Encouraging #tanuary is #irresponsible”.

Maybe it is, but that’s not exactly relevant in this case, as that’s not by any possible measure what we did.  We linked to a third party news site which reported as fact the existence of the campaign and its creative theme.  I’m pretty sure that Brand Republic wouldn’t consider their reportage to be encouragement of the campaign either.

The people who responded to us, and the other people who favourited and retweeted their responses, did so, I’m sure, with the best of intentions.  They have a concern that a serious health issue is being trivialised by a marketing campaign for holidays.  As they’re not among our regular followers, they also must have been looking for references to tanuary to follow up.

But that’s where I find I have a problem.  If they’re actively looking for comment on the subject, then why suggest encouragement in a mention which very clearly offers no value judgement on the campaign?

The instinctive reaction to the tweets was to think we needed to wade in to point out this very fact, but even if there had been any real advantage to anyone in that discussion, within a short time the conversation had moved on, many more critical voices had been raised in Virgin and their agency’s direction, and we felt we’d just be jumping into someone else’s echo chamber.

The incident does show, though, why people whose endorsement value matters or can be used against them feel the need to disclaimer themselves.  Businesses and individuals alike may need to consider much more carefully the wider context of their communication; if not actively to change their content strategy, just to be prepared for anything suddenly to require a response or a defence…