Staying Relevant = Staying Ethical on Social Media: A How To Guide for Online Retailers

Colleen Harley
4 min readApr 18, 2021



Though we may have been physically apart, 2020 was the year of raising your voice in response to social issues. From racial injustices, to politics, to a pandemic, people all around the world took to social media to make their voices heard, and share their thoughts and opinions.

Of course, with social media, there is a social aspect, and with a social aspect, comes other peoples thoughts and opinions who, more often than not are GOING to have something to say no matter what side of an issue you stand on. Also, what you do WITH customer information has a huge impact on the way your online retailing business is percieved. Here are the top 3 ways your online business can take a stand in a professional way, but still make an impact and cater to the target markets you serve.

  1. Understand your target audience and their values: This one is sort of self-explanatory. Businesses are only as successful as their customers allow them to be. Understanding and analyzing your customer base and their core values is the key part to staying ethical on social media. If you don’t know what’s important to your customers, you don’t know what approach to take when discussing important issues. Down the line, this could cause a huge loss of revenue, business, and relevancy for your online retailer. According to,

“Companies that don’t align with their customers’ values pay the price. One study found that 53% of respondents who were disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complained about it. In the UK, 37% walked away from the brand, with a quarter of them never returning.” (, 2020)

2) Be inclusive to customers of all different demographics: If you’re an online retailer selling goods or products such as clothing items all over the world, you need to understand different types of cultures. What may be a social norm here in the United States, may not be somewhere else in this huge world. A great example that was written in an by Nicole Burson and published by,

“Online marketing and business operations allow for significant international visibility. Selling products on a global market requires digital content creators to understand the ethics, morals, and values of other cultures. A successful (and ethical) marketing strategy in one culture may be the exact opposite in another.(Burson 2020)


3) Data, Data, Data: Keep personal data just that; personal: In todays society, customers are racing to e-commerce sites like Amazon because of the ease and convenience it brings. A few clicks of a keyboard and BAM! You have whatever products you need delivered to your door within typically 48 hours. But as e-commerce begins to take over as the leading way to shop, there also comes the potential for data breaches. Things such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, phone numbers, or other personal information may be leaked to hackers if a retailer or business doesn’t have the proper precautions in place. People like to feel that their personal data is safe in the hands of a company. According to an article written by Sonja Dyess, and posted by,

“However, sometimes businesses may want to increase their email list to do direct inbox marketing. There are some companies that sell lists of email addresses of potential customers to brands and businesses. Purchasing email lists may seem like a good idea and a good way to get your name directly in front of more people, but it treads into some murky ethical waters. The problem with this practice is that by purchasing email lists, you’re contacting someone without consent. They didn’t agree to interact with you. While it is technically legal to directly contact someone without their consent one time, it’s generally frowned upon and most consumers find uninvited emails invasive.” (Dyess 2019)

Now, you may be wondering, “So what’s the bottom line?”

The bottom line when it comes to staying ethical is this: be knowledgeable about your audience and their core values. Integrate ethics into your social media marketing plan from the beginning, and keep personal data from customers just that; personal. The best way to keep customers happy, and deliver your promise as a business to stay fair and equal for all of those who support, is to be socially aware, and make that the top priority of your online retailing business.