Today’s post is written by Mandy, a Global Expeditions alumnus. As you read, please keep in mind Teen Mania’s definition of a lie: “the intent to deceive.”
My name is Mandy, and I went on two mission trips with Teen Mania Ministries sixteen and seventeen years ago. I first learned about their summer missions, now called Global Expeditions, at an Acquire the Fire conference I attended with my youth group. Recently, I posted a blog post on my personal blog about my experience with Teen Mania Ministries. To summarize my post, I stated that as I have grown older and become a critical thinker, I have become concerned about what I experienced and whether or not it was harmful.
I never intended to post my experience on Recovering Alumni. In fact, in my blog post, I even voiced concerns about the Recovering Alumni website. However, I think that parents of potential Honor Academy and Global Expeditions participants should be aware of the response I received on my blog.
A person by the name of Cindy made a comment in response to my blog post. Please feel free to look at my original post and her comments so that you know I am not taking her comments out of context. One portion of her comment reads:
I’ve been doing a lot of research on Teen Mania since watching that documentary, and overall most of what I’ve read are positive stories about how Teen Mania is changing student’s lives and helping hurting teens find healing through Christ.
Sure, there will be mistakes and problems in that organization, just like in ANY organization. That is because Teen Mania is run by humans, who are mistake- prone and need grace too.
I hope the readers of your post do think critically about what is happening at Teen Mania. Keep in mind that people who’ve had a bad experience are more likely to speak out and have more of an emotional reaction in their comments than those who have had a positive one. I don’t always leave shining reviews of restaurants on Yelp, but if I have a bad waiter, or the food wasn’t right, I make it a point to leave a review. Get the picture?
When I read her comment, it struck me as something I would have heard when I participated in Teen Mania programs as a teen. I looked up the email address that she provided to make the comment. After searching online, I discovered that Cindy is a Communications Consultant for Teen Mania Ministries. Additionally, the IP address she used when commenting is registered to Teen Mania Ministries. Furthermore, her Twitter account indicates that she is working for the organization.
Cindy’s post on my blog is unethical because she did not disclose that she has a material connection with Teen Mania Ministries. She implied that she was a neutral third party. Not only does her LinkedIn account indicate that she is working as a consultant for Teen Mania, her Twitter account indicates that her sister is looking into the Honor Academy. It is well known among marketing and PR professionals that employees or individuals who have a material connection to an organization should disclose that relationship when they make posts on blogs about the organization. Bart Lazar (2010), an attorney and partner at Seyfarth Shaw Attorneys at Law, wrote:
If employees are permitted to blog about their [organization’s] products/services (which is considered by many to be the practical approach these days), employees must clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationship with the employer…Employers should avoid encouraging untrained and unmonitored employees to blog about their company’s products and/ or services, just in case the employer is subject to suffer loss to its goodwill or be found to engage in unfair or deceptive practices, such as astroturfing. (p. 20)
Some might wonder if this code of ethics applies to nonprofit organizations. Yes, it does. For example, the nonprofit organization, Give Well, came under scrutiny when two employees posted on blogs and other forums but did not disclose their affiliation with Give Well. It is considered so inappropriate, that Give Well has an entire webpage devoted to the actions it took in response: http://givewell.org/about/official-records/board-meeting-3/FAQ-on-inappropriate-marketing
Further, Katya Andresen (2008), a professional who blogs about non-profit marketing asserted:
In the Web 2.0 world, no matter how good your intentions, you pay a big price for misrepresenting yourself. In your job, please never be tempted to AstroTurf. Don’t anonymously post good things about your organization or bad things about others without identifying yourself, because it’s unethical in my view. And if that’s not incentive enough, know that those tricks tend to get discovered. They will estrange and enrage the very people you set out to influence. You and your cause will get burned. (para. 8)
To Teen Mania and Cindy, what you did is unethical. Your actions only add to my concern about Teen Mania Ministries. Parents, if you read positive comments about Teen Mania Ministries, I would be careful to make sure the comments are authentic and not created by employees or paid representatives. I was made aware of another blogger that had a similar experience with another Teen Mania employee making comments on his blog without disclosing his employment with Teen Mania.
I never intended on writing a post for Recovering Alumni. Teen Mania, you should have taken Katya Andresen’s advice. How should parents trust you with their teenagers when I cannot even trust what you write on my blog?
Andresen, K. (2008). Astroturfing burns. Be authentic or else. Posted at: http://www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com/comments/astroturfing_burns_be_authentic_or_else/
Lazar, B. (2010). Drafting social network policies. Information Today, 27.5(May2010), 20.