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Contrived Word Of Mouth Marketing

Up In Arms With The Paid Writers On Blogs

Some bloggers are getting paid for product reviews, but they are not being up front about it. For those unaware, some companies are paying individuals and bloggers to say good things about their products and even about the companies themselves.

Here is a good article on The Ethical Boundaries of Online Marketing, by Douglas Gantenbein.

For marketers, the Internet has ushered in amazing new ways to talk about products and brands and to put highly targeted marketing messages in front of consumers. It's a new medium, creating new possibilities for marketing. But it's also created an arena in which it's easy to take advantage of the Web's reach and anonymity. That can make it tempting to push ethical boundaries in the name of marketing. "It's kind of like the Wild West," California-based Internet marketing consultant Jim Warholic says. "There are very few rules in the books to stop unethical people from doing anything they really want to do."

It's better to do the right thing when marketing your company than to have bad PR generated when contrived word of mounth marketing is discovered. Remeber the Wal-Mart story in which bloggers were hired to paint a rosy picture of Wal-Mart, in a deceptive manner.

Wal-Mart, Edelman Flogged For Blog

BusinessWeek pulled the covers off the Wal-Marting Across America blog, revealing its backing by an Edelman-financed organization called Working Families for Wal-Mart. The demise of the fake blog, being called a "flog" by MediaPost in its description of the site, promptly had its doors blown off by commentary from throughout the blogosphere.

By not being up front with the public, Wal-Mart has in fact been exposed with bad PR. It seems as though even the PR firm also forgot the number one rule, Honesty is the Best Policy.

Honest ROI
Paul Rand, who is a board member for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, boils down the guidelines to what he calls "honesty ROI." That comes down to three key points:

  • Honesty of relationship. Rule No. 1, says Rand, is to always be clear on whose behalf you're speaking. It's perfectly acceptable to start a company blog that supports products, or enter into online discussions with other Internet users. But a company or marketer always should identify for whom they're speaking. No shilling or "undercover marketing," where people are hired to speak on a company's behalf.

  • Honesty of opinion. "You say what you believe," says Rand of Rule No. 2. A company needs to let people develop and express their own opinions about products or services. And it needs to talk about its own products honestly.

  • Honesty of Identity. "You never obscure your identity," says Rand. Web sites that are set up on behalf of companies always are marked as such, he says. And marketing campaigns that say they use "actual consumers" should use actual consumers.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it is much better to be up front with consumers and other businesses about company products and services, than it is to have a contrived word of mouth marketing campaign. As Dr. Laura Schlessinger says on her radio show, "Now go do the right thing."

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