This space for rent

Gartner reports that marketing/communications people are in such a rush to get positive reviews and increased numbers on their Facebook, Printerest and other social media sites that they are bypassing professional journalists and buying reviews, fans. But it is a dangerous path because consumers are smarter and have more sources to spot the pay-for-play answers.

A year ago, I was watching the news in my hotel room; and in front of the newscasters were big containers of Coke.

It could have just as easily been a sign, “This Space for Rent.”

I’m probably one of the few that really watches the ads on TV; but increasingly, it’s hard to see where the ad ends and the show begins because I see blatant show/tell about comforting insoles, candy, cars, video conferencing systems, computers, you name it.

The only reason I know Apple hasn’t done all that product placement of Macs, iPhones and iPads was the patent infringement trial with Samsung.

Apple said – on the stand – that they didn’t pay the millions for that product exposure.

Gawd, bet that ticked off Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony, Acer, everyone.

Now Gartner has reported that 10-15 per cent of the reviews on social media will be paid for by 2014.

By reasonable projection then that says by 2016, 20 per cent will be paid for and by 2020, most of the reviews will be paid for.

There goes credibility…a pity.

Sure, we understand organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on their videos, get more positive reviews than their competitors, and get all of those ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages.

Taking what we call “the easy way out,” Gartner’s Jenny Sussin, says marketers have begun paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions.

The goal (no one knows really how to measure the cause and effect yet) is to increase sales, customer loyalty, customer advocacy.

An IBM Institute of Business Value found that 65 per cent of “business leaders” thought people follow their brands because they want to be part of a community.

Jeezz, what a bunch of egos.

Not Lonely Followers

It turns out, the same report said only 25 per cent of consumers agree and those that followed the brand wanted discounts, cheap stuff.

Or, to say it so marketers and publicists can understand, I’ll stick around with you as long as you pay me!

Oh, that’s great brand equity. Something you can put right on the bottom line, take to the bank.Then too, they just try too hard to be a part of your life … order something online and you get 20 special offers, requests to complete surveys, requests for reviews, tweets to their new friend and the package hasn’t even arrived yet!

Great marketing … great publicity.

It’s Too Simple

Building credibility in the marketplace is not something that can be purchased by amassing volumes of followers. It starts with strong management, strong products, comprehensive support, continuous follow-through and contact.

Dudes/dudettes, have you thought about:

– Making an insanely great product

– Producing really dumb simple-to-understand documentation

– Producing really clear how-to videos for ordinary folks

– Having real live, conscientious customer support/service people available 24/7 to help people who are like us

– Pricing the product/service fairly for the customer and the company

– Talking (we know, that’s tough) with credible journalists, writers, reviewers and offering them the product/service – with no strings attached – and ask them to review the product

– Then let the chips fall where they may

Oh, that’s right…that’s work and cripes; the writer/reviewer might not “like” or even love you.

Not to worry, scan Craigslist and you’ll find a load of people ready to get paid for their reviews; and some don’t even care if they get their hands on the product … muddies up their creative juices.

You shouldn’t worry about those silly FTC guidelines for endorsements/advertising; they’ll probably never notice.

You’re too busy buying Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers because you’re under pressure to boost your company’s reputation with all those new followers.

Citizen Journalists

According to Dan Gillmor, former technology columnist with the San Jose Mercury News and founder of the Center for Citizen Media, there’s very little chance of what he describes as citizen journalists uncovering what you’re doing.

After all, you’re just doing your “professional” job of finding reviews, fans and Likes to help your company, your management.

 

When the senior staff is pressing for solid measurements, solid results from their communications and social media investments it’s pretty easy to offer special people preferential treatment for favorable reviews. Don’t worry; over time, it gets easier and easier to do it.

Of course, you may not have heard that Cornell University researchers have software that is so good it can detect fake reviews 90 per cent of the time.

If the review is too positive, ordinary folks can only spot a fake half the time.

The publicist/marketer who really wants to do his/her job right has to remember people get their news, information, insights, recommendations, ideas from all media – radio, TV, print, online Web sites and blogs.

They’re smart enough to seek out input from folks who have earned a reputation for being honest, knowledgeable and yes, even opinionated.

Mainstream media drives social media and social media drives mainstream media … they are synergistic.

In every business, there are people who are really interested in doing an honest review that consumers can trust. Some will do a “regular user” review; others will push the product/service to its limits. The review is hardly 100 per cent to product design’s/engineering’s liking because it was their masterpiece; and unfortunately, no product is ever absolutely perfect.

If you can get out of your own way, you’ll understand that your task is to simplify the decision-making progress for the consumer.

You do that by helping the consumer:

– Trust the information they receive – by making available sound analysis from advocates, industry experts, reviews

– Learn effectively without distraction – streamline the product/service specific information at the various stages of research, discovery, education, decision

– Weigh options confidently – provide transparent buying guides, product/brand differentiated information

The consumer may not always make “the right” decision, but it’s a lot better for your company and you.

Paying for reviews is a slippery slope, and you probably know what’s at the bottom of the slope … right?

Gartner predicts that a couple of Fortune 500 companies and who knows how many smaller firms (as well as the individuals involved) will end up being investigated (and probably fined) for this practice.

People who focus on developing their social followings quickly focus on minor issues, minor opportunities because “there is much to be done quickly.” It is only when they are forced to step back and evaluate what has been done that problems are glaringly obvious. Then it’s too late.

That can only result in a bigger PR crisis.

But maybe that’s the only way we can weed the socializing publicists out to make room for professionals who have the background, experience, empathy and guts to do the hard work.

You know, the folks who want to work with professionals on the writing, reporting, reviewing side and deliver news, information, articles everyone can trust.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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