After reading a number of case studies describing how brands have used social influencers to drive commercial success, I get the feeling that bloggers are like Congressmen; they can be easily bought and paid for.
And while FTC rules demand full disclosure, it seems that the journalistic ethics of early bloggers has succumbed to the easy baksheesh offered by brands, and their PR or social marketing firms, eager to marshal what appears to be consumer endorsements or momentum.
Duane Reade’s “Show Us Some Leg” campaign outlined in the May edition of Internet Retailer , got me thinking about this. Working with a firm called Collective Bias, they identified likely bloggers using social listening tools. Then paid selected bloggers to go to the store, buy the products and crow about both experiences early and often. Duane Reade claims that over the 6-week campaign hosiery sales increased 28 percent. Though they aren’t really willing to attribute the sales spike solely to suborned bloggers. They paid up but they aren’t sure what they got in return.
Zach Reiss-Davis of Forrester Research points out that it’s a cheap way to rally peer-to-peer reviews and to present what appear to be brand endorsements from fellow consumers. Marketers looking to efficiently buy word-of-mouth advertising can get some blog love to “bend a conversation in your direction.”
As a long-term independent blogger, there’s something skeevy in this. Maybe I’m old fashioned. Or maybe I’m getting cranky in my old age. But if you’re a paid endorser, taking products and talking points from a brand, you absolutely have to disclose. It’s not only the law; it’s the right thing to do. Otherwise you’re just a covert whore. Similarly, agencies and firms organizing fake groundswells of social conversation ought to be held accountable, exposed, embarrassed and fined by the FTC.
Brands can buy ads, pay endorsers, hire spokespeople, deploy affiliate programs and run all kinds of interactive events and experiences. Consumers understand the deal. They know who is talking to them and why.
The great thing about social media is that it can be a real unvarnished conversation among people who share ideas and interests. Undercover advocates pollute and skew the genuine organic interaction between people that honest bloggers and credible social networks have worked hard to create. Fakers and liars should be rooted and hooted out.