Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Manipulating Social Media: A Losing Proposition

Several days ago TechCrunch featured a rather embarrassing article alleging deceptive practices by a reputable public relations firm. Andy Sernovitz, word of mouth marketing ethics expert, also analyzed the situation, albeit assuming guilt based on the article from TechCrunch.

Although I will not name the company involved nor comment on the validity of the claims, I will discuss my feelings on the bigger picture.

As companies rush to enter the social space, the temptation to use old media techniques will be great. It seems to follow that if the success of a product is influenced by the number of positive reviews on a particular website, increasing the number of positive reviews will result in greater sales.

Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Neat, clean, methodical, and formulaic. It's an old-school media/public relations attempt at quantifying ROI in a new and uncertain era for advertising. I won't even touch the ethical issues involved - individuals like Andy Sernovitz are better able to articulate those points.

Let's talk about money and media spending. Social technologies allow us to spend money on a rolling basis, but get more and more return from that spending as time goes on. Unlike traditional campaigns where media is purchased, used, and exhausted, social media allows you to create a living, breathing community around a brand that lasts (as long as the product or service is of quality and the company continues to care what consumers say).

My smartest clients understand that their brands are now in the hands of consumers. Those consumers can be won over one at a time using social technology. They refuse to be tricked, bartered with, or swindled into impulse buying. They feel very secure in the knowledge that buying something that has been vetted by their peers will result in satisfaction. When a company tries to manipulate the systems that vet these products and services (reviews) by injecting biased content it places itself in a very bad position.

Don't let your clients or your brand fall victim to the short term solution. There are no simple formulas to calculate the ROI of social media efforts. Each system is unique and must be carefully reviewed to quantify success. It isn't about cold hard numbers, its about relationships and people.

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