Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Getting Flogged for... Flogging

The power of Word of Mouth Marketing is at the center of all that is "the customer experience." Positive customer experience leads to positive word of mouth recommendations. The difference today vs. 10 or 15 yrs ago is that everyone's a Gutenberg now, with the power to transmit that "Word of Mouth" worldwide... at the click of a mouse.

This power is both inspiring, and in fact scary. The inspiring part is proven each day by the millions of people like that blog, comment, etc. in the various forms of media that are infinitely accessible throughout the world. Never before has our society been give the tools to have a true "voice" in the overall culture as they have today. It is evidenced in political races (in the US, and elsewhere), in product reviews, just a dizzying array of opportunities to "speak up" are available today. The scary part is the attempt by marketers to deceive the public by "flogging;" the practice of writing fake blogs for the purpose of casting some entity (person, company, cause) in a positive or negative light.

As I said... the power of these word of mouth communications are nothing short of amazing, but at this point the principle of "caveat emptor" in the blogsphere has been brought to the forefront with the revelation over the past week that both McDonalds and WalMart have engaged Edleman to Flog on their behalf, without any sort of declaration that these fake blogs were in fact simple propaganda for these entities. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association(WOMMA) has formally put Edleman on probation for their actions. Edleman was one of the marketing entities that co-wrote the code of ethics that WOMMA established in Feb. 2005 to guard against such abuses. Fast Forward to September 2006 and... BUSTED!!!

And don't think for a moment that this type of activity doesn't tempt retailers with product review capabilities, or other ways that retailers and businesses alike are perceived in the view of this new sphere of marketing influence. For years now rumors have persisted that certain retailers are involved in the practice of "jacking up" certain ratings, or perhaps writing their own reviews, etc. In truth, it would take a tremendous effort or a very public admission in order to prove this, and I personally hope that events like this disclosure of these "flogs" will send a chilling effect over the business marketing community... forcing them to think long and hard on how to ethically use this new "power" that we've been given.

I think that for marketers, it goes back to the essential question that should guide all of your efforts: Is what I'm doing... for the good of the customer and her experience?

What do you think? Would love to hear your side... feel free to MEEBOME or comment below.


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