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  • dbinkowski 6:10 pm on August 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: astroturfing, itunes, reverb communications   

    Reverb Communications Busted By The FTC For Astroturfing 

    Last year TechCrunch outed PR firm Reverb Communications for astroturfing in the iTunes app store on behalf of their clients. As it turns out, the FTC took notice and recent revealed that they settled with the firm that posted misleading reviews of their clients products. As someone that’s been intimately involved with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and drafted our Association’s FTC guidelines,  my question is: Why not go after the app makers too? (More …)

     
  • dbinkowski 2:16 am on June 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , prsa,   

    2 more speaking gigs lined up: one for P… 

    2 more speaking gigs lined up: one for PRSA (Advanced Twitter course) on July 16th and another at http://www.typeamomconference.com in September (24-27), 2009.

     
  • dbinkowski 10:30 pm on January 28, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    FTC takes on blogger compensation, among other things 

    Brandweek has a heads up on some interesting developments going on at the FTC. As you know, the EU implemented some rules back in 2007 regarding fake bloggers and astroturfing, with fines and possible jail time as a consequence for engaging in devious practices. Don’t look now, but the FTC is looking to take actions regarding endorsements, including paid and earned blogger relations campaigns:

    For consumer testimonials, the general rule is that an advertiser cannot pay or otherwise compensate a person to give an endorsement without disclosing the material connection. Bloggers who receive compensation—or even free products from advertisers—may now have to disclose that connection with the advertiser if they provide a positive review of those products. Similarly, an employee of an electronic game manufacturer who posts messages promoting the manufacturer’s product on a third-party message board must disclose his relationship with the manufacturer. “Street team” programs in which members gain points every time they talk to their friends about a particular advertiser’s products could also run afoul of the FTC Guides.

    Comments on this issue to the FTC are open for two more days until January 30th. However, the debate can certainly rage on here as long as we’d like.

    Paid and unpaid placements

    As a long time proponent of the WOMMA ethics code, I’m in favor of full disclosure as it relates to paid placements. A recent Izea campaign for Kmart got Chris Brogan in some hot water with his readers, but as I’ve said before it’s not unethical as he did disclose that he was compensated financially.

    Unpaid placements, however are another story. If I pitch a product or story to a blogger and they choose to write about it then they clearly felt strongly one way or another about it. Does it matter that they got it for free? What about bloggers that pick up a press release, video, advertisement or other materials from a company’s web site? Are they liable for not disclosing that they found it on a company’s site (copyright issues aside)?

    Additionally, as someone who has tackled this issue head on through WOMMA the conclusion is simple: I don’t control a blogger’s blog nor control what they do or do not write. Now the government is going to try and mandate what bloggers write? I smell a revolt…

    Street teams

    Another matter that is clearly not cut and dry is street teams. Can this be expanded to anyone with a financial interest in a company? For example, let’s say that I’m an Apple shareholder and I convince a friend that they should buy a Mac. Technically I am being financially rewarded for doing so. Even worse, suppose we’re out in public. Too murky to regulate, IMO. You may recall this report from Dr. Walter Carl where consumers really don’t care about disclosure when it comes to offline agents — just 5% said there was a negative backlash when they found out someone was being compensated. I’m not going to say it’s all on the consumer. But the argument can be made that they really don’t care if someone’s being compensated and that they use their best judgment to determine that person’s credibility.

    So… what’s the answer?

    Clearly, there are several verticals online where transparency is not the policy. How many times have you looked at the reviews on iTunes, gaming and travel sites and wondered if they were real? What about the astroturfing I uncovered in the beauty blogosphere? Ultimately the companies engaging in unethical practices are those that suffer. Consumers lose trust with that company or brand and stop buying the product. That’s how you punish unethical companies, not through blanket government regulation over entrepreneurial individuals trying to run a web site.

    Similarly, if a blogger’s readers truly feel duped then their brand and business will suffer through decreased readership.

    digg_url = ‘http://digg.com/tech_news/FTC_takes_on_blogger_compensation_among_other_things’;

     
    • Shannon Nelson 5:42 pm on January 31, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      I am all for bloggers having a disclosure page where how they review products is laid out…but here is my 2 cents:

      Magazines don’t do this, yet we all know that we in PR are pitching them and that the editors are not just raving about something they truly love or stumbled upon themselves. Often times magazines have that unspoken rule that you get special attention if you advertise with them for that issue. Just pick up any beauty magazine and I can guarantee that if they are talking about the greatest new lipstick by Brand X, that Brand X has at least one ad in said magazine that month. When a beauty editor raves about the newest beauty find, I have never seen them disclose which PR firm sent it to them. So why as bloggers should we have to disclose that the brand or their PR firm sent us the product for free to review? Also, if you are being monetarily compensated…in which I would consider it an advertorial…there definitely should be full disclosure.

      Another thing is that many of these PR press release sites have blogs set up to aggregate their press releases. Specifically speaking on beauty–they have the look of a beauty blog and the press release is posted as if it is a blog post, but there is no disclosure page saying they are connected to that newswire. The typical reader may not realize this just browsing the blogosphere, but obviously those of us in PR know who they are. Will there be mandated disclosure for this as well?

    • Timmy The Great III 5:23 pm on February 6, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      wow nice

  • dbinkowski 11:51 am on October 31, 2008 Permalink | Reply  

    Add another unethical company to the list: Magpie 


    In the ongoing saga of “How Will Twitter Make Money?”, Read Write Web has a story that a company called Magpie offering to help you monetize your personal Twitter account. Last year we saw the ludicrous auctioning of a Twitter account on Ebay which in and of itself was unscrupulous, to say the least. That auction was pulled after several folks blocked Andrew Baron got an ear full from folks like me.

    Now this new player, Magpie, has sprouted up offering to ghost tweet ads in place of your actual tweets. Also fitting is that at the time of this writing this post their site is currently down for maintenance. How Fail Whalesque.

    The business model of posting ads into your account is straight up shilling, according to the WOMMA definition. Sound familiar? That’s because this flawed ad revenue model has already had its dick knocked in the dirt. If you recall, a few years ago a company called PayPerPost (now Izea) tried to capitalize on shilling and non-disclosure on blogs. Google appropriately took the appropriate action of removing their page rank, deeming these blogs irrelevant in Google’s search. Google’s reason? You f with our business, we can f with yours.

    Given the history and Google punishment don’t be surprised if the folks at Twitter shut Magpie out before it even gets off the ground.

    Update: Their site is back up. Mixed reviews over on Twitter.

    digg_url = ‘http://digg.com/tech_news/Add_another_unethical_company_to_the_list_Magpie’;

     
    • JustinSMV 5:42 am on November 17, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      I think its very low for people to sell out on twitter by having someone shoot ads in your name while you collect a small profit. I am curious to see if they shut down.

    • James Campbell 11:09 pm on December 8, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      sounds like this should be a non-starter.

    • Liza's Eyeview 5:09 pm on December 13, 2008 Permalink | Reply

      I am just enjoying twitter – joined about 46 days ago – I don’t want want it to be “abused” and “ruined” . Thanks for the post.

  • dbinkowski 1:21 am on August 24, 2007 Permalink | Reply  

    Yeah, we can create buzz! 

    Oh, you meant real buzz? Well, we can definitely create fake accounts and try!
    Comsumerist brings us a classic case of an agency (Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications) lying to its client about creating that coveted “pre-launch buzz”. Or in this case, shill until ye can’t shill no more! It’s too easy to blame the brands, here, folks. Brand managers, VPs and the like are taking companies for their word when they say they can accomplish a goal. It’s call trust in your agency; except in this case you’re screwing your client.

    See, If the goal is unrealistic it’s the agency’s job to not drop down to their knees but instead push back on the client. Are there people that care about the Big Ten channel? Absolutely. I used to live in the midwest, remember. The sad thing is that there’s really no need to resort to shilling.

    I place all of the blame squarely on the agency – they are the ones bullshitting their clients with capabilities they don’t have. They are the people responsible for not being honest with their clients.

    I’m not saying clients aren’t at fault for doing their homework or asking for case studies, but the question is are you their trusted partner, guiding them through the world of new media or are you just a spineless hack who’s shilling for a dollar?

    Speaking of which, creating artificial demand by giving fake reviews is punishable by, at the minimum, a lawsuit from rivals for such deeds in the EU. So much for the quick dollar, err, euro.

    Update: The Big Ten fans have sniffed these jokers out here, here and here.

    digg_url = ‘http://digg.com/business_finance/Martin_Waymire_Advocacy_Communications_Busted_Shilling_for_Big_Ten_Channel’;

     
  • dbinkowski 2:30 am on August 1, 2007 Permalink | Reply  

    When you can’t beat ’em – pay ’em 

    I’ve been holding onto this post for a week trying to decide how this can be explained or justified, but I just can’t do it. Undoubtedly you’ve heard the old adage “When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. Well, for those without any savvy but deep pockets, it’s adapted to the title of this post. Or, as the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DeBiase (pictured right, with Zeus) would say, “Everyone’s got a price – for the ‘Million Dollar Man’!”.

    Apparently the same holds true when it comes to journalism. In the 5th annual survey of its kind, PR Week and my employer, MS&L, says that 17% of marketers agreed to pay for ads in exchange for a “news” story. And some have used gifts in exchange for favorable coverage. Sickening. Stepping back from the blogosphere and my web background, this is truly something that is downright awful. This clearly defies the PRSA ethics standards and only decreases [further] decreses the public’s trust of the media.

    I understand this isn’t utopia and that people can be bought — but for cryin’ out loud but it’s another sign of the apocalypse when the WWFE emulates life. The only thing missing is a picture of a journalist with a mouth full of hundred dollar bills, courtesy of the Million Dollar Man.

    digg_url = ‘http://digg.com/business_finance/When_you_can_t_beat_em_pay_em’;

     
  • dbinkowski 2:49 am on July 26, 2007 Permalink | Reply  

    Strike two for Debbie Weil? 

    I’m not going to make a big deal out of this because, in all fairness, it may have been out of necessity. And while I grew up in metro Detroit with access to CBC, I don’t know the inner workings of the Canadian media — so it’s possible that they have different rules for disclosure or don’t care, but should Debbie have disclosed to the media and her readers that there might be a conflict of interest in suggesting Richard Edelman as someone to speak to BNN considering they paid for her to go to China?

    Again, it might not be a huge issue, but I would think that if BNN wanted to talk to a CEO who’s blogging they might be able to find a CEO who’s not too busy to comment and not an SVP from a PR firm.

    And contrary to his opinion given in this clip, Steve Jobs should be blogging. Steve Jobs is a fucking rock star. People pay top dollar to have dinner with the guy and would give their first born to talk to him. Hell, why do you think the Fake Steve Jobs blog does so well? Sure, it’s well written but ultimately there’s a hugely curious fascination with the man and people want to know what goes on in the head of Steve Jobs – even if it is fake.

    Takeaway for all the n00bs out there: Full disclosure is never a bad thing. And blogging is not about being on the defensive or feeling misunderstood.

    digg_url = ‘http://digg.com/business_finance/Strike_two_for_Debbie_Weil’;

     
  • dbinkowski 2:51 am on July 14, 2007 Permalink | Reply  

    Dear Marketers: You’re not smarter than the consumer 

    File this under: Transparency, Schmansparency. I just gave a Word of Mouth 101 presentation at work today and of course talked about ethics. How timely that I was able to point to this as an example:

    The journal has a report on Whole Foods CEO John Mackey posting on message boards promoting his company while simultaneously pissing on Wild Oats – anonymously, under a fake name. Wow. My first question is, that as the CEO, how are you spending your days? I understand that there are things that “keep you up at night”. But with all that cheddar, this is how you’re spending your free time? I’m dumbfounded by this report, to be honest. The second is, did you think you wouldn’t get caught?

    I would really appreciate a comment from the folks at Whole Foods on this one to explain it.

    I told the crowd at work today, just as I’ve told every audience I’ve spoken to over the years — it never pays off to not be transparent. I’ve rarely seen instances where people get mad that companies are open and honest and engage the community, rather than, well, what we’re seeing here. Companies stand to gain nothing by it. Literally.

    I’ll offer this plea on behalf of consumers: Marketers, please stop thinking you’re not smarter than consumers. Everything online is tracked and traceable. Stealth marketing does not work.

    digg_url = ‘
    http://digg.com/tech_news/Dear_marketers_You_re_not_smarter_than_consumers’;

     
  • dbinkowski 7:38 pm on March 1, 2007 Permalink | Reply  

    PR, food, blogs… and sweat 

    I’m blogging from the PRSA Food & Beverage chapter conference in Charleston, South Carolina. Today’s sessions included product launches, new media, organics and sustainable agriculture, and coming up is a meet and greet with the media (drinks, anyone?). It’s not surprising that last night’s pre-conference meal and today’s lunch were both outstanding. I mean, this is the Food & Beverage conference after all. The conference started today and runs through tomorrow, piggybacking on the Charleston Food & Wine Festival going on this weekend.

    I had the pleasure of presenting on the New Media panel with Paul Cheney from Charleston Food Company. His presentation covered creating food communities where chefs, patrons and restaurateurs can interact through message boards. You can imagine that the local food industry Paul helps them show their stuff through thousands of food photos, because, as he succinctly stated, “Everyone has to eat” and that the first thing people judge food with is their eyes.

    I want to thank Kathryn Newton and Claire Burke, who help organize the Food & Beverage chapter and Tina Honer from PRSA for having me here. Here’s a nice picture of me sporting the “faux-hawk” with Kathryn (disclosure, Kathryn and I work together on projects for a client):

    Did I mention that this yankee isn’t used to the humidity? Crikey…

     
  • dbinkowski 7:38 pm on March 1, 2007 Permalink | Reply  

    PR, food, blogs… and sweat 

    I’m blogging from the PRSA Food & Beverage chapter conference in Charleston, South Carolina. Today’s sessions included product launches, new media, organics and sustainable agriculture, and coming up is a meet and greet with the media (drinks, anyone?). It’s not surprising that last night’s pre-conference meal and today’s lunch were both outstanding. I mean, this is the Food & Beverage conference after all. The conference started today and runs through tomorrow, piggybacking on the Charleston Food & Wine Festival going on this weekend.

    I had the pleasure of presenting on the New Media panel with Paul Cheney from Charleston Food Company. His presentation covered creating food communities where chefs, patrons and restaurateurs can interact through message boards. You can imagine that the local food industry Paul helps them show their stuff through thousands of food photos, because, as he succinctly stated, “Everyone has to eat” and that the first thing people judge food with is their eyes.

    I want to thank Kathryn Newton and Claire Burke, who help organize the Food & Beverage chapter and Tina Honer from PRSA for having me here. Here’s a nice picture of me sporting the “faux-hawk” with Kathryn (disclosure, Kathryn and I work together on projects for a client):

    Did I mention that this yankee isn’t used to the humidity? Crikey…

     
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