What Happens When They Expect “Fake”?

There’s a lot of hoopla around a “scandal” that has broken out when it comes to transparency.

According to MobileCrunch, a leading mobile communication and technology site, a PR firm called Reverb Communications has “managed to find astounding success on Apple’s App Store for its clients.”  One of their tactics, especially, involves hiring “a team of interns to trawl iTunes and other community forums posing as real users, and has them write positive reviews for their clients.”

This development in itself is startling to some, but in reality, I’m not terribly surprised.  My younger brother, who just wrapped up his college degree in marketing, once had an internship within the mobile gaming industry, and once told me this practice is totally rampant within that community.  Completely commonplace.

For one, there’s a huge issue in subjecting interns to performing unethical communications.  These interns, too eager to please in a hostile job market, are being taught that this is a professional method in conducting online marketing.  Whereas these firms should be teaching basic, standard fundamentals like transparency – methods that ensure that the client whom they hired is protected and that their brand is safe – they’re instead teaching future marketing, communications and public relations professionals how to take shortcuts.  They’re ingraining these types of practices within our industry’s future.

But, I think there’s also a larger issue here.  When talking to my brother about these practices, he essentially told me that these kinds of practices should be expected by the consumer.  He didn’t mean it as a “this is actually an ethical practice” argument, but rather, that younger people (look at me, I’m not even 26, and I’m talking about “younger people”) completely expect these communications to be fake.

For one, it makes a communication professional’s job harder.  The burden of proof is on us to show that what we’re doing is, in fact, real.

For instance, one campaign I’m currently working on is called the Campaign for Quality Services.  It’s about adding the voice of food service workers to the debate around passing an improved Child Nutrition Act (end plug).  In the campaign, since my goal is about adding their voice, I’m striving to ensure that the voice is authentic and prevalent throughout.

In building the site, one of my first goals was to collect quotes and stories from workers – real, actual quotes from interviews and conversations that we shared.  But, what I’ve found is that simply adding the quote to a picture of the worker isn’t enough.  The audience simply doesn’t believe that the quote really comes from that worker whose picture is on my site.  Instead, I’ve found that I have to move to video on various pages.  The burden of proof is simply on me.

So, in essence, when a company isn’t transparent, when they lie about who they are and who they represent, it doesn’t just damage their company, and it doesn’t just damage their clients.  It hurts all of us within the field, who then have to take the next step in creating an environment where we’re believed.

The good news out of this, however, is that it’s situations like this that challenge us, and force us to think outside of the box.  It pushes us to innovate and to strive to create content that is more real and more authentic.  It forces is to really live by the best practices we preach, and to work to develop and discover new best practices.

In that way, perhaps there is some good in these developments after all?

~ by Brad Levinson on August 25, 2009.

One Response to “What Happens When They Expect “Fake”?”

  1. Good post! Amazon is another place where this sort of behavior runs rampant and I think most people know that and shop with that in mind? Publishers love to post about how great their books are. It really is hard as a consumer to know what to trust and you just have to hope that the truth is in the aggregate.

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