The Federal Trade Commission reported just last week that they had fined the Legacy Learning and Smith company $250K for using an online “affiliate” promotion program that essentially paid bloggers to write endorsements for their product sin order to encourage their readers to click through to the Legacy site and purchase their products. The blogger then receives a piece of the action, so to speak (source). These sorts of pay-per-post schemes have definitely raised the ire of the FTC. In 2009, they revised their guidelines concerning testimonials and endorsements to explicitly underscore that this sort of cozy relationship between online “critics” and companies selling a product is definitely not okay.
Being caught by the FTC, however, is not the only reason you should think twice before paying for reviews for your product or service. Here’s 3 reasons why paying a blogger or anyone else to produce a review for your product or service is just bad business:
- Ever-increasing Consumer Savvy
I know it’s easy to think of the majority of people browsing online as unsophisticated rubes, but the fact is that as more and more people spend more and more time on the ‘net, the ability of the average internet user to sniff out disingenuous content goes up as well. Associating your brand with this sort of deceptive marketing may net you some short-term profit, but it decreases your long-term visibility and loyalty. If you have a great product or service that you believe in and you market it honestly, then the positive reviews will come.
- Disingenuous Marketing Leads to Other Dishonest Practices
If you can’t see the ethical issues present in paying someone to deliberately mislead other people about your product or service, then you’re opening yourself up to entertaining even more devious marketing ideas. If you think “this is ok, but I won’t do X”, then you’re just lying to yourself. This isn’t meant to be a sermon or lecture, it just is what it is. In the online business world, you’re either honest and above-board, or you’re not.
- The ever-increasing Risk of Viral Negativity
You might think that the average internet user won’t notice or care about this dishonesty, and you might not be too fussed over the ethical implications either, but you should definitely take notice of the very real possibility of a viral backlash against your brand. It might just start as a simple blog post, but what if that blog is read by another, even more influential blogger who decides to write an amusing satire of your “marketing efforts”, and that satiric blog post goes viral across the web? If you wanted public exposure, you definitely got it, but in the worst way possible. Don’t open your company up to being the butt of a joke.
I hope you take note: just don’t pay for biased reviews. It is just bad business.