Have you ever issued a “call for recommendations” when seeking referrals around products and services you require?
Chances are you have.
Calls for recommendations are one of the more popular uses of social networking, either from your personal page or via a special interest Group.
Who hasn’t asked their network for recommendations for anything from a plum jam to a plumber?
So much so that market leader Facebook now automatically recognises a call for recommendations and gives it its own special layout to further enhance and recognise it.
Sadly though, few of the recommendations you receive are based on the respondent’s own experiences.
In an age where referral marketing is now an organised marketing tactic and there are no barriers to proper disclosure, many recommendations are badly tainted by conflicted interest.
Data around the practice is hard to come by, but it may well be in the order of over 50% that are tainted in this way.
Sadly, few ever have the integrity or ethics to disclose they have an interest in their recommendation, be it due to their own stake in the business in question, or because they are being otherwise rewarded, for example by a commission or referral network points systems.
Proving the connection
In some Groups such flagrant conflicts are commonplace, with links to the referred party often difficult to trace or prove.
Sadly too, few Group administrators seem concerned enough about what is a clear ethical issue to police the practice – often because they are unaware of the scale of it.
Yet the practice can be heavily reduced by the use of just one simple sentence when issuing your call
That sentence is: “Please disclose any interest you may have in your referral”.
Adding that sentence achieves two objectives:
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First, it makes the respondent think twice about making the referral without the disclosure, immediately qualifying the referral.
Most people have a conscience and will be reluctant to proceed when you have qualified your call so clearly.
Second, in the event that you did go ahead and do business with the referred party, you have a record of the communication with the referrer which can be used as evidence in the event the transaction goes pear shaped or if you have reason to question the referrer’s interest in the referral.
Not a good look
Even if a legal challenge is unsuccessful, the damage to the referrer’s reputation should be more than sufficient to make them reconsider referring without making the disclosure.
The entire issue is less prevalent in peer networks like LinkedIn, where your profile is (in the main) inextricably linked to your business interests and where the behaviour of conversation participants is far more professional and conservative than the consumer equivalents.
However, just to be sure, I would be adding the sentence in LinkedIn as well.
It’s really the only way to help ensure the transparency that is currently sadly lacking in social networks.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au