The price of favour

An article in The Age this weekend got me thinking. Called ‘Social Media Clicks and Business Really Likes It‘, there were a couple of points within the article that caught my attention.

First was the following:

“Under a special deal with the online company, he (Dion Evans) gets a 25% discount in exchange for posting at least six “genuine and helpful” comments a month about the brand (Switch Kites) on social media sites.”

Business sponsorship of things is nothing new. Athletes have plastered themselves with logos of major sporting companies in exchange for big dollars for decades. Businesses buy promience and reflected goodwill by sponsoring charity events and organisations. In fact, hitching their wagon to anything that will give a bit of awareness is standard marketing practice.

So why would companies “exchanging” freebies and discounts for “genuine and helpful comments” be any different? Because it is.

I’ll place a decent bet that those “six genuine and helpful comments a month” don’t come with the disclosure that Dion is getting a 25% discount to make them. And that’s the problem and the big shift.

Liberated by the easy access of social media, businesses have been cut loose from the moorings of disclosure. Advertising doesn’t look like advertising any more (and, no, I’m not talking about the difference between print and online).

It’s Christmas and Easter all rolled into one for marketing. No need to worry about pesky things like having good products or actually keeping your promises. Not when you have a willing army ready and “bribed” to go forth.

I can hear the howls of disagreement. “Social media will turn on you if it isn’t genuine” you say, “There’s no place to hide.” Oh really. I don’t agree and seems I’m not alone. Also from the same article consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier says:

“I reckon a lot of people are drinking the Kool-Aid by saying social media is all about authenticity and transparency. At the end of the day it is about business and business opportunity. The main reason people interact with brands online is to win free stuff, he says. He prefers the term “incentives” to bribes…”

I prefer to dispense with the couched language designed to make this stuff feel more legitimate. Let’s call it for what it is. It’s a bribe.

So, what happens when the the whole thing goes sour. When the prevalence of “genuine and helpful comments” from people bribed to make them, makes people begin to question any praise. Even legitimate praise for businesses that actually have great products and service and don’t need to bribe anyone to say so.

Is the end-game no one is seeing here the destruction of word-of-mouth? One of the most powerful ways any organisation can build its customer-base. It’s certainly something to consider.

Later in the article, the following quote led me on another tangent.

Commonwealth Bank Chief Marketing and Online Officer Andy Lark says:

“Our goal principally is serving customers better. If you’ve got someone out there not happy who has millions of followers you’d better be responding quickly.”

Does anyone else spot the hole in the above statement?

In one breath the goal is “serving customer better”, but in the very next sentence it’s customers who have millions of followers that will get faster, better attention. So Commonwealth Bank customers, if you don’t have a huge and influential social media following that you can complain to in order to get your issue sorted, I guess you’ll be out of luck. Or at the very least pushed to the back of the queue.

I know I’ve said it before, but if you don’t want people to say bad things about you on social media, don’t do bad things. Sure that won’t stop some people from still complaining, and there is no easy answer for that one. To resort to “parent speak” – rewarding their bad behavior by putting them to the front of the queue when they do complain is probably not the best idea.

In the end it all comes down to this.

Make promises you can keep. Keep them. And you shouldn’t need to bribe your customers to talk about you. Make promises you can keep. Keep them. And you shouldn’t need to prioritise your customer service response by size of social media following.

See you next week.


Michel Hogan is an independent adviser and advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes the Brand Alignment blog. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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