Sunday, November 15, 2009

When companies masquerade as friends.

Lots of us proudly display the Blog With Integrity badge on our blogs. And we've seen the new FTC regulations. And as a parent blogger, or mum blogger, or whatever you want to call me (I'm not fussy), I've a pretty good sense of what's acceptable content for my blog and what's not.

I don't gush about a product and fail to mention I've been paid to do so. I don't rave about something that truthfully sucks because I'm being compensated. I don't lie to my readers. (oh, um, except maybe sometimes regarding age and weight... forgive me?)

It's quite clear to me how to blog with integrity.

But for some there is still concern that the lines between honest blogging and advertising are blurry. Especially when it comes to companies plying bloggers with fancy trips and free stuff in the hopes they'll share positive product reviews with their thousands of followers.

As the LA Times article noted yesterday, this type of marketing is shrewd, yes. It's advertising in a nontraditional sense.

But I for one don't find it confusing.

The bloggers who attended the Nestlé event told us they were going and why. And therefore I wasn't surprised when I saw tweets and blog posts about the event and about Nestlé products.

For the record I don't like Nestle. I decided years ago not to buy their products after reading about the company's shady operations with regard to infant formula in the third world. You know the story by now if you didn't before.

But anyway, my point is, I didn't find it confusing. I knew the bloggers were attending an event intended to promote a brand.

And quite frankly if Cadbury's invited me to a weekend of chocolate eating, fancy hotels and naked slaves... oh wait that's my fantasy, what was I saying? and wonderful alone time, do you think I'd say no because I blog with integrity? Hell no. I'd tell you folks about it, and then I'd hop on that plane and head for the chocolate. Obviously.

I don't find it confusing when companies ask influential bloggers to attend lavish events in the hopes they'll tell their followers about it.

Nor do I find it confusing when bloggers talk about the details of an event they're attending or a product they're reviewing.

You know what I DO find confusing?

Companies that masquerade as people, or worse - friends.

Recently I watched a company use Twitter to infiltrate the mum blogging community as "one of us". The tweeter in question acted like a friend, an individual, not like a company.

She expertly gathered a large following on Twitter, building camaraderie by talking about common parenting problems and asking for advice. The marketing was so subtle it was barely noticeable.

I'm referring to the tweeter who's goal was to promote a film about a mom blogger...

The film's overall marketing campaign was very creative, enlisting popular mom bloggers to help promote the movie. The bloggers involved were open and honest about their participation and I respect them for that. I have no issue with this aspect of the movie's marketing strategy.

When the film came out in late October, and the job promoting it on Twitter was done, the tweeter - the brand - vanished. Friend and tweeter no more. Adios amigos.

You see, this is confusing, to me. Blurry.


Because when I cannot differentiate between a company marketing a product, and a friend, I have an issue.

I've seen other brands use social media to market to their audience in a more direct manner. They'll present special offers, discounts, sneak previews, reviews, contests. To me there's a big difference between this kind of open, honest advertising and the kind that involves pretending to be pals over tweets.

Something about it just doesn't sit right - the sneakiness of it, the dishonesty of behaving like a friend, holding real conversations about people's families, building fake relationships. All in the name of profit, not friendship.

I guess for me, advertising and friendship are two things that can never be combined.

But that's just my opinion. What do you think?
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Sandy Calico said...

Excellent post. What a shame this person cynically befriended bloggers. They clearly have no integrity.

Insomniac Mummy said...

'She' befriended me too and like you I was aware it was a marketing strategy.

It never occurred to me to question the friendliness of the strategy though.

I'm a cynic, I knew I wasn't going to see the film and I guess in that sense 'she' was flogging a dead horse with me.

I think you're right about those blurry lines. PR's are evolving their approaches because social media is the new way to spread brand awareness.

Great post.

Liz (LivingwithKids) said...

This is very interesting (I presume you mean the film with Uma Thurman, which hasn't been released here yet but hopefully in January).

I suppose I consider most of the people I tweet with on a regular basis my online friends. If I've met them in person, and feel that I can talk to them about anything, then they're real friends. If not then they are what I would term 'professional' friends.

Catharine Withenay said...

I whole-heartedly agree. If tweeters are honest about marketing then that is fine (I may still follow them, but at least I know what I'm following!) but most are friends - people whose lives I share something with, and am happy to share some of mine.

Juicytots said...

I fully admit started on twitter to promote my website (I am not a large organisation, just a one person operation) I have tried to be honest in my bio and with my twitter name. However, I have enjoyed twitter so much I now do it more as a hobby of sorts. Sure some of the folks I tweet with have become customers, but I have also found humour, comaraderie and friendship amongst fellow tweeters, especially those with kids the same ages as my own. I have also found it an excellent source of information and inspiration. I hope my followers find me to be genuine and transparent not deceptive and underhand.

LittleGreenFingers said...

I'm a little shocked about this - but then again, I'm rather easily shocked - it's a sheltered life I lead...

Maybe we need a 'Tweet with Integrity' badge - or how about 'Twintegrity' - no that sounds like you're duplicitous... 'Twegrity' - that's the one!

Dan said...

That is very interesting. I tend to be very picky about who I follow on twitter - often not friending people because they promote their own blog too much never mind a film or a product.

But as bloggers and readers get more and more cynical about the marketing aimed at them I imagine stealth marketing will become more prominent.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I think you broke this down very clearly and it all makes sense to me. There is some gray area too though. I've seen some marketing that really shouldn't have been, but *was* taken the wrong way. From this perspective about "sneakiness" I mean.

I know some bloggers who were helping to promote the Motherhood movie via blogging and Twitter. And they developed a website that included blog posts from the fictional character (no sneakiness there - we all know the character is fictional).

Then as a creative way to drive traffic to the site, they left comments on other blogs from the character. When those bloggers would click over to see who the commenter was, they'd land on the movie website.

I personally thought this was very clever since it was a movie about a blogger, and then that fictional blogger left a comments as an invitation to get more information on the movie.

Not everyone had the same perspective though. Some felt it was sneaky marketing. And a few even went so far as to take it as an insult to the blogging community.

I disagreed with this (obviously since I thought it was clever). Also because they only left one comment and there was no back and forth communication before the the fictional character was revealed (and I felt that cries of this being the start of ALL companies marketing to bloggers in that manner were a bit alarmist and premature).

BUT the point is that there are two very valid perspectives at play here. It's a gray area.

So I think that there will have to be a lot of "agree to disagree" compromise on the less clear cut situations.

Thought provoking post!

Stacy (the Random Cool Chick) said...

I need to hang out on Twitter more often, I miss all the good stuff! ;)

Love this post...I absolutely agree. :)

Lady Mama said...

Juicytots - yes there's a difference between a big company building false friendships with lots of people in a short time and someone like you who genuinely is making good connections with people you like. Plus you'll won't ditch them as soon as you've reached your sales target!

Kate - interesting, I had no idea about the pretend blogger leaving comments on others' blogs... again I'm not sure how I feel about this. We write comments because we're part of the same community and we support each other as friends. When someone breaks into that and uses it as a way of marketing - whatever it's for, I have a hard time distinguishing between that and a spammer... thanks for your thoughtful comment!

Scattered Mom said...

I'm not confused about the issue of companies marketing on Twitter or blogs either, because it's usually very clear what their intention is.

It's not just companies, though. I've followed someone who seemed to be a regular parent and who would chat with me for awhile, and then I'd be slammed with marketing stuff. Sometimes I'm left feeling used.

Thankfully, there's an easy remedy for that-the Block button.

LZ @ My Messy Paradise said...

I was just thinking about 'her' the other day. We all chatted with this new tweep, all got excited about the movie, and then I felt kind of used. I got over it quickly, but sadly, it makes me question others who I like, but seem to be following suit...

mamagonekrazi said...

Marketing and scamming industry are becoming more and more creative everyday. These guys can actually solve the world hunger problem if they applied their creativity to this end.

Mom Mayhem says: said...

Ugh-That sucks! I agree there should be integrity in such things. I wonder who the real person or people is behind the curtain.

Mwa said...

That's pretty much the definition of no integrity.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Great post LM. I too was followed by this person/company, but hadn't know they were acutually gone. I paid little attention to them. Very schetchy though and makes you wonder who is not who they say they are.

Anyway, I would totally blog with integrity if I just were given the chance.

One offer, that's all it would take. Apparently my brand doesn't translate to selling products.

Maria @BOREDmommy said...

I absolutely agree with you - its funny but I thought of that "person" just the other day, wondering where the hell they went. Its just shady - and I'm not thrilled with shady.

THeta Mom said...

Excellent post. I know EXACTLY what you are talking about and after all was said and gone, the whole excitement, including that tweep, was gone.

I tried to stumble this, but wasn't successful. I'll try again later. Awesome post.

Loukia said...

Very well said, my friend. I agree that it is okay to be a blogger who agrees to review/promote a product that they like, and talk about it, or go to events that are paid for if it is a product they like. I don't mind companies following me on Twitter if from the get-go, their intentions were only to promote their company.... sometimes I'll follow back, but it just depends on what they are selling.

Scary Mommy said...

I was part of the group acting as Eliza's voice...

When I heard of a movie on Mom Bloggers, I knew I wanted to be involved. It seemed so exciting and full of promise. We devised the plan on Twitter and using our friends, built a community around this woman. This fictional woman. It wasn't meant to be sneaky or unethical, it was meant to be a logical way to reach the target audience.

It did not go as planned, and the fact that "she" just vanished was obviously poor planning, but as soon as my contract was up, I was ready to move on. The feedback has been negative and I wanted to be done. I hoped the film company would pick up where we left off, but they didn't. Obviously.

The whole thing was a big learning experience. But, not for a moment was it done maliciously as you suggest. This is new territory for all of us, and we're just trying to navigate the way.

Lady Mama said...

Scary Mommy - I never implied that the person on Twitter was acting maliciously. I'm just trying to figure out how I feel about companies that use social media to market to us while at the same time behaving like a friend. I think you're correct that it was poor planning rather than ill intention. But it still leaves some of us a bit confused.