I was troubled by MobileCrunch’s report on a PR firm who let their interns/employees write fake product reviews on behalf of their clients. After reading Jeremy Toeman’s warning on general fakery, I’ve also decided to voice my concerns.
What one of the advertising fathers, William Bernbach, said of advertising then still rings true — and even louder — today: “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.” Translated in today’s language: don’t be the evil and deceitful company, because #EpicFail will bring you to justice.
While the greater likelihood of getting caught and exposed to the public is reason enough to not engage in ‘general fakery’ these days, it should not be the compelling reason. Think culture, not tactics. Design ethics, not deceit.
Sure, anyone can use social media tools such as ratings, comments, recommendations and reviews. The functionality is available to both real user and a hired hand. But what’s often disregarded is that using these tools means agreeing to the terms and conditions of transparency, authenticity and trust. Whether you’re a consumer or a PR firm, your message must be truthful, your tactics not dirty. Disclosure is key especially in these times when “…transparency is the new objectivity.”
It’s not just about blogging a review here or leaving a comment there. It’s not about pretending to be a consumer and thinking, ‘I’m telling the truth anyway’. And no, it’s still not OK even if ‘fake’ is not something new. The fact that it is generally practiced should strengthen our resolve to conduct our business differently. The choices we make as designers, information architects, developers, advertisers, PR firms, and brands all contribute to the development of the ethics of user experience. We should remember that we are in the business of building positive experiences, not frustrations.
For social media to take root and bear fruit, cultural changes have to take place in your organisation. Few companies regard social media not just as a tactical tool, but rather needing a strategic framework. Even less consider it as a cultural cornerstone of their organisation. Strategy and culture are the two (more difficult) areas where your company can excel in social media and distinguish itself from the others who engage in the usual practice of half-truths and muddled messages. These are the areas where you can really sing your praises and breed internal brand champions; convey your product’s advantages while building a sustainable relationship with your target group.
In other words: the business of social media is the business of transparency, authenticity and trust. It’s the business of designing ethics in user experience. Don’t mistake them for tactics alone. Embracing these principles means rethinking your strategy and examining if your organisation can provide cultural spaces for these values to flourish.