We’ve admonished clients to tell the truth, asserted that PR is not "spin", pointed to blogs as the start of an era of open and honest citizen journalism; and touted the rise of social media as another step toward ever-loftier goals of transparency and integrity.
Yet scan the headlines on any given day and you’re likely to see an article exposing or warning against some sort of fakery taking place online. Whether blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or consumer reviews, all have been soured to varying degrees by efforts that are better described as covert marketing rather than legitimate consumer opinions about a company, brand, product, or service.
Given the promise for more direct and trustworthy communication between businesses and consumers, we all should be disappointed to see signs of social media being used not simply as part of, but in fact manipulated to fit, the traditional model of overly curated "on-brand" messaging.
But the argument is not whether marketers and PR practitioners are misappropriating social media. It’s that sometimes we can do a better job of following our own advice to stop trying to control the conversation and, instead, embrace all the voices in the market.
Most of us likely agree that businesses and consumers have equal right to participate in conversations about the products and services on which people spend their hard-earned money. And, if you truly own that position, then you quickly realize that PR and, more broadly, marketing communications is not an "us versus them" proposition. And that is precisely when the value of authenticity becomes all the more apparent.
A primary purpose behind communication is to promote understanding and, hopefully, improve our relationships and experiences. In the context of the dialogue that takes place between businesses and consumers via all forms of marketing communications, authenticity and trust are the cornerstones of persuading people to enter into a commercial relationship, promoting advocacy and loyalty, and driving commercial success.
Trust is critical
For us at Bazaarvoice, it’s critical that both our clients and their customers can clearly see that the authenticity of product reviews is safeguarded.
On the one hand, our brand and retail clients recognise that they lose the power of genuine consumer feedback if they subvert the reviews process customers use to praise or criticize products and services. On the other hand, consumers find no value in review content that illegitimately degrades or promotes a company, brand, or product.
This is why we’ve developed the Authentic Reviews Trust Mark. As a representation of Bazaarvoice’s robust authenticity policy and anti-fraud practices, the Trust Mark gives those who rely on consumer feedback—both businesses and consumers—the means to clearly and quickly identify when they can trust the review content they read online.
A Trust Mark isn’t a panacea, but the ideal behind it can and should be adopted by every business, marketer, advertiser, PR pro, and consumer: Develop and display a strong authenticity policy and, when appropriate, enlist a third-party expert to help ensure your employees, partners, and customers live up to it in all communications.
After all, authenticity isn’t something you can adhere to sporadically, nor is it a curtain that can be drawn to hide what’s really happening behind the scene. Preserving authenticity takes effort and commitment, but the best part is, when it’s your chance to tell the world how great you are, you’ll be much more believable.
Matt Krebsbach is director of public and analyst relations at Bazaarvoice