Guardian column: Buzz off!

My Media Guardian column this week brings together what I’ve been saying here about the ethics of buying buzz (registration-free link here). Snippet:

The growth of blogs and what is ingloriously labelled “user-generated content” has spawned a new commercial practice: word-of-mouth marketing, the dark art of trying to manipulate the public to buzz about your brand. Call it what you will, it’s still just PR – and as a journalist, I’ve never been a fan of flacks, for it’s their job to spin, the reporter’s to unspin, and the public’s to be spun.

But now the internet opens direct access from PR people to the public, who can now publish themselves, letting everyone avoid those pesky gatekeepers in the press. And that’s fine: the web massacres middlemen. But what the flacks and marketers don’t realise is that they also take on a new responsibility in our reordered architecture of information. Now their credibility actually matters.

  • J E S Bradshaw

    We now know you’re a man of impeccable credentials, and quite beyond reproach, but please don’t assume all PRs are, on the other hand, venal, corrupt and dishonest. We aren’t.

  • Jeff, when you spoke at our global digital practice meeting, your advice to the PR industry was to “get out of the way”, yet now our “credibility matters”.

    How can we build credibility if you want us to be invisible? And don’t say “you build credibility by being invisible”.

  • Niall,
    I think the message is quite clear: Don’t stand between people and the truth — which is just what happened in the Wal-Mart episode.

  • Three comments and a request.

    1. Your headline says “this blogger’s voice is not for sale.” Then your text says “they’re trying to buy our voice (and) you cannot buy our word of mouth. It’s ours.” OK, so your voice is not for sale. What gives you the right to say that no blogger’s voice is?

    2. You say “Now (flacks’ and marketers’) credibility actually matters.” I say it always has.

    3. You say “They (flacks and marketers, again) are blowing it.” Mind qualifying that with a “some,” maybe? As in some flacks and marketers. Some aren’t after all.

    4. And lastly, a pet peeve of mine, would you mind not using the term flack in a derogatory way all the time? I don’t call all journalists (citizen or otherwise) hacks.

  • The truth (there’s that word again) is that many PRs are well aware of these responsibilities, having been part of the same reordered architecture of information for much longer than both you and I.

    In every walk of life (including journalism – professional and citizen) there are dumb, dishonest and unreliable people, but that doesn’t mean they are all dumb, dishonest and unreliable.

  • Jeff,

    I, too, see WOM as manipulation. The thing is, much of it is quite transparent, and still, people lap it up. I wrote an extensively about the WOM industry and the potential effects on society and culture in Sales Pitch Society I and II: