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Social Media Safety Warning: NY State fines $300,000 for fake reviews. Learn to protect your brand.

The crackdown on fake reviews and fake blog posts has begun:

The New York Attorney General has fined a company $300,000 for encouraging fake reviews.

It's a good thing. All ethical marketers know that we survive and thrive only through the trust and respect of our customers. Any effort to clean up the the bad actors is good for those of us who base our reputation and leadership on honesty and openness.

I've been blogging and speaking around the country about the importance of social media ethics and the risks of engaging in fake reviews and blog posts. Some people say that I'm being alarmist. But it is clear that government enforcement has begun and the risks are real. On consumer protection issues, New York leads and the rest of the states usually follow (and we're still awaiting the latest ruling from the FTC). 

All ethical social media marketers (and all marketers) should welcome this. We thrive by building trust.

What's important to know is that NY has clarified the law. It's not open for discussion or debate. It's not some new innovative marketing technique to test. It's ILLEGAL. It's a good time to ask, "Has our agency been protecting us from these practices or pushing us into the minefield?"

How to stay safe in social media:

  1. Never pay for posts or reviews.  Do it even once, and you break the trust forever. Everyone will assume you pay for all reviews.
  2. Stay away from any fake-review or mass-blogging services.  You don't want to be on the client list of any service that encourages paying for reviews or posts. The only honest/legal review is from a real customer who has actually used your product. (This has been the law for decades.)
  3. Create a formal, public policy. Put your commitment to do honest social media in writing. Publish that policy publicly and stick to it.
  4. Train your team. It takes only one well-intentioned staffer who posts fake reviews to drag your entire company into a scandal. Create a complete training and certification program so everyone knows right from wrong.
  5. Bind your agencies.  Make your PR/advertising/social media agencies (and their subcontractors) sign a contract that they will not engage in any of these practices on your behalf.
  6. Monitor. Know in real-time what reviews are being posted about you so you can stop the fake ones.

This advice isn't new, but many companies haven't protected themselves yet. I'll be doing a series of free seminars to provide more in-depth training.

Ask yourself:  Why go there? What is the upside of engaging in questionable tactics? 

And then ask yourself:  What is the downside? How would we recover if we were caught posting fake reviews or paying for posts? Could we ever recover our reputation?

You have a responsibility to your brand to do the right thing.

The safest path is to always take the high road. Insist that your team only engage in the most ethical and respectable practices. Stay out of the grey area. Remember: If you have to ask, it's wrong.

Let's all work to spread the message of trust, honesty, and ethical leadership in social media.

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Comments

  1. Ralph Beentjes July 22, 2009 at 3:50 am #

    Bloggers are allowed to write about anything they want of course, but should they be paid to be stimulated, the question perhaps is whether bloggers really need stimulation? Isn’t it in the nature of the blogger to be stimulated by itself to share thoughts and discuss ideas. In this huge community of bloggers you can find somebody who is interested in your product. A company could contact the blogger to make him/her aware of products, but actually pay?
    If Bloggers receive money to review, they should mention that they received money to do the review. Would I still value his review if he wrote reviews only for this company? What’s in it for me to believe him I would think? He receives an incentive, why should I be unbiased in believing him?
    Does paying reviewers kill the bloggers credibility? And therefor backfire on the paying company?