The FTC has made what some may see as a controversial ruling – that bloggers must disclose if they are getting paid by or are receiving free goods from companies whose product they have reviewed. These rulings are meant to protect consumers, but they also protect the overwhelming majority of companies that are using the social media honestly. Transparency in the social media is the only way to gain trust. If a relationship is based on manipulation it will ultimately fail. As it has often been said, it is not a matter of if you will be exposed but when you will be exposed. Not only is there –ultimately – no place to hide, but the news of your transgressions will fly fast over the internet.
If some companies see this as a reason to not get involved, then they shouldn’t get involved in a social media strategy. It means that they are still thinking in terms of creating a promotional channel where paying to get their message out is part of the game. The social media is – to them – a channel to be exploited. I don’t fault companies for this old-think, it is difficult to do an about-face when traditional marketing and advertising concepts are more than a century old and very engrained in our collective psyches.
However, this is the 21st century and being able to deliver finely-honed messages to individuals in isolation is no longer possible. Those individuals are only a keystroke away from millions of cohorts who have their own take on what you are selling. Developing good word-of-mouth communications about your product comes from genuine customer satisfaction and their sense of “ownership” of your product. This can only happen when companies stop trying to craft messages, and get down in the mix and interact with consumers. Companies that see that the social media is not just a new channel, but a fundamental shift in how they relate to consumers will be successful without the need to pay people to be their friends.