Nokia was in a bit of a soup last week thanks to a ‘review’ they posted on their Conversations blog.
Yes, they posted a ‘review’ of Nokia Lumia 620 on their blog; it was called a ‘review’, was posted by Adam Fraser, who, according to his LinkedIn profile is ‘Staff writer, Republic Publishing Ltd – Writing editorial content for Conversations by Nokia – the Official Nokia Blog’.
The comments are on expected lines. The first comment nails the overall sentiment accurately.
You just reviewed your own f***ing product. Absolutely ridiculous. How stupid do you think people are?
But… but, this post is not to deride Nokia for this supposedly dastardly act. Instead, let me question the detractors. Have you seen the ‘Press’ (or Media) section of other smartphone brands like Samsung, HTC or Sony? They have something called the ‘press release’ and they have tons of press releases that eulogize their own products – not very different from Adam’s ‘review’ that Nokia later called it ‘Hands-on’.
What is that I hear? Oh yes. The press section is usually agreed to be a place where brands can talk about themselves, but a blog is usually…! What? A blog is not meant to be a place where brands can talk about itself? Who framed that rule?
Let’s move from brands to individuals for a minute. Don’t individuals talk about themselves in mighty positive terms (coated with the best of English to make it tolerable) in their own blogs?
How about LinkedIn? I had posed this question last week on Twitter. Why do some people have their LinkedIn profile summary in the 3rd person? That sounds almost like an endorsement, but isn’t. Even in the 1st person tone, isn’t someone saying that they are ‘highly creative’ almost equal to the way Adam blogs about Lumia 620?
I was part of a DNA story last week where the topic was social media influencers and the need for disclosure from them when they endorse some brand… for a fee.
I have blogged about one such influencer in the past (he was the crux of the DNA story) and argued not for him or against him, but for the evolution of the nature of influencers, the influenced and the medium used.
Brands use celebrities to endorse products. That is done to induce a few reactions in the target audience. Could be,
– ‘I love that celeb. So, I’d love what she is endorsing’
– ‘I want to be like that celeb. So, I’d use what she uses’
– ‘Isn’t this product everywhere because of that celeb? Lemme try it out’
– ‘Hey, lemme not switch channels/move off this ad because it has that celeb – seems to stand out’
We never asked the question of that celeb really believing in that product and using it. Somehow, the world accepted that it is completely normal for brands to pay an obscene amount of money to a celebrity and that viewers/readers will not question the veracity of the celeb’s claims about the product in question in the ensuing marketing campaign across media.
But people will question minor social media celebrities and brand pages/blogs on why there is no disclosure when they are being paid to endorse something or when brands use the blog to share what is otherwise a press release. Hmmm… interesting.
I suspect the problem is with the nature of the medium itself. Traditional media advertising is not a conversation; it is a monologue. Social media is a conversation. So, people will ask all kinds of things in the latter – where is the disclosure, why do you bother reviewing your own product in your own blog, how much did you get paid to write this review… and so on.
Brands, or social media celebrities who are at the receiving end of such queries have a choice of ignoring them and moving on.
Hunky dory? Hardly. There is that question of trust/credibility left unanswered.
Yes, trust. Or, credibility. If mainstream media celebrity endorsements are now considered to be one of visibility than trust, social media endorsements are still about trust, barring the cream of social media celebrities who offer reach (visibility).
Hrish Thota and his great grand mother in the social media celebrity endorsement business, Miss Malini (hats off to the way she has built a full-fledged team and process around the whole thing – almost replicates the offline celeb endorsement model!) are people who built an audience from the ground-up and are usually open about the entire process – that their audience is up for sale. People willingly choose to follow them online and read their blog posts – they always have the option to not do so, if they feel outraged that what they say is motivated by the money paid by the ‘client’.
In a way, Hrish and Miss Malini merely mimic the offline celebrity model – build audience over one thing or other and use that audience for perpetuity, if it stays with them.
Social media influence works on a different model, however. The expectation is that social media is all about hitting the ‘He/she is just like me – if he/she likes that product, I may too‘ button. To do that, you’d need to,
– identify the right social media influencers, based on the context of the product or its usage
– identify a lot of right social media influencers concurrently to gain reach/visibility
– interact with them closely and convince them of your product’s claims
– pay them, where necessary
It is up to these social media celebrities to disclose the nature of the endorsement, depending on how they interact with their audiences. The brand could win brownie points by insisting on such a disclosure so that it doesn’t erode its own perception amongst its target audience.
In a way, brands like Facebook are trying to do this in scale, unlike pointed, sporadic efforts by brands and social media agencies. Facebook’s ‘Related posts’ is a perfect example where they show 2 people from your friends circle as people who have liked a brand page on Facebook, and below it, almost as a ‘…by the way’, is a post by the product selling something. On a quick glance on your timeline, that makes it seem like your friends have done something with that product even though all they may have done is to merely like that page, eons ago. It’s not devious – just tactfully clever. It is up to you to differentiate between what you’d like to trust and what you wouldn’t.
So, for brands – you may do anything as you please, after all, you have been doing it in the offline media space for ages, anyway! So, you can blog a review of your wares using your own staff writer. But, people will question the claims if it is not explicitly mentioned (like a press release page) and you’d lose trust in your blog and the product in the long-run.
For individuals – you may or may not disclose the nature of endorsements in your tweets or blog posts. But, you’re merely pushing your luck with your ‘followers’ and ‘friends’. You’d be a lot less trusted if you continue to keep them in the dark and they find out the truth on their own. If you’re open, they may accept that as a given and perhaps trust you more!
For celebrities, online or offline – your followers are what makes you a celebrity. You could be a brilliant nuclear oncologist, but if nobody knows that, you’d just be a brilliant nuclear oncologist. If they know, then you’d be a famous, brilliant nuclear oncologist. And you’d have people following your body of work through some media – this is something you can use, to help appropriate brands reach their target audience. If the mode of communication is traditional media with no avenue for a conversation, you may choose the old world method of doing what you want. If the mode of communication is social media, you better be ready for questions.
To sum up, here’s a quick, handy glossary (click on the image for larger size)!