New York Times

Before I leap into today’s blog post – I owe you an apology. Our AHA blog hasn’t been as active as usual and it completely falls on my shoulders. It’s been busy in our office and our focus has been on working with our clients to meet some tight, challenging deadlines. We’re loving every minute of it – we live for challenges and deadlines – but our blog and Fast Take Fridays have suffered. My apologies. I am committed to getting back on track starting today and going back to our writing, videotaping and posting schedule. I know if we had a client who went off track, I would be giving them a little grief with some nudging to get them back into the schedule. So, I had the same talk with myself this morning – and here I am back at it. (I can be quite persuasive when I want to be!)

I was reading a piece in the New York Times about people who write fake book reviews. And it really struck a nerve with me. I learned a long time ago not to trust all the reviews online – especially about books and for travel.  There is an entire growing industry that will write reviews on books, products or services – and just about anything you can think of – for a price. That’s not a review; it’s advertising or advertorial or promotion, but it’s not a review. And in my mind – it is unethical.

Public relations is about authenticity and transparency – and not disclosing that you have been paid to do something is about as far away from that as you can get. It doesn’t mean people can’t get paid for checking things out for organizations. In my opinion, Chris Brogan is a perfect example of approaching this with integrity. He discloses when he has been given something – the product, a payment or he gets an affiliate referral fee when you click from his email or website and buy something. I also trust Chris; he has proven time and time again that he won’t lie to me about a product just because he got paid to review it. I am good with that approach; just tell me your relationship with what you are reviewing.

This New York Times article is worth a read. It may open your eyes to the fact that a lot of information that we are being fed online just isn’t true – and, in fact, some of it is downright dishonest. We’re still working out the ethics and values of the Internet. And I think it’s going to take some time.

When you do check out reviews online, put the review and reviewer in context. Check out their other reviews. I almost didn’t stay at a hotel because there was a scathing review of it from someone. At the last minute, I checked out what else this person had reviewed – and he had reviewed a lot. He hated everything. He had over 200 reviews on TripAdvisor and not one of them was positive.

Often the first five to ten reviews for a book or product are from friends, families or employees of the company. Unless they disclose their association or affiliation, I wouldn’t trust them. And especially with people who have self-published or are from a smaller company promoting their book, products and services – you will often see a small group of people who write reviews for each other. There is a little circle of promotion that happens that is pretty easy to identify. Put reviews in context. Don’t take them as face value.

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