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    Buzz MarketingMarketing Week ran a front page item a couple of week’s back which focused on buzz marketing – the question they asked was whether the new EU Law is likely to spell “The end for Buzz Marketing?” So what is it all about and are these bleak prophecies really warranted?

    According to Marketing Week, Buzz Marketing is “the practice of creating a buzz around a brand” with the focus generally being on newer online channels such as blogs, social networking sites to create Word of Mouth marketing etc. As it happens, the Law in question (The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations) doesn’t simply target the fake blogs which is where much of the article’s focus is placed, but rather any activity, online or offline which sets out to deceive or coerce consumers.

    Essentially, the Law is there to protect you and me from people making claims which are untrue or representing themselves falsely – an online example might be leaving testimonials on your own site under a false name or submitting a positive review of your company’s service or product without revealing your identity or without making your connection to the company clear.

    In the same way, flogs or fake blogs such as the “Walmarting across America” fiasco and the “All I want for Xmas is a PSP” which was more painful than deceitful, will now be illegal rather than simply downright stupid. As it happens, in these cases, the blogosphere did an excellent job of policing itself and the companies in question quickly admitted responsibility and withdrew the blogs.

    So is this the end of the world in terms of online Buzz Marketing, now that we are no longer able to lie to and deceive our customers without falling foul of the long arm of the law? I think not and indeed my own opinion is very much in line with Simon Quanse’s comments quoted in the article when he states that

    “the new regulations will only have the potential to affect those using “underhand” buzz marketing techniques”.

    Spot on.

    There are many innovative ways to communicate with, interest and interact with customers without deceiving them. Although not online in this instance, you only have to look at the recent Honda campaign and the “live ad” with the skydivers to recognise that these are great cases of buzz marketing and just because a fake blog or similar is the easy route, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the best, even if you can get away with it.

    So be creative and open and above all respect your customers – with those three things in mind, you’ll be in a position to create successful campaigns and keep your customers’ respect … as well as their ongoing business, I suggest.

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    Theres been lots of talk about Edelman and the WalMarting across America fake blog (or flog) episode across the blogosphere over the past two weeks as you’d expect – lots of accusations and finger wagging, most of it justified. (In case you are blisssfully unaware of this then this, this, this or this will fill you in on the background).

    My own issue isn’t so much with the initial action (naive as it was) or the delay in Edelmans reply but the impact this type of action has. This impact is felt not only by those already blogging and using the blogosphere, but is even more telling on those companies still examining it and deciding if it is something they should get involved in. An episode like this can have a huge impact in terms of trust, something which is essential if people and companies are to consider blogs as a source of reliable information and hence worthy of their attention.

    A survey run by Globescan earlier this year indicated that the blogosphere still suffers from an image problem with only 25% of those polled indicating that they trust of the information they provide, less than other types of media. This is clearly an issue yet is one that can only be changed over time – episodes like this will only serve to set back that process.

    The need to be whiter than whiter at this stage of the blogospheres growth is critical. To many, the blogosphere seems to have a more of a reputation for outing information like a tabloid reporter rather than providing critical updates and valued opinion. This isnt necessarily true but thats not the point – its perception that counts.

    But like anything, there are differences. Trust in online sources has to be earned – not just for blogs as a whole but individual blogs within that. Those blogs which have shown themselves to be reliable and informative will build an audience which trusts and values the information that they provide, though it is all too easy to lose that trust.

    Episodes like this one with Wal-Mart and Edelman are embarrassing for the companies involved and also potentially damaging for the image of the blogging in general. If it gets tarnished by so called spin then it loses credibility and that could impact us all.

    I find it slightly ironic that blogs, which are such a perfect tool to help build trust and reputation, can result in such a public loss of both when misused. At the same time, I also find it reassuring that the reaction this has provoked shows that there is a self-regulatory force at play which will I hope dissuade others from attempting something similar.

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