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    EU Directive hits floggersLast year, there was lots of talk about fake blogs (aka flogs) and one or two notables (Walmarting across America and All I want for Xmas is a PSP particularly come to mind) which rose up above the flog mediocrity to be truly awful. There were also some high profile companies amongst them and both they and the marketing companies which initiated them on their behalf were roundly berated by the blogosphere as a whole, and the blogs (or should I say flogs) quickly closed down and withdrawn.

    Generally this is the way that the blogosphere has policed its own. However, in Europe, as from the start of next year, the courts are lending a hand as a new EU directive comes into play which would make this type of activity punishable by law as reported in The Times early this year and The Register more recently.

    In fact, the Directive is not specifically designed for blogs, fake or otherwise. It casts its net much wider than this and is concerned generally with media where someone falsely represents themselves as a consumer. In the online world, these could be testimonials on websites, book reviews on Amazon, reviews on hotel or holiday sites or presumably any online media including forums, blogs etc. where organisations leave favourable comments under a false name to try to influence other consumers.

    So, while its encouraging to see the European Union leading the way in anything to do with “online”, a couple of things come to mind.

    Firstly, is this something that is really necessary either in its proposed form or indeed at all? Is it not possible to maintain a type of self regulation which the blogosphere has shown itself to be particularly adept at when it feels that companies have overstepped the mark.

    Secondly, I also worry that the whole thing is quite “un-policeable” with the huge number of online areas where this type of thing could be going on … and of course if cases are not followed up then why attempt external policing in the first place?

    However, what is clear is that this is a very open confirmation of the importance and influence of Word of Mouth and, by implication, of “Word of Blog” as one of its principal online incarnations. So make sure that you don’t overstep the boundaries and fall foul of the law, but at the same time do make sure that you are using your blog to support and develop your online Word of Mouth and marketing activities as a whole.

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    Well, clearly Amazon believes that they have an important role to play in guiding potential customers to their site. They have just launched a series of widgets that bloggers and online social network users will be able to use, primarily as part of Amazon’s affiliate program.

    And just why is this avenue so important to retail organisations? The reason is that the personal recommendation is a powerful tool for retailers – in fact probably THE most important one they have if used correctly. Quite simply, we all rely very heavily on the opinion of friends or colleagues that we trust when making a buying decision.

    Online word of mouth, as I mentioned in Blogs, Peer Review and the Retail Market, holds enormous sway with customers and is going to be increasingly important. This is primarily down to the massive increase in the levels of online communication via blogs and social networks. But, importantly, this is not only the case with the so called Generation Y but with people of all ages as the increasing average user age of both MySpace and now Facebook is clearly demonstrating.

    So as a small business looking at retailing online, what can you do? Well, we will be looking at this in more detail next week as part of the Small Business Series on Better Business Blogging. But in the meantime, take a leaf out of the “big boys” book and think about making your own widget which you can distribute yourself to help publicise your online shop or products.

    For some ideas on creating widgets yourself, have a look at All about Widgets which is an excellent start point – it will also direct you to places and resources that you really should visit.

    In the meantime, try to keep an eye on what the main players in your own market sector are doing and, where possible, employ similar tactics to raise your own profile!

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    How many times have you been in a position where you are looking to buy something and yet are faced with an enormous choice of seemingly similar products. What’s the first thing that you think of doing? If you’re like me, you’ll either do a search on the internet, get someone else’s opinion ... or do both at once.

    If that’s your chosen route to “product enlightenment” then you’re not alone and it seems that the both at once option is becoming ever more common with customers’ opinions on the internet being a key factor in the decision making process. One recent survey targeting Generation Y (also known as the yoof of today in common parlance) reported that some 67% say that they use online reviews as a way of deciding what to buy, with 21% specifically stating that they have used blogs to help them make buying decisions.

    However, this type of reaction is not restricted to the younger generation. We all trust the opinions of others more than we trust the marketing blurb communicated by companies.

    • On Amazon, people look at the reviews to support the selection they have made;

    • On ebay, the customer review section is important to get a feel for the sellers;

    • On Hotels.com, the opinion of others that have stayed there is as important as the hotel information itself.

    All these opinions have a huge influence on our buying decisions and, in each case, effectively what we are looking at is online Word of Mouth.

    Working with your blog is going to give you a real headstart here. It can be a key element in starting up discussions and giving the opportunity for people to air their thoughts and comments on the products. All of this if course, creates extra content about the product on your blog which in turn will help raise your Search Engine profile and attract more visitors a virtuous circle if ever I saw one!

    There are a number of ways in which you can develop it from there perhaps use the blog as a place to highlight the reviews or write posts which link through (sparingly, please) to the products area of your site giving product details, how people use them, where new developments will be etc. You may also find the blog develops a type of community feel for your products and certainly let people review and talk about them openly.

    Remember that personal recommendation together with both peer review and peer pressure are all key factors in our buying decisions, so let your blog help facilitate this and in the process give potential customers a timely nudge in the right direction!

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