Lessons of Reverb PR agency ruling

By now most of you will probably have read about Reverb Communications, which has had to settle with the US Federal Trade Commission for misleading consumers online.

The PR company was accused of writing positive reviews in Apple’s iTunes store without revealing it was being paid to do so. The PR company is alleged to have posted reviews about their clients’ video games ‘using account names that gave readers the impression the review were written by disinterested consumers’.

The FTC said that advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers.

This is yet another example of a PR company failing to understand the culture of social media. You have to be transparent – otherwise you are going to get burned. Without transparency there is no trust. Other established PR agencies have fallen into the same trap, with damaging repercussions for the companies they represent.

Leading organisations need to be very careful about taking on mass media, established PR agencies. ‘Astro turfing’ (ie faking grass roots support online) as it is called – will get more exposure as the social web spreads; and companies caught doing it will lose the trust of their key stakeholders and could face the ridicule and outrage of bloggers and users of Twitter and Facebook.

It is in the interests of companies to be transparent and honest as spinning can be exposed so easily online. Traditional media spinning does not work in the networks of the social web. Openness is the best PR you can have. And that is not something that PR agencies have traditionally been good at.

You can catch up on the story here.

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