Corruption of digital discourse: what you need to know, why you should care


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The online world is filled with fake reviews, Wikipedia entries written for hire, and blogs that fail to disclose free products and services. Because everyone is a communicator in the digital world, those who adhere to professional standards and codes of ethics are in the minority. As a result, the very channels that we as public relations professionals rely upon to do our work have been corrupted in profound ways. Get a revealing look at the scope of this corruption, what the law says, and what ethical public relations pros should do.

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Corruption of digital discourse: what you need to know, why you should care

  1. 1. Corruption of digital discourse: what you need to know, why you should care David Kamerer, PhD, APR Loyola University Chicago
  2. 2. The online world Journalism Blogs Social media Online reviews Action plan
  3. 3. Communication Conversations Influence have moved online … As communicators, online is where we work and live
  4. 4. CC/
  5. 5. The Attention Crash “We are reaching a point where the number of inputswe have as individuals is beginning to exceed whatwe are capable as humans of managing. Thedemands for our attention are becoming so great, andthe problem so widespread, that it will cause peopleto crash and curtail these drains. Human attentiondoes not obey Moore’s Law.” - Steve Rubel, Edelman Digital
  6. 6. Infrastructure issues: • Malware • Phishing • Hacking • insecure ecommerce • identity theft • device tracking
  7. 7. Decline of trust •  Unemployment •  Globalization •  Poor economy •  Housing crisis •  Banking crisis •  War
  8. 8. Trust – AC Nielsen study
  9. 9. Edelman Trust Barometer •  the rise of a “person like yourself (up 22% from2004 to 2012) •  decline in trust – CEOs (-12%) and governmentofficials (-14%)
  10. 10. Edelman model: media cloverleaf
  11. 11. The online world Journalism Blogs Social media Online reviews Action plan
  12. 12. What’s wrong with journalism? •  Continuous deadlines •  Multimedia/social media reporting •  Anonymous comments online •  Iterative journalism •  “Trading up the chain”
  13. 13. Social media sources, HARO
  14. 14. Gallup survey, Fall 2012:
  15. 15. Decline of journalism •  $1 in new digital ad revenue for every $25 lost inprint ads • •  One-third to half of all banner ads – never seen • •  Other financial models – limited success
  16. 16. Pageviews rule all Goodbye, zoning board; Hello, Kardashians
  17. 17. The failure of outbound tactics Typical response rates Targeted email 5.00% Direct mail 3.00% Rich media 0.14% Banner ad 0.08% Source: Ad Age, 2010
  18. 18. Journalism •  Financial support uncertain •  We’ve never needed good journalism more
  19. 19. The online world Journalism Blogs Social media Online reviews Action plan
  20. 20. Modal qualities of social media •  Everyone can publish •  A variety of business models •  Google organizes all •  Trust/authenticity that comes from “someone like myself”
  21. 21. Blogs •  The rise of hidden influencers •  Focused, long-tail content •  Often “journalistic”
  22. 22. How are blogs funded? •  No funding – hobby •  Display ads •  Pay per post •  Affiliate program •  Free goods & services •  Writer for hire
  23. 23. Results: many revenue streams
  24. 24. Tracking software shows ad relationships Average of 14 tracking services on style blogs •  Analytics •  Share buttons •  Third-party ad networks (source: Ghostery plug-in) At left, tracking software from the blog LoveMaegan
  25. 25. Disclosure of material connections 16 CFR Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements andTestimonials in Advertising” Dec. 1, 2009 • Restrictions on describing “typical” results in advertising • Guidelines for celebrity product endorsers • Guidelines for disclosing material connections betweenadvertisers and endorsers
  26. 26. Examples of in-post disclosures
  27. 27. Not quite a disclosure: c/o (“courtesy of”) In-post Site State- ment
  28. 28. Ann Taylor FTC: it is the advertiser’s responsibility to assure disclosure, not the blogger’s
  29. 29. $5 million sales Legacy Learning Systems $250,000 fine
  30. 30. Almost three-fourths of the sampledid not disclose in-post
  31. 31. Site disclosures 19 percent of sites published global disclosurepolicies. Their average length was 237 words. Of these, 84 percent were linked on the home page. The policies were linked under these pages: Disclosure (4) About (3) Editorial and advertising policies FAQs Disclaimer Advertise Questions Privacy policy
  32. 32. The online world Journalism Blogs Social media Online reviews Action plan
  33. 33. 50 Cent + 290% in one day $8.7 million
  34. 34. Other platforms for paid influence: • • • • Netflix affiliate program • Amazon Affiliates
  35. 35. Other consumer referral programs • The Fancy • Pose • Referly
  36. 36. The online world Journalism Blogs Social Media Online Reviews Action plan
  37. 37. Reviews • an important source of (free) content • are distributed across the web • frequently anonymous or pseudonymous
  38. 38. Scope of reviews •  76% of consumers use online reviews regularly or occasionally •  72% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations •  58% trust a business with positive reviews •  52% more likely to use a business with positive reviews US Alexa ranks: 1 Google, 5 Amazon, 57 Yelp, 63 Target, 84 Bestbuy, 114 TripAdvisor, 119 Expedia, 367, 600 Angieslist
  39. 39. Reverb Communications memo: Reverb employs a small team of interns who are focused on managingonline message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keepinga gauge on the online communities. Reverb uses the interns as asounding board to understand the new mediums where consumers arelearning about products, hearing about hot new games and listen tothe thoughts of our targeted audience. Reverb will use these internson Developer Y products to post game reviews (written by Reverbstaff members) ensuring the majority of the reviews will have the keymessaging and talking points developed by the Reverb PR/marketingteam.
  40. 40. Reverb Communications memo: Internal User Reviews Process: o Internal “User Reviews”o Pre-written by in house writerso Positive reviews – not over the top – but endorsing the game as agood producto Age ranges+ 12 – 18+ 19 – 25+ 26 – 34+ 35 – 45+ 46+* Written from the angle of each age group including key wordsthat resonate with each audience* Reviews begin to go live on day of launch on the iPhone storefront
  41. 41. Reverb Communications
  42. 42. Yelp • #57 website in US •  behind Instagram, GoDaddy •  ahead of Target, Groupon, UPS, Hulu •  50 million unique visitors/month •  18 million + reviews
  43. 43. Economic value of Yelp reviews UC-Berkeley study: a half-star difference in Yelp reviews canmean a 30-49 percent likelihood that a restaurant will sell outin an evening. Online reviews “play an increasingly important role in howconsumers judge the quality of goods and services.”
  44. 44. Yelp reviews
  45. 45. Yelp reviews
  46. 46. Yelp “filtered” reviews Filtered reviews: ! Haus von Brader Dog Training! 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 one star two stars three stars four stars five stars
  47. 47. Owner’s response: •  No record of “Justin G” •  Rejected offer to buy an ad •  Justin G did not respond to query “I can live with what he says, eventhough I believe it’s unjust. Butallow the good ones to go on, too.”
  48. 48. Blowback against Yelp • Class action lawsuit (thrown out) • Facebook pages Yelp is a Fraud We hate Yelp • Website
  49. 49. Amazon - Cornell study •  85% of Vine reviewers have been approached byan author/agent/publisher. •  “… large numbers of reviews by the higher-rankedreviewers are for books they have been given freeby publishers, authors, or agents.” •  Bad reviews – leave it up to the author? •  Alexa: #5 in US, #10 in world
  50. 50. •  47 5-star reviews in first week. •  Of the 47 reviewers, only six had ever •  written a review before •  Husband Sir Paul Ruddock net worth estimated to be $450 million •  Current sales rank #99,085 in Books
  51. 51. VIPERTEK Kindle case
  52. 52.
  53. 53. TripAdvisor • More than 60 million reviews • 40 reviews posted/minute • Hotel experience less tangible
  54. 54. The case of doctors •  Sue patients who write negative reviews for libel •  SLAPP suits
  55. 55. The online world Journalism Blogs Social Media Online Reviews Action plan
  56. 56. High performance High performance products, services High performance communication Become a transparent company
  57. 57. Listen to the chatter Listening tools/RSS Identify brand champions/connect and nurture Complaint? Improve your performance Some complaints fall below the noise floor You can’t please everyone.
  58. 58. Use your owned media Your message, your frame, your branding “Every company is a media company”
  59. 59. Social media
  60. 60. Social media •  Prepare to play defense •  Rise of “native ad formats” sponsored Tweet sponsored story •  Facebook paid posts •  Commercialization is transforming social media
  61. 61. Disclosure •  Always disclose, even if in doubt •  Only work with ethical influencers •  Also use a site statement, linked on home page •  Goal: to avoid consumer confusion
  62. 62. PRSA Code of Ethics PRSA’s Code of Ethics has a provision entitled “Disclosure ofInformation,” based upon the principle is that “opencommunication fosters informed decision making in ademocratic society.” The intent is “to build trust with thepublic by revealing all information needed for responsibledecision making.” The code states that a member shall: Be honest and accurate in all communications. Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for whichthe member is responsible. Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of informationreleased on behalf of those represented. Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented. Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in aclient’s organization. Avoid deceptive practices.
  63. 63. Microchannels: Twitter, Facebook, SMS What about a platform like Twitter? How can I make a disclosure when my messageis limited to 140 characters? The FTC isn’t mandating the specific wording of disclosures. However, the samegeneral principle – that people have the information they need to evaluate sponsoredstatements – applies across the board, regardless of the advertising medium. Ahashtag like “#paid ad” uses only 8 characters. Shorter hashtags – like “#paid” and“#ad” – also might be effective. #paid #ad #client #sponsored
  64. 64. Reviews Embrace the opportunity to listen Claim your spaces: Yelp Google Places Bing Business Portal Foursquare Verticals/hyperlocals Use SEO to make your website more visible
  65. 65. Review food chain: Top – independent professionals (Consumer Reports, journalists) Good first steps – (real names, must be customer) Worst – (anonymous)
  66. 66. Whither journalism? Media, news literacy Journalism may enjoy resurgence Direct pay model
  67. 67. The tragedy of the commons
  68. 68. For more information: (search for “corruption”) On Twitter: @davidkamerer Email:
  69. 69. Thank you