When will the PR profession learn that ethics matter more than ever on the web?
And we’re not talking Kantian ideals here, just plain old honesty and transparency. Since I started studying PR last september, I’ve consistently heard how we are moving away from the nefarious practices of spin and outright lying that have put the profession to shame in the past, towards a new era of honest and open communication.
That’s the promise of social media, or so we’re told.
I say the PR profession, but we’d all like to think it’s only a small assortment of crooked individuals (and in this case an army of eager-to-please interns) that operate on, or over, this ethical borderline. But unfortunatlely those are the cases that often stick in the minds of the public.
The lastest case concerns a PR agency that has been having an unprecidented amount of success on behalf of its iPhone App clients. Evidently the agency has been using a dedicated team of impressionable interns to parade as legitimate reviewers, posting positive reviews on iTunes and community forums (see the full report on mobile crunch here)
This is the interesting part – effectively a confession – that was forwarded to Mobile Crunch by an insider informer. It’s from a Reverb company document:
Reverb employs a small team of interns who are focused on managing online message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keeping a gauge on the online communities. Reverb uses the interns as a sounding board to understand the new mediums where consumers are learning about products, hearing about hot new games and listen to the thoughts of our targeted audience. Reverb will use these interns on Developer Y products to post game reviews (written by Reverb staff members) ensuring the majority of the reviews will have the key messaging and talking points developed by the Reverb PR/marketing team.
Of course the company attempts to rebut the the claims in a statement, claiming that their interns often purchase the apps and review them based on their own merrits.
I’ll say no more, since I’m not an investigative journalist and my views are based on another article, but I’ll suffice to say than even if their claims were the case, the employees posting reviews should at the very least be fully transparent about their affiliation with the apps.
It makes me wonder how common this practice is. As a number of commenters on the Mobile Crunch article note, this sort of thing is old news; It’s been going on for some time and will continue to do so in the future as long as it’s successful.
In the meantime I hope the online community continues to be vigilant in identifying such unsavoury tactics that continue to tar the profession with a filthy brush. It’s not PR, it’s not Marketing… it’s just cheating.