Does Your Online Marketing Presence Pass the Truth Test? - Broadcasting & Cable

Does Your Online Marketing Presence Pass the Truth Test?

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What's the fastest-growing marketing trend on the Internet?

Sadly, the answer appears to be the "fakeosphere." Yes: fake
blogs (called "flogs"), fake Web news sites and fake testimonials. They look
like the real thing, right down to comments posted by "bloggers" and their
supposed readers. Those comments appear to be written by people discussing the
pros and cons of a particular product or service, and they even include some
naysayers.

"But in the end, the bloggers and their readers always win
over the skeptics and persuade them to buy the product from a convenient nearby
link," writes Bob Sullivan in his blog on msnbc.com. He cites Internet
marketing analyst Jay Weintraub, who believes the fakeosphere has become a $500
million-a-year industry.

These fake sites and phony conversations are often more than
simply misleading -- OK, fraudulent -- marketing. For consumers, they can be
downright dangerous.

"The end game for most of these sites -- no matter what they
sell -- is to persuade a consumer to sign up for a 'free' trial of a product, then
make it incredibly difficult to cancel before the trial period ends," Sullivan
writes. "A similar technique...is to offer a free product and charge a Web user a
token shipping and handling fee, just to get the consumers' bank account
information. Larger charges soon follow."

Consumers are -- and should be -- increasingly wary. They're
scrutinizing websites more closely, especially if they're considering making a
purchase there. They're avoiding social media interactions with anything that
smells less than genuine, and they're more careful about who they share
information with online.

What would consumers say about your online presence? Do you
look like the real deal, or a potential cyber threat?

Here are some ways to ensure you pass the reality test -- and
some missteps that will ensure you don't.

On your website:

  • Real marketers have text that informs and entertains users
    while offering them helpful information. The copy is professionally written -- no
    typos or other mistakes -- and provides answers to anticipated questions. It's
    easy to learn more about you or your business and to find your contact
    information. Testimonials are from real people whose existence can be verified
    through a simple Internet search. They write blogs that are updated regularly
    and/or post articles with helpful information.
  • Fake marketers have websites with lots of pop-up advertising banners and text
    urging users to "Buy my product!" Testimonials are from untraceable people with
    vague titles or credentials. The site may be hard to navigate; contact
    information may be missing or difficult to find; and there's no link to media
    about the person or company.

In your newsletter:

  • Real marketers share valuable information in their
    newsletters. Their newsletter includes no overpowering sales pitch or
    self-promotion -- or, at least, includes that only occasionally. It conveys a
    personality, whether warm and friendly, authoritative or humorous.
  • Fake marketers send out newsletters and promotional emails that may identify a
    problem but offer as the only solution hiring them or buying their product.
    They may seem unprofessionally written (errors, etc.) and lack personality.
    They offer nothing of value to the reader or consumer.

On social media:

  • Real people have real friends and family among their
    connections. They can't resist sharing photos of their vacation, the newest
    baby in the family and their genius dog (not necessarily in that order). They
    have interests that may have nothing to do with what they're trying to market,
    and they comment about them ("I shot a hole in one today!") or share a photo. ("Here
    I am buying everyone drinks after my hole in one today. That was the most
    expensive golf shot ever!") They also respond to all comments, even if it's
    just to say, "Thank you."
  • Fake people generate mostly sales copy:  "Buy
    my product! It's great!" They don't engage in conversation, they don't appear
    to have a personality or friends or loved ones or hobbies, for that matter.

All of these examples offer guidance in helping to create an
online personality that conveys a marketers' authenticity. But the No. 1 thing
you can do-what I value above everything else-is to be, actually...genuine.

Friedman is a 22-year veteran of the public relations
industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations, a national firm that
provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers,
authors and professional firms.

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