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Hi Jonathan, Me again. Let’s see if the comments field on your blog works better than the one on the WOMMA blog. ;) As you might recall, I co-chair the member ethics panel at WOMMA (though, for the record, I am a volunteer; I am neither employed nor paid by WOMMA). You bring up a number of concerns about WOMMA and word-of-mouth marketing in general. I’d love the chance to discuss each individually, but if I were to attempt that dialogue here, my comment would run longer than your post. (As it is, it probably will.) So instead I’ll do my very best to speak to what I feel like I am hearing you say – big picture stuff – and that’s this: Organized, institutionalized word-of-mouth marketing is fundamentally unethical, therefore by extension how can association that represents these very businesses dictate what is and what is not ethical? Isn’t that extension inherently contradictory? My short answer is: Yes, it would be if I granted your premise that organized word-of-mouth marketing and ethics are mutually exclusive. But I don’t grant your premise. In fact, I disagree with you, wildly. Yet, for the record, I also admire your passion, your colorful writing, and the critical thinking that clearly went into your post. In other words, I disagree with you – again, wildly – but I admire your argument. I don’t think organized word of mouth, run by marketers, with the goal of generating honest (and hopefully positive) discussions about their products is inherently unethical. I do believe, however, that the practice sits uncomfortably close to tactics that are in fact unethical. It’s the proximity of one to the other that contributes to a “yuck” factor that slowed the industry in its early years and eventually led to the FTC publishing guidelines to provide direction to marketers in this area. (The FTC has also taken action against several companies who ignored their guidelines.) The challenge here – and the reason why our ethical code is not as black-and-white as you might like – is that there are few bright line tests when it comes to word-of-mouth ethics, like there are in other industries. Give someone insider information on a stock, the SEC sends you to the clink. But give someone a free book and urge him to review it, well, when I suppose it comes down to a Clintonesque definition of “urge.” Moreover, technology is changing, and changing fast. Sometimes a Code needs to be broad enough that it can apply to concepts that haven’t been conceived of yet. In other words, I hear what you are saying. I really do. But here’s where we diverge: I believe WOMMA is trying, sincerely trying, to make a positive difference. We are trying, sincerely trying, to help marketers understand not only what’s ok to do and what’s not ok to do, but also why certain tactics are not ok. Why it’s not ok to review your own products and pretend to be a customer, why it’s not ok to pay people to tweet nice things about you without disclosing compensation, why it’s not ok send out product samples with an obligation to write favorable blog posts. Whether by ignorance or malice, these practices still go on. And WOMMA is trying to help educate marketers that certain marketing programs are not only ethically flawed, but they are also ineffective. Could our code of ethics be more specific? Sure. We can improve there. Should our contest have more prominent rules? Yea, I suppose it could. But these shortcomings, if you want to call them that, aren’t from an attempt to obfuscate. They are the result of being a very small association that’s trying to make a very big difference in an even bigger world. We are working really hard to represent our members, liaise with the FTC, get out in front of the next wave of ripe-for-manipulation networks, and cheer some of the people and companies who are doing the right thing. By no means is this a woe-is-us post. We love the challenge and are inspired by the scope of it. You are right that there are areas we can improve. But our core philosophy that brands and consumers can come together in a way that inspires honest feedback and discussion, and this can happen in an open and honest way that benefits everyone … well that needs no improvement. That’s what we stand for, and I hope the transparency of this response speaks to our larger philosophy. Always happy to converse with you Jonathan. Yours, Joe Chernov / @jchernov
Toggle Commented Jul 7, 2011 on Ethical WOM? at Jonathan Salem Baskin's Dim Bulb
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Wow who wrote this post, Joe Jaffe or Hunter S. Thompson? ;) This was a wild ride of a question. I think there's a straight-forward answer here: JESS3. No disclosure required: I / Eloqua pays them, they don't pay me. In some ways, JESS3 is a victim of its own success. Everyone knows the company for their State of the Internet video or The Conversation Prism infographic with Brian Solis or even their new Solis joint "Exploring the Twitterverse." So marketers likely think of them as a pure creative shop. Translation: Their rocking creative drowns out their equally rocking strategy. Here's an example of their "applied strategy": I hired them to create an animated video, dubbed "The Future of Revenue" (no links provided lest anyone accuse me of hawking my content). They could have executed on the creative and walked away, check in bank. But they did a lot more: they recognized that our goal was "share of voice" with the term "revenue," so they created (insisted on creating) a microsite that not only hosts the video but also aggregates online conversation about the term "revenue." They also produced similar "State of" / "Future of" videos (State of the Internet, State of Cloud Computing - for Salesforce, State of Wikipedia). They wrapped up all of the videos into one package. Strength in numbers. Insta-credibility. All for one. Yadda. Their idea, not mine. They'd get my vote for certain. Leslie Bradshaw, Jesse Thomas, James Nichols. That's the crew I'd reach out to. Joe Chernov / Eloqua
Toggle Commented Jan 27, 2011 on The Digital Strategy Void at Jaffe Juice
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Sean, Thanks for the kind words. Valeria made this project a breeze. She said she'd toyed with the idea for that cartoon for a while, so it was fortuitous that I went to her first. Anyway, glad I discovered your blog, great stuff! Your fan, Joe Chernov Eloqua
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Bill, This is Joe Chernov, BzzAgent's director of public relations, writing. I found your insights into this topic to be thorough and enlightening. I believe your well-thought blog provides a valuable service to your readers. I am writing only to point out an incident where the metaphoric game of "telephone" appears to have broken down, resulting in an unstable foundation for your otherwise sound arguement. In your post on the FTC and Disclosure, you write, "Dave Balter's own words, as captured by Benjamin Pfeiffer (aka 'Phoenix') at the 2/27/06 'Blogs, CGM, and Buzz' session of SES N.Y., describe the Buzz Agents he contracts with as 'influentials, mavens, trendsetters, alphas, bees'." This assertion gives way to your reasonable conclusion that there is something "unnatural" (paraphrasing) about the WOM that occurs in the BzzAgent model. I am not sure if Mr. Pfeiffer's blog inaccurately restated Mr. Balter's presentation, or if you misread his blog (I cannot locate the post to which you refer); however, I can say without equivocation that the slide to which Mr. Pfeiffer refers states that BzzAgent's system does NOT target influencers, mavens, bees, etc. Our system is based on the fundamental belief that WOM is most successful when brands empower the everyday consumer rather than cherry pick those that algorythms prioritize. I am very interested in knowing if this shift in message would affect the conclusions you draw. Additionally, I am open to discussing this topic with you further, as I very much admire the thinking behind your posts. Kindly, Joe Chernov Director of Public Relations
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