Advertising vs. Promotion: Where Is the Line?

A recent Tweet from Kristofer Gryte got me thinking about Advertising versus Promotion. He was responding to a Tweet of mine about how PeerIndex had just launched their Peer Perks.

@MoniqueElwell PeerPerks ow.ly/9pHMU is out from @PeerIndex win tix to Prince of Kings, access to Deezer or discounts to Lookk, fashion boutique.

I do need to share that Azeem Azhar is the founder of PeerIndex. We’ve known each other since the first social network, Sixdegrees.com, which is how we met. I have tremendous respect for him and think that PeerIndex is a superior product and I wanted to help him out by ReTweeting it.

Kristopher Tweeted back. Will Twitter go from news to a stream of advertising? RT @MoniqueElwell: PeerPerks ow.ly/9pHMU is out from @PeerIndex

Now at first I misinterpreted Kristopher to mean that I was “advertising” my friend. [My apologies to Kristopher.] His follow up Tweet clarified :

@Kgryte @MoniqueElwell But how impartial can we expect the reviewers to be, especially when they are incentivized to be more ‘active’?

So I started thinking about this question. And then came to the question, “Are Promoters ever impartial?” Let’s think about all the reasons that people provide reviews, forward Tweets or otherwise promote on- or off-line.

  1. Social Currency—I’m the first to know about something in my community and share. I get social points for doing so. [Iconoculture’s research showed this back when I worked there in 2005.]
  2. Notoriety and Maven status—If I review things that pertain to a certain category, I can often develop a reputation as being a Maven in that category. [Clay Shirkey pointed this out in either his book, “Here Comes Everyone” or “Cognitive Surplus” or both.]
  3. Special status—Some review sites or companies provide badges, special status, or special access to information or events. This plays on a few consumer instincts. First, the human instinct to compete or collect: FourSquare figured this out early on and, second, non-monetary awards can often be more powerful than monetary rewards.
  4. Financial rewards—The couponing, tradable gifts, or straight out money.
  5. Psychic rewards—A simple thank you, or we like you, or I acknowledge you goes a tremendous way. This is something both Conversify and We Speak Neek has encouraged our clients to leverage as it can be very powerful and inexpensive.

I am sure there are other ways to reward and would love to hear from you what they are.

Certainly PeerIndex and Klout are not the only ones who do this. Zuberance is probably even more blatant in rewarding positive reviews with coupons or perks. I think Sarah Skerik from PRNewswire blog post echoes my sentiments in her blog post “Paying for Online Reviews: Good Idea? Bad Idea?

“ [It] is riddled with pitfalls and catch-22s. And while I started out defending Truth and Integrity, opining that paid reviews are *never* acceptable, I’ve since moderated my tone.

Just a little bit. And for the record, I still don’t like the idea.

But paying for reviews – offering reviewers a small reward such as a $10 Starbucks or Amazon card – may actually be a good idea.

(Ugh. I can’t believe I just said that.)

Personally, I’m okay with encouraging people to promote a brand so long as:

  1. There is some form of transparency. I’m encouraged by the FCCs not so recent ruling that bloggers must disclose their freebees, but I think the FCC could go further.
  2. Reviewers are encouraged to post what they would have already, rather than blatant lies. (Zuberance qualifies for loyalty and then only encourages reviews from loyal fans.)

I still have a bit of an uncomfortable feeling about the whole thing, because the line between encouraging people to tell others about your positive experience and buying positive reviews is a very fuzzy line. And, before every brand manager rushes out to pay for reviews, I must refer to an economist article about how negative reviews help sell products and services online. [For a blog post about that article click here.]

So where do you see the line? Do you think it’s okay, not okay? I would love to hear your opinion and thoughts, especially, you Kristofer

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